Shumlin administration seeks public input on budget
The Vermont public is being invited to speak out at a pair of public hearings on the budget that will be conducted for the first time as Internet-based seminars called webinars.
Administration Secretary Justin Johnson has scheduled the two hearings on Nov. 23. The human services budget will be the topic from 1 to 3 p.m., and the budget for the rest of state government will be the focus from 4 to 6 p.m.
Among the pressures on human services are more people getting more health care through Medicaid; a call for more social workers to respond to abuse and neglect of children and the continuing unmet need for substance abuse treatment.
Vermont Gas uses confidentiality agreements for land bought
Opponents of a 41-mile gas pipeline proposed by Vermont Gas complain that the utility company's land purchases are being shrouded in secrecy.
St. George property owner Philip Beliveau said he's barred from revealing how much Vermont Gas paid to run the pipeline through his property, saying the utility insisted he sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Ratepayers are being asked to shoulder about $134 million of the $154 million projected cost of the pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline — including landowners, environmentalists and consumer advocates — say ratepayers have a right to know how Vermont Gas is spending money for the project.
Beliveau says he thinks it's unethical for Vermont Gas to conceal what they paid him, saying it should be a matter of public record.
Vermont Gas defends the company's practices as in compliance with regulators' expectations.
"We are open and transparent in everything we do," spokeswoman Beth Parent told the newspaper.
Regulators approved the pipeline in December 2013 for $87 million, but Vermont Gas has since increased the projected cost by 78 percent. The utility broke ground in June 2014 and plans to complete the pipeline late next year.
The Vermont Public Service Board is still investigating whether the cost increase has undermined the pipeline's economic benefit to Vermont.
Vermonters encouraged to check missing money database
The Vermont Treasurer's office says it has about $71 million in unclaimed financial property and is encouraging Vermonters to see if any of it is theirs.
The property includes misplaced savings or investments, insurance policies, abandoned security deposits and uncashed tax refunds or paychecks.
State Treasurer Beth Pearce says residents can check for their name, business or non-profit organization in the online database at MissingMoney.Vermont.gov.
A list of new unclaimed property valued at $50 or more has been turned over to the Treasurer's office in the past year and will also be inserted into daily newspapers throughout November.
Last year more than 13,107 people claimed more than $4.7 million in unclaimed property and the average claim amount was $365, Pearce said.
"In this past year, we received more than $10 million in new unclaimed property," she said. "We encourage people to develop the habit of checking at least once a year to see if there's anything listed for them."
Deadline nears for homeowners to seek wildlife grants
The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says landowners have until Nov. 20 to apply for federal wildlife conservation grants.
The Nov. 20 deadline is for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which covers habitat work, from managing forests for game populations to restoring field and wetlands for songbirds.
Fish and Wildlife's Dave Adams says the department is encouraging any landowner interested in managing their land for forestry or wildlife to get in touch with the department.
Depending on the landowner's goals, biologists may suggest cutting sections of forest to promote habitat for game species like grouse, woodcock, and deer. They can also develop a plan to fix old forest roads to improve water quality or create habitats for songbirds.
State's heating assistance program to open on Monday
The New Hampshire Fuel Assistance Program, which helps vulnerable families with their heating bills, will open Monday.
Also known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, the program gives assistance to New Hampshire families and seniors whose annual income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. For a family of four this year, that means an annual maximum income of $48,500. The average benefit for eligible families is expected to be about $650.
New Hampshire's funding of around $26 million has held steady for the past few years. The program served 35,073 households last year with an average benefit of $663.
The program will open ahead of schedule this year because the federal funds have been released early.
Special session likely to result in drug-focused task force
State lawmakers are poised to create a task force to study a handful of substance abuse proposals when they return Wednesday for a special session.
The goal is to vet ideas from Gov. Maggie Hassan and others so lawmakers can vote on legislation quickly when the session kicks off in January. Although Hassan wanted lawmakers to take up legislation during the special session, she and Democrats say the task force is a positive step forward.
Republicans say the Legislature must carefully study the issues before rushing ahead with policy changes.
Issues on the task force's plate, if approved, include: Insurance coverage for substance abuse, drug courts, beefing up law enforcement, penalties for dealing fentanyl, strengthening the drug monitoring program and better educating doctors who prescribe opioids.