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Covid19
City outlines voting options

City Clerk Henry Heck said he’ll be ready to take your ballots when City Hall reopens Oct. 1, but he’d much prefer you put them in one of the drop boxes outside.

“There’s a lot of media-driven fear out there regarding the postal service, what they’re capable of, what they might not be able to do,” Heck said.

The Vermont Secretary of State’s office is distributing ballots for the November election to every active voter. Heck said the first batch has gone out and that while he does not know when Rutland voters will get theirs, all ballots are supposed to be delivered by Oct. 7.

Voters who don’t get a ballot by then — or get one and lose it — can still go their local clerk’s office and request one. Heck said they will have to fill out a form certifying that they have not voted anywhere else, and a state database will tell the clerk’s office whether a ballot had already been received by that voter. Heck said anyone in the city who has not received a ballot by the second week of October should contact his office.

Heck also stressed the need to correctly package ballots. Each one, he said, will come with an inner envelope and an outer envelope. Voters are to place completed ballots in the inner envelope, sign the inner envelope and then place the inner envelope in the outer envelope. Turning in a ballot without using and signing the correct envelopes will result in the ballot being declared “defective.”

According to the Assistant City Clerk Tracy Kapusta, 220 of the 2,740 absentee ballots issued for the primary — roughly 8% — came back defective. She said only 4% of absentee ballots were defective in 2016.

With the City Clerk’s office serving as an early polling location, voters can bring completed ballots there or get ballots and fill them out there, but use of the drop boxes at the Strongs Avenue and Wales Street entrances is strongly encouraged.

“Our office is small, and we can really only have one person in the office at a time,” Kapusta said.

Voters can, of course, still go to the polls in-person on Nov. 3, either to drop off their ballots or to get one and fill it out. In the latter case, they will have to sign a form certifying that they have not sent in an absentee ballot or otherwise voted elsewhere.

“Polling places will be perfectly COVID-enforced,” Heck said. “Masks are mandatory.”

Also, Heck advised not to count out the U.S. Postal Service.

“The day of the primary, the Postal Service came to our office six times delivering a single absentee ballot,” he said. “Our Post Office went above and beyond making sure every ballot that was cast got to us.”

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com


Jonathan Charles picking apples at his families orchard, Mendon Mountain Orchard, on Wednesday. The farm has been in the family for almost 30 years.

Apple Picking in Mendon


News
Vermont solar industry concerned about net metering reduction

MONTPELIER — State regulators are expected to make a decision soon about a solar power tariff that people in the industry are worried will either be lowered even further or done away with completely.

“Every two years the Public Utility Commission assesses the rates and compensation structure of net metering,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade organization for renewable energy businesses. “We are expecting the Public Utility Commission to issue a decision by mid-October.”

The Public Utility Commission (PUC), among other things, sets the amount of cents per kilowatt hour utilities have to credit certain renewable energy projects. It currently stands at 2 cents per kilowatt hour, down from a high of 6 cents in 2011. The net metering program is for smaller solar projects.

Andersen said the rate review process is subject to public oversight. The public comment period for this matter ended Aug. 31.

She said the federal incentive tax credit (ITC) for solar has also been dropping. It’s at 26% now and is slated to drop to 22% next year, then 10% the year after that. Andersen said Vermont should at least keep the net metering rates up so people can pair them with the federal ITC.

Andersen said the net metering program is what makes small-scale solar projects that benefit individuals, neighborhoods and businesses viable, and that there’s been a correlation between the lowered rates and loss of renewable energy jobs in Vermont. Andersen said this is especially problematic given what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to the economy. She said solar industry jobs draw the very demographic Vermont is trying to attract, that being young, skilled labor.

“The bottom line is, if the PUC decides to drop the compensation too much lower, we really are going to have a situation where every Vermonter can’t participate because there’s not going to be economic equity for some people,” said Andersen.

Philip Allen, owner of Same Sun of Vermont, based in Rutland City, said Wednesday that the tariff has been consistently lowered by a penny by the PUC at each review since 2011.

“I’m not sure if they’re going to eliminate it altogether or go down to a penny, but one of those two things is probably going to happen,” he said.

He said developing solar projects has become harder over the years, especially since 2016 when municipalities were given greater weight in the PUC’s review process. Utilities have been able to add more non-waivable fees, have been allowed to charge the developer for more infrastructure upgrades, and some incentives have either been modified to be less attractive or done away with completely.

“Two cents doesn’t sound like much to people but in the course of an average Rutland household solar array, that’s worth about $2,000 over the 10-year period that you’re locked in,” said Allen.

Same Sun, he said, hasn’t seen a drop in businesses but there has been a drop in the number of net-metering projects being built through the years. Allen said this is frustrating, given the Legislature’s apparent general stance on climate change and environmental issues, with it recently voting to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the Climate Change Solutions Act.

According to Renewable Energy Vermont, prior to the pandemic, between 2017 and 2020, Vermont lost 408 solar jobs owing to changes in the net metering program. The group said that given 26,306 Vermonters applied for unemployment in the first week of September, the state should not be doing things that might reduce employment.

Ed McNamara, director of planning at the Department of Public Service, which represents the public interest in PUC hearings, said Wednesday that DPS is recommending the tariff be lowered. He acknowledged that when this happens it results in fewer jobs in the solar industry, but what the DPS has found is that the pandemic has impacted lower-income Vermonters more than others, and these people tend not to be in positions where they can directly benefit from net metering projects.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Covid19
Mentoring organizations remain connected to Vt. youth

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to make it difficult for people to physically gather, mentoring organizations around the state are figuring out how to stay relevant and connected with Vermont youth.

Pam Quinn is program manager for Twinfield Together Mentoring Program in Plainfield. TTMP oversees community-based and peer mentoring programs, as well as the Everybody Wins! reading program at Twinfield Union School.

She said the pandemic has made it difficult for mentors and mentees to meet.

“A lot of them stopped being able to see each other in March, just like everyone else,” she said on Wednesday.

TTMP’s programs serve about 100 children in grades K-12 served.

Quinn said programs like Everybody Wins! have turned to videoconferencing platforms to bring everyone together.

Under normal conditions, mentors could to come to school to read with their mentees. Now that school visitors are restricted, mentors have turned to Zoom where they can read and play games with mentees in a virtual space.

Quinn said kids look forward to their weekly visits with their mentors. And while a Zoom call may not be the same, it gives them something to look forward to.

“They know that their mentor is still there,” she said.

Quinn said mentors who are feeling Zoom fatigue have opted to start pen-pal notebooks or sending video messages to mentees.

“Our goal usually is to have that personal one-on-one connection,” she said. “Now, we’re just trying to keep connections going, so we’re kind of doing whatever people can do.”

Quinn mentioned that the organization has set up a mentoring tent outside school as well so a mentor could connect with a mentee during the day. Her hope is to give the pairs at least one in-person meeting before colder weather forces everyone inside — and online.

TTMP’s peer-based program, which pairs high schoolers with younger kids has also gone virtual since Twinfield High School students are housed in a different building than the lower grades.

The community-based program, meanwhile, is allowed to hold socially distanced meetups if everyone involved is comfortable with that option.

Quinn acknowledged that this is a hard time for kids. She said despite the fact that kids need mentors now more than ever, she has not been actively recruiting mentors since making matches virtually is not ideal. Still, she welcomed anyone who was interested.

“After the pandemic is all over, I think this is going to be a great time for people to get involved because kids, our society’s not in a great spot right now,” she said.

At Twinfield, Quinn said she and fellow educators are working to make sure all students are feeling connected and having their social-emotional needs met.

“I think that we all know this from the pandemic, that the human connection is really important,” she said. “Anyway, people can feel connected, whether it’s adults feeling connected by joining the Zoom call or the kids feeling connected, I think mentoring is going to continue to foster how to keep people connected.”

Like Quinn, Chris Hultquist, executive director of the Mentor Connector, also in Rutland, acknowledged the stress the pandemic has put on kids.

“Our youths are really at a higher stress level than any other time that we’ve seen before,” he said on Wednesday.

He said he expects childhood trauma rates to “dramatically increase over the next few months.”

Hultquist noted Department for Children and Families data from the spring that showed a steep drop in reports of abuse and neglect.

According to DCF data, reports dropped nearly 50% in the first two weeks of April compared to last year.

The decline can be attributed to the switch to remote learning, which kept children out of schools where mandatory reporters would notice signs of abuse and neglect.

Hultquist said the Mentor Connector has been keeping in touch with youth virtually via platforms like Zoom and Google Meet.

The organization works with young people ages 5-25 through one-on-one, group and family mentoring.

According to Hultquist, the organization serves around 180 young people per year with the help of approximately 260 annual volunteers.

He said mentors and mentees have the option to meet in person or virtually.

This spring, the Mentor Connector led the Out of the Box initiative that distributed around 10,000 activity boxes to kids in Rutland County as well as parts of Addison and Bennington Counties throughout the summer.

Hultquist said the organization is “tweaking” the concept to continue to support youth.

“We’re looking at creating those virtual platforms where matches can actually get to know each other, but they’ll have activities that they can do together that are kind of like the prepackaged activities,” he said. “So then they can really focus on the getting to know each other as opposed to focusing on the activity.”

Hultquist said the pandemic has created an opportunity to leverage the resources of the Vermont Youth Project of Rutland County — a group of about 45 different organizations, community members and stakeholders focused on youth issues — to better engage youth and make them feel included at a time when they might be getting lost amid the many issues vying for adults’ attention during the pandemic.

“Parents are losing their jobs, people are scrambling for money,” he said. “I feel like youths are just kind of like the silent participants in the background, getting a lot of the brunt of the stress, but not really able to actively kind of let us know, what they are needing right now.”

To that end, Hultquist said he wants to create a youth council in Rutland where young people can open a dialogue with adults and seek help for how to mitigate the stressors in their lives.

Hultquist sees a silver lining to the pandemic in how to better engage youth in the community.

“A lot of us are really looking at how we can we can rethink youth work because a lot of it had been where we do one service somebody else does, another service and we’re kind of all spread out,” he said. “Over the past six months, we really have a lot of conversations on what does that look like? And how can we collaborate better to be able to supplement each other?”

While technically not a mentoring organization, the Boys & Girls Club of Rutland County has continued to provide out-of-school care for local youth during the pandemic.

The Rutland club on Merchants Row is open weekdays as a remote-learning site where students can access WiFi and receive help with schoolwork and meals.

The site follows the same health and safety guidelines as schools.

David Woolpy, executive director, said the club will receive money from the state’s new child care hub grant program. Last month, the state dedicated $12 million in federal relief money to fund a statewide network of child care hubs for school-age children who are learning remotely.

In addition to the Rutland site, the club is running programs at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden weekdays from noon to 5:30 p.m., and Fair Haven Grade School during the school day.

Woolpy said attendance at the Rutland site has been low so far, but turnout in Fair Haven has been “pretty good.”

Overall, he said the club has been regularly seeing about 30-40 kids during the pandemic, about half the normal number.

“I think people … are a little hesitant to send their child to a place with other children inside when they’re already avoiding school to avoid the virus,” Woolpy said, adding that he thinks people will get more comfortable with the idea as the school year progresses.

Visit www.mentorvt.org to find mentoring opportunities in your community.

Disclosure: Publisher and Editor Steven Pappas takes part in the Twinfield Union School mentoring program of Everybody Wins!

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com


Brittany Caine and Steve Fontaine view the falls Wednesday at Thundering Brook in Killington.

Thundering BROOk


News
Burgess named lister of the year

Howard Burgess didn’t know what a lister was when he was talked into running for the job 26 years ago.

Burgess had been about to take an early retirement from Central Vermont Public Service when former Town Clerk Dick Del Bianco said there was an open seat on the board.

“I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I had to get maybe 30 signatures over the weekend. He said, ‘if you change your mind, you can always quit,’ so that’s how it happened. Next thing I knew, I was a lister, taking the job in a town that needed a lot of work done. And I’ve been there ever since,” said Burgess.

On Friday, he was informed that he had received the Michael P. Cyprian Lister of the Year Award from the Vermont Assessors and Listers Association.

Town listers are responsible for updating and maintaining the town’s grand list, a record of all properties and their values that municipal and state educational taxes are applied to in order to generate a tax bill.

“The job of lister oftentimes is overlooked or under-appreciated, but it’s an integral part of the Rutland Town municipal operation,” said Select Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini. “Howard Burgess has been a steady presence and a voice of reason in the listers office for 26 years and the town of Rutland celebrates this fine accomplishment of becoming lister of the year.”

Prior to leaving CVPS, where he’d spent many years, Burgess was also retired from the Vermont National Guard, where he held the rank of colonel.

“The records were totally out of date when I got there because the office had been vacant for a year,” said Burgess of when he started. “When I got there, it was really something else, and thank God I had some help from the state advisers.”

He said the job has become more involved over the years with new technologies coming in. New listers need more training, which the state provides. When he started in 1994, the last town-wide appraisal had been in 1968, an unusually long time.

“We had some serious disputes going on,” Burgess said. “We had a class-action lawsuit from businesses.”

Early on in his tenure, Burgess worked nights and weekends to get the lister records sorted out. Fortunately, he’s a self-described “workaholic” and said he didn’t mind. He said the office is busy these days in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that his fellow listers, Dean Davis and Marcia Chioffi, are instrumental in making the place run.

Chioffi, a lister since 2010, said Wednesday she is the one who nominated Burgess for the award.

“Of course, we had to do our annual meeting via Zoom, so it was kind of sad that no one was there to acknowledge and congratulate him, although he did get quite a bit of congratulations through email,” she said.

Because of the pandemic, the listers alternate days when one works in the office and the others work from home. Burgess said he likely wouldn’t be in the office for the rest of this week, owing to the recent loss of his sister to COVID-19.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


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