The town’s numbers don’t add up

Thursday October 11, 2012

Mike Bethel

One of our Select Board members apparently posted something recently about shopping over the border in New York. The board just voted not to change the Johnson Controls property from industrial to commercial/industrial. The reason was, as the board member put it, he didn’t want to see a strip mall with big-box stores come to this site.

This seems a tad hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?

How does this make sense at all? Couldn’t we use his tax dollars for shopping here in Bennington? I thought "buying local" was the rage.

Most of our Select Board and town administration are simply out of touch with reality. We should want to change this philosophy, because growth, not regulation, is what is needed in our town. Mixed use, which was authorized on Benmont Avenue recently, allows for flexibility and variety in the same zone, and is the far better approach for these areas of town.

In fact, the market has already decided that some zoning districts are mixed use now, because of the pre-existing businesses. Only new businesses will be hurt by this board decision.

The Planning Commission’s proposal to rezone Northside Drive, which was turned down by our Select Board, really wasn’t a bad idea. It would bring more industrial uses to Bennington through a mixed-use zone.

For instance, the owner of the 6 acres where the drive-in used to be, which already has water and sewer connection, could have had the flexibility under this zoning to use the property for commercial or industrial endeavors. Now, it only has commercial uses available. We would gain more industrial uses, if needed, not less, had the zoning change gone through.

When you hear a Select Board member argue that he doesn’t want to make Industrial Drive a mixed-use zone, he is unaware that there is already industrial property in that zone. On one end of Northside Drive, you have the Vermont Composites property, right across from the Kmart property. At the other end, you have the Johnson Controls property, which is still zoned industrial, right across from the Hannaford plaza. In between, you have the Morse Industrial Park.

Tell me this isn’t mixed use already.

Stagnation seems to be an acceptable policy with our town leaders. I would like to know how the board and our manager think we are going to be able to pay for infrastructure needs for our town in the near future. Where is Bennington going to get money to repay the $5 million Irene loan, $12 million cost of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade, or the $5 million water pressure solution over on Grandview Street?

The list goes on, but let’s stop there for a moment. To do the math, those three alone are about $22 million, if my numbers are correct. Then there is the $30 million to $40 million for the Molly Stark School contemplated by the Bennington School District board.

Without concentrating on bringing new businesses to Bennington, I wonder how we can keep the expensive staff at the town hall. Certainly, there will need to be layoffs in the near future.

Let me give you a few examples at how well compensated our administrative staff is. Let’s start with our zoning administrator and our community development director as an example. The administrator makes about $63,000 a year, plus benefits, which breaks down to $30 an hour. The community development director makes about $58,000 a year, plus benefits, or $28 an hour.

Raises were just given out in October, with the community development director getting a $2,000 raise, and he’s only been on the job six months. How can a town of under 16,000 citizens keep up with these costs for town staff, if we don’t let business come to Bennington?

I am working on a petition to bring the Johnson Controls zoning issue before the voters of Bennington. The voters must weigh in on this important decision.

Mike Bethel lives in Bennington.


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