When Entergy announced its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant would be closing by the end of this year, Vernon officials found themselves faced with the daunting task of making huge budget cuts to make up for the anticipated loss in tax revenue.
We were concerned at the time that this would lead to divisiveness and a lot of infighting over which budgetary items to cut. We urged the folks in Vernon to put aside any personal self interests and do what's best for the town overall.
So far town officials and residents have proven themselves up to the task.
The first item on the chopping block was the Vernon Police Department. Residents voted to eliminate the entire department and instead contract full-time coverage with the Windham County Sheriff's Department. Whether you agree with that decision or not, there's no denying that the change so far has been handled efficiently and with a great deal of professionalism.
"We've had a very receptive welcome from the community, from the Selectboard, even from the police department," Lt. Mark Anderson, who leads the sheriff's new Vernon Division, told the Reformer in July.
It couldn't have been easy for Vernon police to hand over patrolling duties to an outside entity, knowing that they were losing their jobs, but Anderson said "They were ultimately very professional, very courteous, and very helpful."
In June the Vernon Selectboard rewarded that dedication and professionalism by giving Interim Police Chief Matt Stains and Vernon police officer Alary Crowley bonuses of $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.
Another huge budget cut came from switching the town-funded trash pickup program to a "pay as you throw" system. This week officials reported that the new system is so successful that town residents have cut the amount of trash they generate by more than 50 percent. That savings prompted hauler Triple T Trucking to increase recycling collection from a biweekly schedule to a weekly schedule as of Sept. 1.
The company will do so, owner Norman Mallory said, for no extra money because Triple T's routes have been running so smoothly.
"Everything is moving along so efficiently, we would like to give something back to the town," Mallory said.
Since there is a fee for trash bags but no charge for recyclable collection, recycling has become an easy way to save money. That has led to a huge boost in recycling rates. Mike Courtemanche, who heads a volunteer Recycling Committee that has helped get the new programs started, said Vernon residents had generated an average of 15.25 tons of trash weekly over the past two years. Since pay as you throw began with the new fiscal year on July 1, the weekly trash weights have been 5.08 tons; 6.6 tons; 7.13 tons; 6.68 tons; and 6.96 tons.
"We have cut our trash by more than half," Courtemanche told the Reformer. "A reduction that high is surprising."
And Mallory reports that his employees have had little trouble collecting the much-higher numbers of recyclables.
"The material is coming in very clean," he told Selectboard members Monday night. "We don't have a great amount of contamination. It's running quite well. It's very efficient."
"I am just amazed at how the town has responded to this," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said, adding that, "it really ran so smoothly, right from the very beginning."
All of this proves just how resilient the town of Vernon is, how residents are able to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and do what needs to be done. Based on these successes so far we have every confidence that the officials and residents of Vernon will overcome any future hurdles related to Vermont Yankee's closing, or any other future challenges for that matter.