Vermont Adult Learning has had a tough year and is asking the city for a little help.
Michelle Folger, VAL’s regional director, said the nonprofit is gathering signatures to get a funding request on the March ballot for the first time in roughly 10 years. She said financial difficulties have forced the group to lay off two employees from the Rutland office and give up part of their Evelyn Street facility to make up for a roughly $100,000 shortfall. Folger said the nonprofit is largely state funded and funding has been largely flat for years.
“It’s like anything else — expenses over numerous years, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, salaries going up,” she said. “In all seven centers, we cut at least two people.”
The Rutland cuts include a full-time and three-quarter time employee, and the organization also had to stop renting the multipurpose room on the first floor of the building.
“It was $10,000 and there was no way I could afford it, trying to keep jobs,” she said. “I’m doing two jobs. I’m the director, but I’m also doing the orientations.”
Vermont Adult Learning provides GED and diploma classes to students who didn’t — or can’t — complete high school. State Director Joe Przyperhart said the state contracts with nonprofits to provide the services and that Vermont Adult Learning has the contract for seven Vermont counties, including Rutland. He said the state, after many years, finally increased the amount spent on adult education but still left the nonprofits with a shortfall. He said they also took a loss on a change in the formula for how the groups are reimbursed for certain services.
“We’ve done the belt tightening,” he said. “We’ve also done the other side of it.”
Przyperhart said VAL intends to tap into Vermont Department of Labor revenues with a workforce development program it piloted in Addison County and is now expanding into Rutland County.
Folger said the Rutland center averages 222 students in the course of a year. She said she is frequently asked why enrollment isn’t higher.
“These individuals, their life gets in the way,” she said. “If they’re working a full-time 8- or 10-hour-a-day job, it’s kind of hard to come to school to get a diploma.”
Of those who do find the time, she said many are at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t get a GED.
“That’s the norm now,” she said. “Eight years ago, people would be working without a GED or diploma and companies didn’t care. ... Now they want some certification training to know they have the skills to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Vermont Adult Learning is on the ballot in 12 towns, Folger said, seeking amounts ranging from $200 to $1,300 and totaling $7,000. The city would bring the total funding sought to $10,000, which Folger admitted would not make the biggest difference in the center’s $500,000 budget.
“I’d use it for materials here,” she said. “Instructional materials for us right now are around $6,000, $7,000.”
Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said the city can make $7.6 million in improvements to the sewer system without increasing water bills.
Wennberg said Tuesday he intends to ask the Board of Aldermen to put a $6.8 million bond on the March ballot, which would be added to $800,000 in already-approved state grants for work at the sewer plant and two stormwater projects. He said with various other funding opportunities, the city would have to pay back $4.5 million.
That would work out to about $4 per quarter on the typical family’s water and sewer bill, according to Wennberg. However, he said the payments would begin just as a previous water bond with roughly equal payments is set to expire, so that ratepayers should not see any change.
The single biggest portion of the bond Wennberg outlines was $3 million for work on the digesters at the sewer plant. He said three of the plant’s five digester tanks have been refurbished in recent years, but the remaining two are the oldest of the group. He said the city can get a $1.5 million grant from the state if the bond is approved in March.
The proposal also includes $1.5 million to replace a 20-inch pipe running from the River Street pumping station to the sewer plant. Despite having a 100-year life span, Wennberg said sections of the 50-year-old pipe had deteriorated to where they could fail at any moment, and the remainder of the pipe was not expected to be in much better condition. Loss of the pipe would mean a drop in the plant’s capacity and an increase in combined sewage overflows during heavy storms.
The next two projects are aimed at reducing overflows. For $2,125,000, Wennberg said, the city can extend the Northwest stormwater separation project to Main Street. He said this would have impacts beyond the Northwest neighborhood because it would reduce the amount of stormwater flowing to West Street and backing up into downtown basements.
Another $1 million would fund a stormwater separation project on Meadow Street.
This was the second of two bonds Wennberg is asking to put on the ballot. This first is $3 million for bridge and culvert work around the city.
The Public Works Committee on Tuesday approved the water and sewer budget largely unchanged.
The first major cut of the budget season came in the wastewater treatment budget, which the committee reduced from $2,772,361 to $2,760,361 by paying for the replacement of a mower out of the vehicle replacement fund rather than on the water rate.
The $679,297 water treatment budget, $570,630 water distribution budget, $636,464 water meter budget and $774,381 wastewater collection budget were all approved as presented.
A Clover Street man who pleaded guilty in May to having sexual contact with a 13-year-old in 2013 was sentenced on Tuesday to serve four years in prison.
Frederic Chris Fleur Jr., 49, was arraigned in November 2016 in Rutland criminal court on a felony charge of aggravated sexual assault on someone younger than 13 and sexual assault on a person younger than 16.
On Tuesday, Fleur entered into a plea agreement under which he was sentenced for the sexual assault charge while the aggravated sexual assault charge was dismissed by the state.
In addition to a prison sentence of four to 16 years, Fleur will be required to be listed on the Vermont Sex Offender Registry for the rest of his life.
Fleur has about 760 days credit for time he has served in prison as of Tuesday.
Peter Bevere, the chief deputy state’s attorney for Rutland County, said the plea agreement was created in consultation with the teenager who had made the accusations against Fleur. The teenager did not want to come to court or testify, Bevere said.
“He didn’t want to take any chance that this could have an effect on the steps he’s taken to move forward with his life,” he said.
According to Bevere, there have been indications that Fleur has not accepted responsibility for the crime, which could prevent him from being treated in prison and released after four years.
Attorney Dan Stevens, who represented Fleur, said he had participated in interviews conducted by the Vermont Department of Corrections to prepare a pre-sentence report.
“I wouldn’t characterize Fred as not taking responsibility, more not being comfortable talking with people of the opposite gender, strangers, about a really sensitive topic. He did come in here and admit the facts and he’s going to have to talk about that during his programming,” Stevens said.
Bevere and Stevens asked Judge Thomas Zonay to accept the plea agreement.
“I just want to get past this, do what I have to do,” Fleur said to the court.
Police began to investigate Fleur in September 2016 after a teenager, who was 16 at the time, told an assistant principal at Rutland High School that Fleur had molested him several times over the period when he was 7 or 8 and when he turned 13.
The teenager came forward after Fleur contacted him through social media. In the messages, which the teenager provided to police, Fleur asked if the boy was in Rutland and suggested he and the boy could spend time together again.
In one of the messages, Fleur asks, “Would u ever want to do it again?”
At the sentencing hearing, Zonay asked Fleur if he understood how his actions affected other people.
He pointed out to Fleur that his prison sentence could be lengthened if he didn’t take responsibility for the crime to which he pleaded guilty.
Zonay said he was accepting the sentencing recommendation, in part, because he believed it was a lengthy sentence that served the goals of deterrence, punishment and incapacitation.
It’s going to take a lot of federal funds if Vermont wants to meet its own broadband internet access goals by 2024, according to a state official.
Clay Purvis, telecommunications director for the Department of Public Service, said Tuesday the state is only 13.4 percent of the way toward meeting its standards for broadband access and quality. Vermont’s standards are quite high, however, aiming for 100 megabits per second (mbps) download/upload speed available statewide. The federal standard is 25 mbps and by that benchmark, Purvis said, the state is closer to 73 percent covered.
The Department of Public Service is working to update Vermont’s Telecommunications Plan, Purvis said. Several public comment hearings are scheduled. One was in Montpelier on Tuesday. The Rutland hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 17 in the Fox Room at Rutland Free Library, 10 Court St. The other meetings are:
— St. Johnsbury, 6 p.m. Wednesday, }in the Cabaret Room at Catamount Arts Center, 115 Eastern Ave.
— Brattleboro, 6 p.m. Dec. 19, at Brooks Memorial Library, 224 Main St.
— Burlington, 2 p.m. Dec. 20, at the John J. Zampieri State Office Building, 108 Cherry St.
The draft plan can be accessed online at https://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/2018-telecommunications-plan or by calling the department at 802-828-2811. It can be requested via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail, Department of Public Service, 112 State St., Third Floor, Montpelier, VT 05620
Purvis said the Legislature will have its own opportunity to comment on the plan. He said the last plan was completed in 2014 and in that case the Department of Public Service rewrote much of it in response to public comments.
Once comments are received and taken into account, the department will finalize the report, Purvis said. There’s no set time for this, as it’s not known how many comments will be received this round.
Purvis said the plan doesn’t carry any legal clout except when another law may require an entity, such as the Public Utility Commission, to make sure projects comply with it when they apply for permits.
In the 2014 plan, there was a call for the department to review and report what it would cost to meet the state’s broadband goals, Purvis said. The department determined it would cost between $500 million and $1.4 billion. In either case it will require heavy federal support, Purvis said. Much of Vermont’s progress was made with the help of federal stimulus funding, which came in during and in the wake of the Great Recession.
Purvis said Vermont offers grants through the Connectivity Initiative program, which it hopes can entice internet providers to extend infrastructure into sparsely populated areas. The program has $220,000 available, which could expand access to 100 homes. Purvis said other states by comparison are investing millions into expanding broadband. New York, he said, has an approximately $500 million program while Massachusetts is working with $20 million.
“The plan sets forth a clear strategy for continuing to improve broadband access and quality in Vermont,” said Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney in a release. “Access to high-quality, affordable telecommunications service is essential. While many Vermonters have several broadband and wireless voice options from which to choose, the plan proposes steps to help the many Vermonters who still lack such choices.”
“The Trump administration has just given a big Christmas present to polluters.”
Bob Irvin, president of the American Rivers environmental nonprofit, after the EPA signs an order withdrawing protections from waterways and wetlands. — A6
So far, so good
The Rutland boys basketball team continues its win streak with a 67-60 victory over Mount Mansfield. B1
Traditional Christmas music as well as selections inspired by the Lessons and Carols Service from Kings College, Cambridge, in England arranged for an instrument comprised of bronze hand bells and hand chimes. Suggested donation $10 to $15, 7-8:30 p.m. Wallingford Town Hall, 75 School St., Wallingford, 446-2872.