A1 A1
Local
Police Academy exec to step down

After nine years, Richard Gauthier, executive director of the Criminal Justice Training Council, which runs the Vermont Police Academy, is stepping down when the current training class graduates.

Gauthier, who took the position after 30 years with the Bennington Police Department, said life circumstances often indicate when you should do something.

“I decided it was simply my time to retire and move on to other things,” he said.

The police academy in Pittsford is where training takes place for all the recruits in the state so the recruits can become certified to be police officers in Vermont.

The current police academy class began at the start of February.

Chief Christopher Brickell, chairman of the council, one of the Northern Directors for the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the Brandon Police Department, said Gauthier told the council at its Oct. 30 meeting of his intent to retire.

Brickell said he believed Gauthier’s retirement date was June 1 which he chose to finish out the current class and to finish out the current Legislative session.

The council will look for candidates to fill the position, a process that includes advertising its availability. A notice has already been posted to the Criminal Justice Training Council, or CJTC, website.

“Once we have determined who the best candidate for that position is, then that name gets appointed to the governor. It’s a governor-appointed position,” Brickell said.

Brickell said the position will be advertised locally and to the International Association of Directors and Law-Enforcement Trainers, which is expected to attract people who have had experience leading an academy or a similar position.

The candidate does not need to have law-enforcement experience, but it would be preferred, Brickell said.

Brickell has appointed a committee specifically for finding the CJTC’s new executive director. The co-chairmen are Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard and Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, which includes the Vermont State Police and Vermont Emergency Management.

“They developed in conjunction with me what the job description was going to be. That was sent out to the state so that position’s now being advertised on the state’s website,” Brickell said.

He said the committee’s members are hoping to have a proposed candidate identified by the end of the Legislative session and soon enough that Gauthier can work with his successor long enough to guarantee a smooth transition.

Leader of the police academy is an important position, Brickell pointed out.

“Here in Vermont, we all train the same so we have state police, sheriffs, municipal agencies, Fish & Wildlife officers, constables, are all trained at the same academy, and we all receive the same training. It’s critical that it crosses all different agencies and that there’s a central repository that’s giving standardized training for every recruit in Vermont,” he said.

Gauthier said he had no plans to leave Vermont after retirement.

In his time at the academy, Gauthier enjoyed watching the growth of the recruits as they learned how to become police officers.

He said Vermont faces a challenge that seems to be nationwide, finding enough recruits to fill all available needs in various police agencies.

“There are agencies that are in a permanent state of recruiting simply because they constantly have openings. The whole pool has diminished over the years. I noted that when I was at Bennington PD. I noticed I was getting fewer and fewer applicants and a smaller percentage of those applicants was actually acceptable,” he said.

Gauthier said he took special pride in the way the team at the academy came together through the years.

“I have an outstanding crew, and they’re very passionate about the training function. I’m proud of that whole piece moving forward,” he said.

Brickell said the search committee has a lot to consider in choosing the right person to lead the future of the CJTC training program.

“We have a lot more varied training than was typical nine years ago,” he said. “We have a lot of involvement by the Legislature and interest in what type of police training is given to our new recruits. We also have a lot of outside entities that have an interest in who our next executive director is going to be. There are a lot of issues with fair and impartial policing, with transparency with use of force training, so we want to make sure that we’re getting an outside view of what the qualifications should be as well for the next executive director.”

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


Photo by Jon Olender 

Steve Tyl gives customer Jacob Waldron, of Brandon, a haircut late Thursday afternoon at Henry's Barber Shop on Williams Street in Rutland City.


News
Waste district refunding $150k surplus

The local solid waste district will refund $150,000 to its member towns.

Mark Shea, district manager of the Rutland County Solid Waste District, said in an interview Thursday the $150,000 is a budget surplus accumulated over a period of years. He said the district Board of Supervisors voted to refund the surplus to member towns based on their populations.

According to draft minutes of the board’s Dec. 4 meeting, five board members voted “yes” to refund the surplus, while four voted “no.”

Voting “yes,” according to the draft minutes, were Tim Gilbert, of Castleton, Bill Gillam, of Rutland City, Bob Bixby, of Clarendon, Larry Taggart, of Ira, and Clint Wooley, of Mount Holly. Voting “no” was Gabe McGuigan, of Brandon, Carrie Dougherty, of Proctor, Paul Donaldson, of Poultney, and Nancy Gaudreau, of Pittsford.

Shea said the crux of the debate as to how to handle the surplus was essentially between those who thought it best to provide some rate-relief to member towns, and those who thought it would be better to save it for future capital expenses.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I think,” he said. “We’ve done well with being fiscally conservative and watching our pennies.”

Shea said he has recommended that towns use their surplus refunds on infrastructure and maintenance, as these elements don’t get cheaper over time.

The checks only just went out, according to Shea, meaning not all town leaders have had a chance to discuss how to use the funds.

John Haverstock, town manager of Pittsford, said Thursday the refund to the town was news to him, and it would be up to the Select Board as to how the windfall might be addressed, but it’s possible the funds will be applied to a recent roofing project at the town transfer station. Haverstock said the town spent $14,500 to repair a leaky roof where transfer station personnel work, and to extend the roof over the trash compactor. The hope with the latter is the compactor will work better when it’s under cover, and that trash will be drier, meaning it will weigh less and therefore cost less when disposed of.

In Brandon, Select Board Chairman Seth Hopkins said Town Manager David Atherton told the board about the pending refund, but the board hasn’t yet had the time to discuss it. He said the funds might be used to offset the town’s expenses with regards to the seizure of 220 farm animals from a property on Kimball Road on Jan. 31, in connection with a cruelty to animals case.

Hopkins said the town is financially responsible for the animals during the period between when they were seized and when the owner surrendered them, about five days. He didn’t have a cost estimate Thursday, but it’s definitely an unplanned expense.

In Clarendon, Town Treasurer Heidi Congdon said the refund to the town was added to the transfer station expenses fund and will be used to offset the cost of running it.

The largest refund by far, $50,608, went to Rutland City. Mayor David Allaire said Thursday the Board of Aldermen’s representative to the solid waste district, Gillam, informed the board of the refund, but there’s not yet been any talk of how it might be used.

According to Shea, the refunds were as follows: Brandon, $13,220; Castleton, $14,134; Clarendon, $8,663; Danby, $4,103; Hubbardton, $2,280; Ira, $1,368; Killington, $3,647; Mendon, $4,103; Mount Holly, $4,103; Mount Tabor, $456; Pittsford, $9,574; Poultney, $10,030; Proctor, $5,471; Rutland City, $50,608; West Rutland, $7,295; Wallingford, $7,295; and Wells, $3,647.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Local
Survey shows mixed business climate

BARRE — The top three concerns for businesses around the state this year are the lack of qualified employees, the high cost of health insurance, and Vermont’s high taxes, according to recent survey results.

The same concerns topped a problem list in 2016 when Davis & Hodgdon Associates CPAs conducted its first statewide economic survey.

Other issues of concern include high property taxes, internet security issues, “over-regulation” and the an increase to the state’s minimum wage.

“Not surprisingly, the key issues of over-taxation and the need for economic development and an improved workforce environment remain at the forefront of business owners’ minds,” said Bret Hodgdon, managing partner for Davis & Hodgdon.

The results from this year’s survey are based on the answers from 140 Vermont businesses polled in January. The non-scientific survey was sent to approximately 1,200 Vermont small and medium-sized businesses (75% had fewer than 25 employees), according Jennifer Krause, marketing director for Davis & Hodgdon.

“Although not a scientific survey we are confident in the results. Whenever you get over 100 responses the results are pretty reliable, we felt good about the accuracy,” Krause said.

Sixty-nine percent of the respondents reported that difficulty in finding qualified employees is a “top three” problem for them, compared to 57.2% who said so in 2016. Thirty-seven percent placed high Vermont taxes on their top three list compared to 57.2% in the 2016 survey. High property taxes is a major concern for 27.3% of the 140 respondents and 14.3% said a proposed increase in the minimum wage is a major problem for them. (Vermont lawmakers have passed legislation that would increase the current $10.78 minimum wage to $12.55 by 2022. Republican Gov. Phill Scott vetoed the legislation; the Senate has voted to override, but the House had not yet voted at press time.)

Also on the 2020 problem list are sources of financing (5.7% of the respondents); overtime compensation changes (1.4%); federal taxes (12.9%); property taxes/education funding (5.7%) and housing (11.5%).

The number of business owners concerned about succession planning increased significantly from 16.6% in 2016 to 20.8% in 2020.

“I’ve had the pleasure of traveling the state with the governor, visiting every region and many different communities and no matter where we go, businesses share with us that their greatest challenge is finding available workers to fill vacancies,” said Lindsey Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

The results from the statewide survey are consistent with concerns of business owners in Rutland County, according to Mary Cohen, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.

“The main thing I hear from businesses in this area is, ‘We need employees.’ It’s been very difficult for them to find qualified employees, regardless of the size of the business,” Cohen said.

Rutland County has had good business news this past year, Cohen said, especially in tourism. Rooms, meals and entertainment tax revenue for Rutland City for the first half of the current fiscal year were up $20,000 from the same period last year.

“That increase represents $2 million in additional sales, a good sign for the region,” she said.

Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said increasing state spending on marketing is a top priority for her 1,500 members. VCC has partnered with Davis & Hodgdon in the release of the economic survey results.

“Our main focus in the Legislature this year is to increase tourism funding by $500,000, which will support the second-largest industry in the state. We have been losing market share for the last few years and we need to reverse that trend,” she said.

Businesses are less pessimistic about the Vermont economy than they were in 2016. According to the 2020 survey, 25.7% of the respondents said Vermont’s economy is in decline compared to 54% who said so in 2016. Only a small percentage, however, 17.8%, said the Vermont economy is improving.

Very few respondents, 22 of 139 (15.8%), reported they “love doing business in Vermont,” whereas 31 (22.3%) respondents said they have considered “closing my business or moving it out of state.” Twenty-four business owners said, “plans were put in motion” to relocate, although the number that will actually do so is not reported in the survey.

A significant majority, 79 respondents (56.5%), said they expect their business will grow this year, whereas 25 businesses (17.9%) expect a drop in business. Fifty-one business owners predicted their business will increase by less than 10%, and six said their business should grow by 30% or more. Of those who expect a decline, 15 predicted a drop of less than 10%, while only one predicted a loss of business of more than 30%.

The 730 members of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility have a somewhat different priority list, according to Samantha Sheehan, VBSR communications manager.

According to Sheehan, the top three issues for VBSR members are affordable housing, access to child care and rising cost of health care.

“It depends on how you ask the question. What we ask is what are the major issues for your business and for your employees,” she said. Most of the VBSR members (65%) employ 10 or fewer people, and 700 of the 730 are considered small businesses, she said. VBSR members also are concerned about recruitment and retention of qualified employees.

One top legislative priority for VSBR is to “detach” benefits such as health and dental insurance from businesses and make them a social responsibility.

“Employees could leave one business for another without fear of loss of their benefits,” she said.

Kurrle agrees that finding affordable housing is a problem.

“In addition to labor force and overall cost, the other barrier I hear businesses often discuss is access to affordable and safe housing for their employees,” she said. “In 2017, the governor proposed a $35 million housing bond, now $37 million, that has already put hundreds of homes on the market statewide with a focus on housing working families can afford. We’ve also proposed investments and tools to revitalize existing housing stock, which we continue to pursue with the Legislature.”


Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Finding Balance

A black-capped chickadee finds its balance on a branch in Calais recently.


Panel OKs 'preferred solar site'

The Board of Aldermen may be ready to prefer a solar site.

Board of Aldermen President Sharon Davis said Thursday that the Community and Economic Development Committee had voted Wednesday to recommend the full board grant developer Joe Giancola a “preferred solar site” designation for a 199.8-kw solar array he plans to build on a River Street property.

The designation was created by the state to allow municipalities to encourage solar development on better-suited properties and discourage them on worse-suited ones. It has no bearing on the project’s approval, but does make it eligible for a higher rate on the net-metered electricity. Giancola said the rate is needed to make the project economically viable.

The board effectively denied the designation to a project planned last year by Charles Coughlin, who owns the local McDonald’s restaurants as well as Central Vermont Motorcycles. The board held extensive discussions in executive session before declining to act on Coughlin’s request, and no public explanation was given.

“Joe, currently, is at that same level, but I’m not sure it’s going to take the same direction,” Davis said.

The committee was short of a quorum after a last-minute change of day to avoid scheduling opposite a forum Thursday on the downtown strategic plan rewrite, so Davis stepped up in her capacity of an at-large member of each aldermanic committee.

“What we did was, Joe had all the paperwork, he had maps showing the sites,” Davis said. “Questions were asked ... in regards to the highest and best use of that property. … Could anything else be built on it? Joe’s answer was no.”

Previously, Davis said, the board asked the planning commission to look at definitions of preferred solar sites to include in the city’s master plan.

“That didn’t happen,” she said. “This discussion ensued about do we or do we not have more guidance.”

Davis said she made the motion to approve, but said that she does not think anything has changed since the Coughlin application.

“Mr. Coughlin’s site was the first discussion of a preferred site,” she said. “We really had no idea what it was. … I think I was a little frustrated last night. It’s been a little while. There should have been some discussion of what constitutes a preferred site.”

Giancola noted that the property is zoned industrial and that the preferred site designation was endorsed by the planning commission.

“It’s kind of confusing to them, I think,” he said. “I don’t know what the master plan had to do with it.”

Alderman Matt Whitcomb, a committee member who missed the meeting, said it was certainly confusing to him.

“Does it lock a particular parcel of land into a particular use forever?” he asked. “Every time I’ve asked that question, I’ve gotten a muddier answer. … I’ve done my best to do my homework, to read what the state of Vermont has put out. Even that isn’t 100 percent clear.”


spotlight

“If we’re to order our young men and women ... to risk their lives in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people’s elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.’’

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaking to media after the Senate approved a bipartisan measure Thursday aimed at limiting President Donald Trump’s war-making powers. - B8

Minimum wage

The Vermont State Senate overrides Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $12.55 over the next two years. B3

Equal Rights

The U.S. House of Representatives OK'd a measure removing a 1982 deadline for state ratification and reopening the process to amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on gender. A10 


RHD Hotspot

Today

Death Café

A forum for people to openly discuss death and all that it encompasses. Share our thoughts, fears, plans and perhaps find answers. Second Friday of every month. 4-5 p.m. Godnick Adult Center, 1 Deer St., Rutland, eoldoula.rutlandvt@gmail.com, 236-8569.