Stuart Hurd | All About Town: Act 46 can open opportunities

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I read the Act 46 school consolidation story in the Banner today. It appears that those on the study committee are spending a lot of time fighting Act 46 rather than embracing it and trying to find a way to comply. This is an opportunity for all of us. If the SVSU communities vote to consolidate, next year's education tax rate is reduced by $0.10, the following year by $0.08, then $0.06, then $0.04, and in the fifth year by $0.02. That reduction provides plenty of room for growth in the budget and still provides a savings on property taxes. It opens opportunities for school choice, for teacher sharing and movement, for addressing critical needs at identified schools, and for equal educational opportunities for our children. Ask your school board members to find a way to make this happen.

At the recent select board meeting, the board reviewed a proposed solar array on lands off Shields Drive in the Maneely Industrial Park. Although the screening ordinance adopted four weeks ago is not yet in effect, the board used the criteria as a basis for this review. The Board will meet on December 28th to finalize its position on this proposal. The developers are looking for town support prior to appearing before the Public Service Board.

The proposed General, Highway and Fire Fund budgets have been sent to the select board for its review, modification, and adoption late in January. Our early projections place the combined property tax rate increase at just over $0.01based on last year's grand list. Agencies placed on the ballot by the Board or by petition add another $0.01 to the tax rate if all are approved. In my January column, I'll provide more detail on the proposed budgets because the Select Board will have had a chance to review them in greater detail and may have had time to make adjustments as well.

Over the last year, many individuals, business leaders, and various boards and commissions have been focusing on a strategic plan to enhance economic development opportunities in our region. Recently, a nine member appointed, legislatively directed committee of Bennington and Windham County individuals undertook to generate a report on the Southern Vermont Economic Zone, a combined County initiative. The legislation directed the committee's efforts in five specific areas involving business recruitment and retention and collaboration. The committee presents its report to the Legislature in January 2016. A recently held Business Forum arranged by Tom Jacobs, Select Board Chair, and hosted by Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) highlighted how the business community sees its role in helping to spur business growth and development. The forum ended with a commitment by those involved to continue to meet, to identify specific project(s), and potentially, develop investment strategies to bring them to fruition. These are exciting times.

This week, the Bennington County Solid Waste Alliance received word that its Solid Waste Implementation Plan (SWIP) has been approved by the State. It addresses outreach to schools and business, household hazardous waste collection, and website development in the first year.

I want to welcome Matthew Harrington as the newly appointed executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce. His community ties, his connections to those working on economic development, and his business acumen are truly assets that will benefit the community.

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington's Town Manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.


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