VERNON >> The closure of a nuclear plant, the prospect of a gas plant and the economics behind them are near and dear to residents as they prepare to vote this year.
"Vernon is going to be facing a number of challenges with the continuing decline of revenue from Vermont Yankee (nuclear plant in the decommissioning process) and I think that I'm able to assess a lot of the possibilities for the future. And I'll hopefully be able to provide some guidance in the background that I have in environmental sciences and chemistry," said Stephen Skibnowsky, who handled the chemistry department's budgets at Vermont Yankee where he was employed for over 40 years and helped with the town's budgeting when he temporarily filled in last year. "It takes work. It takes a lot of close tracking and you have to sometimes make hard decisions."
He's running unopposed for a two-year seat on the Selectboard.
The fact that Bronna Zlochiver is running for two different seats, both for three-year terms, was called into question during a candidates forum on Wednesday, Feb. 17. She is running against incumbent Sandra Harris in one contest and Josh Unruh in another.
If Zlochiver wins both seats, she will decide which one to fill then the Selectboard will appoint someone or call a special election. She is on the town's library board and represents Vernon on the Windham County Economic Development Program Council.
"I'm also creative and imaginative," said Zlochiver, the mind behind a popular monthly Vernon e-newsletter. "I co-founded the unofficial town website and the Vernon Artisan (Market and Studio) Tour. I care about this town."
Having already gone on record as being opposed to the gas plant, which voters will be asked about in a non-binding referendum on March 1 during annual Town Meeting Day in a separate voting station, Zlochiver said she thought there was more to the question of whether to support the project. She wondered whether it would help to reduce taxes in town.
"I don't think it's going to solve all the challenges we have in town," she said. "Our economic development viability is going to have to depend on other things like fiber optics to bring us technology that will help us go forward in the future."
Skibnowsky's take: "At this point and time, I have an open mind."
"The technology is out there for running a gas plant safely," he said. "I think it behooves us to consider that and consider it as a significant improvement to the town's financial situation and its grand list."
He called for more civility amongst residents.
"We may not all agree with each other about how to get the job accomplished," he said, "but we need to be able to talk to each other as fellow citizens."
Harris, who was not at the forum, submitted a statement saying her family has been "working for Vernon" for over a century. She grew up there, then she served as assistant town clerk, school bus driver, town clerk and on various boards.
"As a child I watched people who were arguing moments before (Town Meeting), sitting down to a meal and laughing together," Harris said. "Town business was separate from personalities and seldom did disagreements continue outside of that meeting."
With Vermont Yankee's bringing more money into Vernon, she said she witnessed a changed.
"We always knew Vermont Yankee was not a permanent fixture in town and those early town leaders set about to make sure that when Vermont Yankee left, the taxpayers in Vernon would not suffer," said Harris. "However, they got older and died. New town leaders started chipping away at the funds that had been set up to protect the future of Vernon and you see where we are today."
While "painful and frustrating" to see the service cuts Vernon is facing, Harris said unless steps are taken taxpayers will not be able to afford living there anymore. Pointing at the Planning Commission's "spending hours searching for solutions" on the possibility of a gas plant, she said "until an industry chooses to come to town, we the taxpayers, must foot the whole bill."
Unruh, who was elected at a special election last June, said in a statement that he "learned a lot" and he looks forward to continuing to learn while finding ways to keep the town prosperous. He manages Leader Home Center in Brattleboro and his wife runs Inspired Design in Vernon. They have three young daughters in the Vernon school system.
"I believe I can continue to bring new ideas on how to balance our budgets, recoup lost tax revenue and preserve our town and its services in a cost-efficient manner without losing the services and programs that make our town so special," said Unruh, president of Vernon's Recreation Department Board, Vernon Town Picnic Coordinator, co-founder of the Vernon Annual Tree Lighting celebration, Vernon Emergency Management Committee member and Vernon War Memorial Committee chairman. "I enjoy being an active member in our community and find a great deal of satisfaction in standing up for the things I believe in during town and Selectboard meetings. I will continue to carry my devotion for our town into this position without hesitation or influence from any group."
Also running unopposed is Cindy Turnley for town and school district treasurer. She currently serves in that capacity and has for one year, after having assisted in the office for 12 years.
"I have very much enjoyed working for and getting to know the residents of Vernon," she said. "And I look forward to continuing to develop that relationship."
On working with outside auditors, Turnley said, "It has worked excellent. We have a very good working relationship."
She said she has followed their recommendations and called the experience positive.
A previous article on the contested town clerk position can be found at reformer.com/latestnews/ci_29450169/three-vie-town-clerk-position-vernon.