Rutland is halfway through the transition to new water meters and Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said it is going smoothly — mostly.
The city is replacing all 6,200 meters as it converts to a new system similar to electric “smart grids” that will allow the Department of Public Works and users to more precisely track water usage. The city has contracted with Fathom Water Management to provide the system. As of Friday, Wennberg said they had completed 3,037 and were expecting to be done by the end of October.
The most mysterious hiccup involves a city resident getting more than 100 notices about changing the meter at a building she no longer owns. Val Fothergill said she just sold the property last month, so she would not have been shocked by getting one notice about it, but was surprised to receive, by her count, 169.
“I was excited when I first saw them,” she said. “I thought I was invited to 160 parties, but to no avail.”
More odd, she said, was that while all the cards had her street address and the name of the holding company through which she owned the property, many of them were addressed to towns outside Rutland. Some were nearby, like Killington and Clarendon, but one was addressed to Spokane, Washington. The ZIP codes were all Rutland, she said, so they came to her regardless of what town was listed.
Greg Brovelli, who runs USI, the company doing the installation on behalf of Fathom, said this had been the only error in the mailings, and that while they were still trying to figure out how it had happened as of Wednesday afternoon, his working theory was that a typo in a date had disrupted the functioning of a database.
“There’s a few other anomalies in here that throw a wrench in the works, like the Spokane, Washington, which makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.
Brovelli said the error resulted in other addresses in a batch with Fothergill’s not getting their notices, and that the company would rerun the batch and send the misplaced notices out by hand.
Wennberg said each user gets up to three notices telling them to schedule appointments to have their meter changed. The first two are post cards — the second more brightly colored than the first.
“The third is a strongly worded letter with my signature on it, probably assuring I will never successfully run for public office again,” Wennberg, a former city mayor, said.
Wennberg said homeowners who don’t have usable readers get charged a “schedule rate” based on the assumption they have two people living in each bedroom. For a three-bedroom home, he said, that comes to $714 a quarter. He said none of the people whose letters were mistakenly sent to Fothergill will wind up paying that rate because of it.
“The earliest the schedule rate would be applied would probably be the February bill,” he said.
Wennberg said the changeover is slightly behind schedule because of staffing problems. The city is hiring special workers for the project, he said, but it is a temporary, part-time job with no benefits.
“It’s a challenge to find folks who would be good at this kind of work who will do it for that time-frame,” he said, though he said they expect to be fully staffed for the first time next week.
The changeovers themselves, he said, have been going better than he expected, with “minimal complications.” Wennberg said the swap requires water to be briefly shut off, and it was expected they would periodically encounter defective valves and need to dig up connections for repairs.
“We’ve had to dig up about 20 of them,” he said. “I would have expected about four times that amount, five times that amount. ... We’ve been very fortunate that the infrastructure has been kind to us throughout all of this. ... The hardest part, right now, is getting all the technologies to work together effectively. It’s very, very complicated stuff.”
Wennberg also said the system was getting an impressive level of buy-in. He said 12% to 13% of customers typically sign up to monitor their water use online in the first year. In Rutland, he said, they are already at 26%.
“It is the most user-friendly, the most helpful, the most intuitive — you don’t have to be a computer scientist to use this thing,” he said. “It’s very, very well-designed.”
A series of street festivals that later this month will feature the likes of O-Town and Aaron Carter kicks off this Friday.
Friday Night Live will see Center Street in the city closed to traffic from 5 to 10 p.m. so people can enjoy music, food and games, said Nikki Hindman, marketing and events coordinator for the Downtown Rutland Partnership.
“At this first one, we have Love and Theft — they’re an American country band, very popular on the radio, they just put out a new single called ‘Angel Eyes,’” said Hindman in a Wednesday interview. “Logan Riesterer is performing at 7:30 p.m. as a supporting act. We are completely full for this, street vendor-wise, that’s very exciting for this year, so we’ll have cotton candy, we’ll have outdoor dining, this will be TASO On Center’s first year joining us with outdoor dining at their location because they’re new. We have Mission City Church returning with the bouncy house, we’ll have Mexican food, your standard American food. We’ll have barbecue, Hop’n Moose will be outside, creemees, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone at this point.”
New this year to the event is the location of the main stage. Hindman said it’ll be near the intersection of Center Street and Merchants Row. Previously it had been at “The Pit,” the parking lot at the corner of Center and Wales streets.
“So we’re hoping in this new spot, it’s raised up, everybody is going to see it all the way down the street and it’s going to create a more dynamic experience,” Hindman said .
On July 19, Friday Night Live will host O-Town and Aaron Carter, pop music acts that were known nationwide in the early 2000s.
“Everybody seems to be really excited for that one, I think a lot of people are excited to relive that nostalgic time and sing ‘I want candy’ to the stage,” Hindman said. “It’ll be really fun, I think it’s going to be well-attended.”
July 26 will see The Samples play.
“People are also excited about The Samples,” said Hindman. “They used to play around here.”
Steve Peters, executive director of Rutland Downtown Partnership, said Friday Night Live has been held for the past 15 years or so in the city, but he and Hindman are relatively new to their roles and have worked to make some changes.
“We both started two years ago, and I started two weeks before these events were happening, so the first year I started, they did not go well. But then we tried to make some goals and strategies for improving them because they’ve been going on at that point for 12 or 13 years, they needed a little refreshing,” Peters said. “We took some ideas from focus groups and tried to get community input on things, and then we publicized that we were making those changes.”
He said people wanted more food vendors, specifically the kind selling food people can carry around. They also wanted less smoking and more things to do.
Peters said there’ll be lots of games for people like chess, Jenga and Uno, except the game pieces are all oversized.
“We had a lot of positive feedback last year,” Peters said, estimating the event drew about 1,000 people.
He said the Downtown Rutland Partnership’s budget for summer events is $40,000, which covers three Friday Night Live events plus a street festival later on. He said attempts were made in the past to hold Friday Night Live every week throughout the summer, but he feels less is more in this case.
“You’re really diluting it at that point,” he said.
Information and updates on the Friday Night Live schedule can be found at downtownrutland.com/fridaynightlive
“We want people to come to this event and see there’s all these businesses they can come back to, or all these restaurants to come back and try,” Hindman added.
Rutland Free Library has jail cells in the basement. This is one of the fun facts the library’s staff shares with visitors who stop in as part of the Passport to Vermont’s Libraries summer program.
After a one-year hiatus, the Vermont Library Association has revived the program and is challenging people to visit as many libraries as possible between June 1 and Sept. 1. The child, young adult and adult who manage to visit more of the state’s 183 public libraries than anyone else will each win a prize.
Jessamyn West, who co-created the passport program with Virgil Fuller and a team of volunteers at the VLA, said it is designed to remind people that libraries are free and open to all. This mission is perhaps especially relevant in Vermont, which has more libraries per capita than any other state.
West wants everyone to feel comfortable at their library, and hopes the revamped program will increase participation. This is the first year that every library in the state is part of the passport contest whether they signed up or not — in the past it was an opt-in system. Many libraries have passports at the front desk, and the template is also available online.
Despite the new mandatory nature of the program, West said that libraries are free to participate however they choose.
“It’s mostly something that lets us share the joy of Vermont’s libraries,” she said. “A lot of people do it because it’s fun, it gives them something to do over the summer, and it structures some of their travels.”
West enjoys when people discover their local library has features or programs they never knew about before.
“It’s like discovering something that was in your backyard this whole time, and our program gave someone the nudge to find out about it,” she said.
The program gives Vermonters a reason to visit new libraries.
Janet Clapp said visitors to Rutland Free Library often comment on the size of the library when they get their passports stamped. Clapp is the adult services librarian at the Rutland library, which has given out more than 30 passports so far this summer. Clapp said she cannot pick her favorite Vermont library.
“They’re all different,” she said. “Morristown has a working fireplace in the winter; Bennington has a cat.”
Discovering these quirks is part of why people participate in the program, according to Shelly Williams. Williams is director at Maclure Library in Pittsford, and she did the program a few years ago.
“Every single library has its own little quirks,” she said. “We have a safe that was put in here because Town Hall was here at one time. Then, when Town Hall finally got built, they couldn’t get it out so we still have it.”
Williams said Vermont’s small library have an intimate feel, which makes them sweet to visit. Maclure Library staff members have stamped about 20 passports so far this season, and Williams loves welcoming the additional visitors that the passports bring through.
Almy Landauer, director of Waterbury Public Library, said she meets new visitors each summer thanks to the program.
“Everybody seems to think it’s really fun. It’s kind of like the 251 Club, but for library geeks,” she said, referring to the club that challenges Vermonters to visit all 251 towns in the state.
West said some of her personal favorite library experiences have occurred during spontaneous stops in new places, like when she stumbled across a sconce in Chelsea Public Library that came to the United States on a Merci Train. The Merci Train cars were gifted to each state from France in 1949 as a thank you after World War II.
“Each state got a box car full of stuff and that stuff was distributed to people and organizations in the state,” she said. “I never would have learned about the Merci Trains if not for this sign in the Chelsea Public Library.”
Beyond the fun facts, West believes this program reinforces the importance of libraries as spaces of civic engagement.
“We have libraries in this country because we’re a democracy, and so you get to vote and make decisions that affect you directly,” she said. “In order to be able to do that, you need to be able to educate yourself.”
In an era where facts are often up for debate, West feels libraries have become even more important.
“Having a public space where you have a right to look up and know whatever you want, where you have a right to privacy, where you have a right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, where you don’t have to subscribe to a certain faith tradition, especially if you’re a kid, that’s really important,” she said. “This program can make sure that, for people who need it, they know those resources are available for them.”
Cortney Peck wants her dog back.
The dog in question, an 18-month-old British bulldog named Otis, ran away after getting spooked by fireworks when Peck was visiting friends on Durgy Hill Road in West Rutland. Peck, who is from Castleton originally but now lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, has been looking for Otis since and has offered a $2,000 reward for his return.
Peck said she got Otis when he was 2 months old from a dog breeder in Massachusetts.
“He doesn’t have papers or anything,” she said. “He’s super friendly. He loves dogs, loves people, loves breakfast — it’s his favorite word. ... He’s a really fun dog. He smiles a lot. He can’t swim, but he loves water. He likes to lie down in the stream. He doesn’t chase other animals — at least he hasn’t before this. He might now — he’s probably hungry.”
She said the fireworks spooked Otis, and he ran into the woods.
“I tried to follow him into the woods, but it was dark,” she said. “I don’t know these woods, so I only got so far. The next day I woke up at 5:30 and walked the woods all the way to the power plant.”
Peck said she searched on her own and with help from numerous friends. She used a paid service that puts out Amber alert-style calls to phones in an area where a dog has gone missing and hired a dog tracker whom she now feels took her for a ride.
“I gave him a lot of money, and then he left,” she said, adding she is now working with a different tracker who seems more qualified.
She said they are planning to do more searching in the woods, because the new tracker said Otis would be more likely to hide there when scared. She said she also heard reports of sightings in Rutland, and that it was also possible someone has Otis at their house.
Peck said anyone who sees Otis should not try to chase him, and that the best way to call him is to offer him “breakfast,” preferably in a higher-pitched voice.
“I feel like, with the reward I put out, I believe if someone has him, they’d want the reward more than the dog,” she said. “I made it $2,000 because I figure if someone really wanted a bulldog they could go get one. I just want my dog back.”
“We believe that we proceeded appropriately. ... We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail. That was the focus.”
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta defending his Florida prosecution a decade ago of child-sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, which resulted in a 13-month work-release sentence. — B8
A city man is charged after an incident in which he allegedly brandished a shotgun at the home of his ex-girlfriend. A3
The Trump administration outlined threats to U.S. elections as it briefed Congress on Wednesday. A6
Game of Thrones
Living vs. Dead Masquerade Party. For one night, Wilson Castle will transform into Winterfell. $20-$30, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Wilson Castle, W. Proctor Road, Proctor, firstname.lastname@example.org, 345-5904.