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Bradford , Vermont
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March 13, 2019     Journal Opinion
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March 13, 2019
 

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DWEEK YOUR RIGHT TO IGVOW NSHINF’ dwaunusm games LIGHT lNTo' DARK CORNERS... oRivendell (continued from I) towns would be less fortunate. At that time, it appeared thatthey would face a penalty for “excess spending per equalized pupil,” and that Fairlee and Vershire would see double-di git increases, with a smaller increase for West Fairlee. But all of that has changed due to a correction of the ADM, the average student enrollment and attendance during the first 40 days of the previous school year. The ADM ratio determines how expenses and revenues are divided between Orford and the three Vermont towns, so it is a crucial calculation. The district’s elected auditors and Rivendell review com— mittee have questioned the waythat ADM has been arrived at and calculated and recently revised this year’s count. Alter studying raw data from the schools for the 40-day period at the beginning of this year, auditor Chris Crowley determined that Orford’s ADM, used for the February estimate, had been undercounted by about 15 students. Rather than declining, it turned out that the number of Orford students stayed within one student of last year’s reported ADM. Meanwhile, the Vermont ADM showed a decline of about 13 students from last year, which was roughly what was reported in February. As aresult, Orford’ s share of the ADM is higher and Vermont’ 5 is lower than was first shown. The result is that Orford’ s share of expenses rose from the originally estimated 29.22 percent to 31.67 percent, about one percent higher than last year, and Vermont’s dropped about one percent to 68.33 percent. This is bad news for Orford but better news for the three Vermont towns. Their share of expenses and, therefore, their “cost per equalized pupil” is lower, removing the threat of a penalty for not meeting the state’s “spending threshold.” If this budget passes, Orford is looking at a tax rate of $21.18 per $1,000 of property value), a 9.5 percent increase over last year. The tax on a property valued at $100,000 wouldbe $2,118. The three Vermont towns are treated by the state as a single unified district with an “equalized ' tax rate,” estimated this year at $1.8005 per $100. That rate is then adjusted by each town’s “common level of appraisal” to determine their actual homestead tax rates. Fairlee’s CLA this year is 98.96 percent, West Fairlee’s is 98.44 percent, and Vershire’s is 94.39 percent, bringing the estimated tax ona$100,000 property to $1,819 in F airlee, $1,829 in West Fairlee and $1,908 in Vershire. Adding the budget increase to the change in CLAs from last year to this, Fairlee is looking at a 7.7 percenttax increase, West F airlee’s should drop by 4.5 percent, and Vershire’ 3 should rise by 4 percent. Elections At the polls, Orford, Fairlee and West Fairlee voters will elect one ©zo't’8 Michyan Re to awktoomcom three years. No one is on the ballot for one- year openings for district clerk, treasurer or the third auditor. Former clerk and treasurer Esther Marsh withdrew earlier this year when she was hired as the Orford Selectboard’ s administrative assis- tant. Doug Tifft of F airlee has been appointed as auditor the past two years but did not file for election to the post. With no one on the ballot, the Fairlee board seat and clerk, treasurer and auditor positions will have to be filled by write-in votes, or later by appointment if no one receives votes equal to 1 percent or more of eligible voters. Last year, there were 734 registered voters in Fairlee and 2,540 in the whole district. Email: crichardson@/onews. com. ~Victim (continued from page I) escape from the non-secure facility on the Upper Plain. “The combined and ongoing failures of Valley Vista and the state of Vermont had a synergestic effect,” the suit claims. “Had Vermont and Valley Vista done the bare minimum and complied with the terms of Mr. Simpson’ 5 release, Mr. Simpson’s zone of danger would never have expanded past the local community surrounding Val- ley Vista and his estranged wife Sherise, andmore likely than not he would have been arrested and re— detained.” Roessler and her son are both listed as plaintiffs in the suit. In addition to Vermont, Meridian Behavioral Health is listed as the defendant. Meridian is the Minne- sota company that purchased Valley Vista in 2017. The suit also alleges that Valley Vista has previously not informed authorities about patients who walked away from the facility despite being there under court order. “I would like to personally thank not just our friends and family, but also the many people throughout local communities who have ex- pressed their care and concern for the well-being of our family even though many of them never even met or knew us,” said Roessler in a statement released by her attorneys. , “I also hope something good can come of this lawsuit so that something like this never happens again. Email: editor@'onews.com. March 13, 2019—JOURNAL OPINION—Page 7 Public officials must be transparent at all times On Tuesday, March 5, Vermonters elected theirlocal govemment officials on Town Meeting Day. InNovember 2018, Vermonters chose their statewide officers and legislative representa- tives. In November 2016, Vermonters voted for the highest elected office in the United States. Regardless of the difference in responsibili- ties of their positions, from local select boards to the Governor to the President of the United States, and even me as Vennont’s Secretary of State, we all share one thing: a responsibility to uphold the public’s trust by being transparent and accountable in everything we do. ‘ March 10— 1 6 is Sunshine Week, a national celebration of access to public information and government transparency. In my over 30 years ofpublic service, as a City Councilor, State Senator, and as Secretary of State, I have learned that public trust in our government is critical to our ability to achieve meaningful progress. Ensuring that government is open and transparent is the only way to build this trust with our Vermont communities. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword, or somethin g we should do as govemment officials. It is a requirement, enshrined in the Vermont Constitution under Article 6: That all power being originally inherent in and by Jim Condos consequently derived from the people, therefore, all ofiicers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them. We must never forget that in government, our boss is the public. Everything we do, and every record we make, ultimately belongs to them. Without transparency, Vermonters would not have the tools they need’to hold public officials accountable. Criticism or embarrassment are not valid reasons to draw the shades on information that the public has a right to see. In my office we operate every day as if the 625,000 Vermonters we serve are looking over our shoulder. And, in case you were wondering, yes, the media is included as members of the public. Not only do our hard working journalists have as much of a right to public records as any other individual, they also play an important role as the public’s watchdog, serving to inform and educate. Like any group of professionals, they are not perfect. The vast majority of journalists support letting the sun shine in on government. A free press is an essential partner in accountability through transpar- ency. Sadly, it is nothardto imagineaworldinwhich local, state and federal governments act behind closed doors and with secrecy and impunity. There are many countries where this is the case. We must remain ever vigilant in our quest to keep the doors of government wide open and to ensure that government is working for the people and is at all times accountable. Vermont’ s open meeting and public record laws are not difficult to understand, even if sometimes burdensome for public officials; however, by adopting an open government mindset and foregoing the all too pervasive ‘deny first’ mentality, much of the work is already done. Unfortunately, not every government ofiicial shares this perspective, and oftentimes costly legal fees prevent ordinary Vermonters from pursuing access to the records that they are entitled to. It’s also important to recognize that violations of Vermont’ s transparency law aren’t always intentional. The majority of Verrnont’s public officials are hard- working, and honest. However, intentional or not, unless we want public faith in our governmental institutions to erode further, we must do better. , So, for Sunshine Week this year I would like to acknowledge that from time to time, a few rain clouds may block the sun from shining down. However, as government officials, we have to do our part by throwing open those shades and turning on a few more lights when it gets dark. We can’t sleep on transparency; good government demands it and the people we serve deserve it. ### Condos is Vermont Secretary of State. Sunshine Week is March 0-16 and sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. Eversource should stop bullying the New Hampshire forest community My father always said, “You stand for something, or you stand for nothing.” Last year, the New Hampshire General Court overwhelmingly stood for the state’s forest community and renewable power by passing Senate Bill 365, a bill to support the state’s six independent biomass power plants. And then the General Court stood up again and reaffirmed that support by overriding the governor’s veto of SB 365 with a two-thirds bipartisan majority in both the House and the Senate. Our Legislature made clear in these two big votes: New Hampshire’s forests, its forest industry, and local renewable energy are key to our state’s future, say nothing about the thousands upon thousands of private forest landowners who own just under 3.5 million acres, or 72.2 percent of New Hampshire’s forests and need a market for'our low-grade wood. That market is created by the biomass energy plants. SB 365 became law in Septemberwbut its implementation continues to be delayed by opponents’ litigation and delay tactics. When they passed SB 365 into law, our legislators recognized how important those six biomass energy plants are to our State and its forest economy. SB 365 ’s benefits include more than 900 jobs, $254 million per yearin economic activity, and promotion of good forest management to protect the environment. But Eversource, New Hampshire’ 5 largest utility, refusesto followthe lawbythumbingtheir nose at the Legislature, whose directive to Eversource was to work with the biomass power plants and with the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commissiontofinalize the power contracts called for in SB 3653" ’ , ‘ ' ' ’ Under the law, Eversource was to purchase the energy output of the biomass plants starting on Feb. 1, 2019. But instead of purchasing the biomass energy output, Eversource and an out— of-state group called the New England Ratepayers Association are challengingthe law by Tom Thomson and delaying the purchase. NERA claims it advocates for ratepayers. However, when SB 365 was debated, it was found that the loss of the biomass plants and the baseload generation of power they provide would have a long- terrn cost due to increases in future New England energy grid capacity charges. NERA never acknowl- edged the costs, not the cost to the State of New Hampshire of losing the jobs and hundreds ofmillions of dollars in economic activity. Not only would New Hampshire ratepayers pay more and New Hampshire people lose their livelihoods, , . N e w Hampshire would lose a critical component ofmanaging our state’s forestlands. This is : clearly an NERA, a Massachu- setts-based organiza- tion,doeen’t understand. Thebul- lyingtactics f r o m Eversource and NERA . a; Tom Thomson stands in front of low rede wood In Orford that will be c ipped for biomass plants to generate electricity. In every New Hampshire timber harvest, Thorgsonlsalys 45 «2,60 pergent of woo cut 5 ow gra ewoo . arecausin g COURTESY PHOTO harm_ex_ actly what the Legislature wanted to avoid. Biomass plants are struggling, and this is being felt throughout the forest'econorny. No one knows what is going to happen and small business owners and landowners are trying to make plans for the filture. This law was not just about energy and electrons, it was about supporting the state’s forést products industry, forest landowners, and recreation/ tourism industry. Too much is at stake for the many families in logging, forestry, sawmills, and equipment suppliers, and those ' private forest landowners who are willing to share our lands to both the general public and our state, giving fi‘ee access to recreational logging trails for hunting, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, to name just a few activities. Stop the delay—and follow the law now. Eversource and the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission need to act now and implement the law whose benefits include: l)Diversifying energy (fuel)— the regional grid operator warns us that New England is already too reliant on natural gas, and if we lose biomass power plants this problem gets worse; 2)Protection from shifting regional transmission/ distribution/capacity costs; 3)Keeping N.H. energy dollars in our communities (the six biomass power plants covered by SB 365 generate $254 million in annual economic activity in New Hampshire’s communities); and 4) Promoting good forest management~healthy forests mean healthier water and air and better habitat for wildlife. Best of all, these power plants provide locally sourced power. To lose these power plants is not only to lose those electrons, it is to lose a major economic and environmental driver of what makes New Hampshire special. We are a place where you can still work the land, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and contribute to your local community—that’s the true “New Hampshire Way” we often hear about and it’ s exactly what the General Court encouraged when it passed SB 365 and then overrode the governor’s ill- considered veto of this important legislation. AsI said at the beginning, “You stand for something, or you stand for nothing.” I choose to stand with the hard-working men and women of the forest products industry and our forest landowners. The Legislature did, too, when it passed SB 365. I call on the opponents of SB 365 to comply with state law. It’s long past time for Eversource and NERA to follow the letter of the law. ### T 0m Thomson is a tree farmer in Orford. oAct 46 (continued from page I) Newbury met last month to form the new single school district that would oversee two elementary schools, a high school, and a vocational school. Currently, three boards oversee those same schools. No schools would be closed under the Act 46 process. But at the meeting, voters immediately approved a motion to adjourn and reconvene the meeting on March 25. It was a move that was repeated in several other communi- ties around the state. Now, French says, that March 25 meeting must be held to ensure that a new school board can be elected and a budget for 2019—2020 can be developed and voted on before the new fiscal year rolls around on July 1. “If voters do not take the opportunity at organizational meet- . ings to conduct the business of the district, the transitional board may need to take independent steps to prepare the district for full opera- tions including warning the election of the initial board and preparing and warning a budget for the first year of ‘ operations,” French writes. He also said the Agency of Education will take legal action if initial or transitional board mem- bers do not follow the law. Meanwhile, there will be a public meeting on March 13 at 6 pm. at the Space on Main in Bradford. The meeting, which has been legally warned due to the possible presence of school board quorurns, was organized by a former ,WAITS RIVER VALLEY SCHOOL Kindergarten Screening Thursday, March 28 & Friday, March 29 Please call 439-5534 for an appointment Bradford Elementary School Board member Bud Haas, who has been a vocal critic of the Act 46 process. Email: edit0r@]'0news. com. FOOD PANTRY NORTH HAVERHILL—A food pantry for the Haverhill area is located in the downstairs of the Trinity Nazarene. The pantry is open from 9 to 10:30 am. on the third Saturday of each month and is open to Bath, Benton, Piermont, Haverhill, Haverhill Corner, North Haverhill, East Haverhill, Pike, Woodsville, Swifiwater, Mountain Lakes, Center Haverhill, Warren, Newbury and Wells River residents. Donations may be left at the church on Sunday or during open hours. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: PAPER VERSION MAILED $30 for 1 year $57 for 2 years Senior Rate: 527 for 1 year $52 for 2 years Out-of-State Subscriptions: $38 for 1 year $73 for 2 years $68 for 2 years Church of the ’ JO Good Local News! Vermont 8- New Hampshire Subscriptions: Out-of-State Senior Rate: $35 for 1 year SOCIAL DANCE HANOVER—Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform ink on April 4 at 7 pm, and April 5 at 8 pm. at the Moore Theater, Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, Hanover. Combining social dance, African dance, hip hop, tap and everyday gestures, ink is an intimate exploration of African American identity, with an original, percussion-heavy score played live by on stage musicians. Tickets are $19 to $50. , OPEN HOUSE WHITE RIVER JUN CTION~Veterans (enrolled and not enrolled), families, stakeholders, and the general public are invited on March 21 from 1 to 4 pm. at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, William A Yasinski Research and Conference Building (Building 44), Room 103, 99 Veterans Drive, to hear a presentation from the Vetemas Benefits Admnistration on the Appeals Modernization Act as well compensation, pensions and other benefits. SNOWBIRD RATES! $35 for 1 year $67 for 2 years Senior Rate 1 year: 332 Senior Rate for 2 years: 862 ONLINE NEWSPAPER! ‘ J0 Onllne Subscription ; $25 per year FbR couao suescmpnons (Mailed 8. E-Edition) Add $10 to Mailed Rates school board member from their town, and all voters will elect one at- large school board member and all h other district officers. There is no Your Yard, Garden and Pet Place board opening for Vershire this 3147 Dartmouth College Highway yean W North Haverhill, NH In Orford, board chair Marc 'w 603'787'6981 DeBois is running for re—election to another three-year term, challenged by Misty Sinsigalli. Rebecca Wurdak is on the West Fairlee ballot to succeed Corey Austin, also for three years. There is no. one on the ballot for Fairlee’ s three-year board seat being vacated by longtime board member Bruce Lyndes. On the district ballot seeking reelection are the board’s at—large member Katherine Blanchard of ‘ Orford and moderator David Hooke of Vershire, both for one year, and auditor Mark Burger of Orford for PLEASE SEND THIS FORM TO: Journal Opinion, PO. 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