This is an open letter to the select board and town officials. And also a thank you to John McFadden for stating the obvious.
Water rates in Bennington have been climbing rapidly. In the past three years, the water users of Bennington have seen an increase of 10 percent, 12 percent, 15 percent. Since that figure compounds, the total is roughly 41 percent over three years. Even for someone like myself with a steady income this has been a huge increase.
The reasoning as I understood it was to improve our aging system. We are all still coping with that increase and now we are being asked go approve a capitol improvement that apparently, if I follow the semantics correctly, is not an "improvement" to an aging system (which should be covered under the word improve in the sentence above) but is considered a "capitol project."
John McFadden has accurately pointed out that we were told that this last increase of 15 percent was the last of these escalating increases and now here we are one year later being told that a "capital project" will increase our rates again.
I completely understand that the town sees an opportunity to make an improvement with a partnership from Southern Vermont College, making it less costly. I also understand that within the community the stated primary beneficiaries besides the college will be two neighborhoods. And of course I completely agree that anything that benefits a stronger college benefits the community and anything that enhances individual property values benefit us all. Have I finished with the presented pros to this project?
Now the other side. Putting the college on the town water system will provide added revenue. I have been told by those in town government that all large users such as schools and factories are metered, so I will assume that SVC will also be metered. Anyone who has a teen or college person in their household knows that they tend to be frequent water users. This should bring quite a bit of added revenue which will offset dipping into the "improvement fund" that we have been paying into with these increases.
Select board, I urge you to think more broadly than simply agreeing to Mr. Hurd's plans.
1) This is too important to be lumped in with Town Meeting for discussion. Please set up a separate meeting so that the water users of Bennington have a chance to voice their opinions before a vote.
2) Think more broadly about revenue vs. expense (the addition of a huge water user to the system) and also question more deeply to insure that all federal and state monies have been explored.
3) Consider sharing this expense with the entire community. Not a popular idea, I realize, but the new middle school is shared by all, those with students and those without, because it enhances the community. Improving the college's water use as well as the neighborhoods currently having water issues benefits all. The merchants who receive business from the college, the real estate people (who may or may not be water users in their private lives). The businesses who need to attract people to live in the community, etc.
Once again, the recent rate increases have been very difficult. Raising them again along with the recent property and school tax increases raises the cost of home or business ownership; rents will, by necessity, increase, putting home ownership and rental units out of the reach of more people.
Are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? This is too important to rubber stamp. It is the vision of a few that is going to be on the backs of many. Those presenting the vision both in town and at the college are not elected by us. Those of you on the select board are and therefore should be listening, questioning and researching the impact on the citizens you who you represent.
I personally cannot support this when it comes to a vote without many more questions answered and I urge all citizens to ask those questions and to come to whatever meeting is set up (this meeting is required by law) to question this proposal.
Abby Shapiro is a resident of Bennington.