Tuesday February 26, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- After serving on a local school board, Eugene Rowley is looking to transition to town government as a Select Board member.

Rowley, who has previously served on the Bennington School District board, as well as the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board, moved to Bennington 10 years ago from Westchester County, New York, where he worked as a corrections officer.

Rowley, one of seven candidates running for the board, said he has spent much of his time volunteering, including mentoring local at-risk youth.

The recent closing of a popular downtown restaurant is the impetus for his candidacy, according to Rowley.

"What really kind of triggered it is seeing Carmody's closing after being three weeks shy of being open for 14 years, being the pretty much a pillar of the community. To see them close, it was just a real sign that things are not being done right in this town and there needs to be a change in governance, all the way through," he said.

"Attract young families"

Rowley said his focus as a Select Board member would be on helping the town "come up with a way to attract young families."

"We need to find a way of making Bennington more appealing -- allowing businesses into town, making ourselves more business friendly. " he said.

Rowley said the board should look into offering tax incentives, creating new amenities and offering more events.

"We have to go outside this bubble that we've formed around ourselves. We need to grow. We need to look at other communities and look at other communities outside of Vermont because I think a lot of Vermont communities are a little on the cookie cutter side. They're all the same when you drive past them," he said.

According to Rowley, the town should find a way to invest more in one facility it already provides and is used by a cross section of the population.

"The rec center is good for what it is, but I think it needs to be a lot better," Rowley said. "Make it some place that people will actually want to go to. People will spend more money for a quality facility."

Rowley said he is in favor of changing the zoning designation of the former Johnson Controls property. The Select Board recently opted not to change it from industrial to commercial.

"When is the Select Board going to realize this is a big item in our town and the people aren't happy with their decision?" he said.

Allowing commercial development will add to the tax base and lower property taxes for everyone, Rowley said.

"We need to stop fighting this thing with Johnson Controls. Make it commercial/industrial. If stays industrial, all it will do is sit empty. If we make it commercial/industrial, then we have a way of building our grand list, which will help the taxpayers in this town. Currently what's happening is our taxes are going up, up, up, and we're getting less quality services for it," he said.

Rowley said he has a reputation for speaking his mind. He said he plans to maintain that spirit as a member of the Select Board if elected.

"I don't hold back on what I feel and what I think and I won't hesitate telling you that what you're saying is wrong," Rowley said. "Anybody who knows me that's the way I am. I get very passionate on what I believe in."

If elected, he said he will work to ensure that the town is attractive to families and that residents are receiving adequate services and amenities for the taxes they pay.

"I think this town is never going to grow and we're just going to keep seeing stores closing until we find something to actually make it appealing to actually bring young families in," Rowley said. "People keep seeing money going out, money going out, our taxes going up and nothing more for it."

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @NealGoswami