BRATTLEBORO — Vermont’s two lead legislators started a statewide listening tour on Tuesday with an online meeting in Windham County.
House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Chittenden, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, D-Windham County, talked with 40 people during the virtual meeting, seeking input on how Vermont can best invest in its future using federal stimulus funds and an unexpected surplus in state revenue.
Both Krowinski and Balint characterized the infusion of funds as a “once in a lifetime opportunity facing Vermont to make significant investments that will transform and shape the future of our state.”
“[T]he Vermont Legislature is positioned to make historic investments in Vermont’s pandemic recovery, address critical infrastructure needs, support Vermonters’ health and well-being, and strengthen Vermont’s communities, businesses, environment, and climate,” states a news release announcing the series of virtual meetings. “This opportunity must be informed by the voices of Vermonters and the experiences of their day-to-day lives.”
“We are here because we want to know what matters to you and what you hope for,” Balint said from her home in Brattleboro.
Krowinski said she wanted to hear about efforts that have been effective over the past 20 months or so and how the community has been working together to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
What rose to the top during the discussion was a sense that Windham County is full of people who care about the health and welfare of their neighbors.
“Neighbors have been fabulous helping where they can and checking in with others,” said Claire Wilson, of Putney.
“I feel very grateful that the pharmacies and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital have been very attentive to the needs of the people in this area,” said David Neumeister, of Westminster.
Abbie Corse, of the Corse Farm Dairy in Whitingham, said the farmers and people who connected community members with healthy food deserved a shoutout, as well.
“It was really impressive and incredible to watch,” she said.
“Food insecurity efforts were amazing,” agreed Krowinski.
Carolyn Taylor-Olson, of Guilford, said she was appreciative of the efforts to get people without homes into hotels and motels over the past 18 months or so.
“It was important that these folks were not left to flounder along the riverbanks or in the parking lots,” she said.
Taylor-Olson also agreed with Corse, saying she was thankful to programs such as Everyone Eats for addressing food insecurity.
Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham 2-2, said Vermonters were also lucky in that they had access to the outdoors, which allowed them to be in touch with nature.
Krowinski then asked folks how Vermont could “build back better” with the funds available to the state.
Many people spoke about building affordable housing and insuring all Vermonters have access to high-speed internet. Others asked the legislators to find ways to mitigate the impact of property taxes on Vermonters.
Corse and others pointed at the need to encourage young people to stay in Vermont or to come here and work, start businesses and raise families.
“Where is our next generation of school teachers and nurses coming from?” agreed Neumeister.
Taylor-Olson noted that Vermont needs more congregate housing for its aging residents, and Chip Siler, of Guilford, said Vermont needs to do a better job in encouraging young people to become tradespeople, such as electricians and plumbers.
Krowinski noted that workforce development is high on a list of priorities for legislators.
Kate Maceda, of Brattleboro, Bari Shamas, of Putney, and others said any efforts undertaken by the state need to take into consideration the effects of climate change.
Others spoke about the need to address opioid addiction in Vermont and the absentee landlords who contribute to the problem by not adequately managing their properties.
Krowinski said that she and Balint intend to bring these concerns to Montpelier during the next legislative session that begins in January.
Discussions will be held around the state over the next couple of weeks, including in Bennington County on Oct. 6. To register, click here.
Those unable to attend a virtual meeting can fill out an online survey by clicking here.