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Rutland Mayoral Candidates Debate Economic Development Issues

Downtown Historic District, Rutland, Vermont
Sfoskett/Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Historic District, Rutland, Vermont

The four candidates running for Rutland, Vermont mayor met for their final forum Wednesday evening to debate economic development issues facing the city.
The forum brought together incumbent Christopher Louras and challengers David Allaire, Kam Johnston and Michael Coppinger to the campus of the College of St. Joseph in Rutland to discuss economic development issues.  
Moderator Dr. Rich Clark, Director of the Castleton Polling Institute and Professor of Political Science, noted there would be opening statements. Candidates would have two minutes to respond to questions.  There were no rebuttals.
In his opening statement, Mayor Louras expounded on what he called a record of success and a community transformation that has not occurred by accident.   “Like bringing fiscal responsibility out of a $5 million deficit. And literally, literally, leading the state and the country in responding to a national opiate epidemic. We’ve done this while opening our doors to the world’s most vulnerable. It takes bold resolute leadership to transform a community. And our research partners tell us that transformation can be fragile and that change at the top is the greatest risk to ongoing success.”

The candidates were asked how they would address the major economic challenges facing the city.  Coppinger, executive director of the Rutland Downtown Partnership, says the city must consider a new tax.   “We cannot grow the tax base as fast as we want. I’ve proposed, controversial, but I’m here to tell people what I think they need to hear not what they want to hear, is establishing a one percent options tax.  It’s an options tax which is in Rutland town. It’s in Killington. It’s in Middlebury to help broaden and bring more money in so we can pay for infrastructure that we need which in the long run will help lower our budget.”

Taking an opposite tack, Johnston ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015 and this year is also on the ballot for city assessor, school commissioner and alderman.   “I’m the only private sector person here that suggests that you get growth by cutting taxes. And that isn’t happening under the Louras budget, the Louras-Allaire budget or any other budget proposed by anyone up here except me. But the only way that can happen is you have to vote no on the budget. So the only way that you can be consistent and say you’re really interested in cutting the budget is to vote no on the budget and then vote for me.”

All the candidates agreed that Rutland’s Center Street Alley Marketplace project needs to be completed, but disagreed on funding and investment possibilities.
The candidates are also optimistic about the impact of the new market tax credits program and potential expansion by the state legislature of Tax Increment Financing districts.

Allaire served six years in the Vermont House and currently sits on the Board of Aldermen.  He unsuccessfully challenged Louras in 2013 and 2015. Although the forum focused on the economy, during closing statements he touched on the year-long controversy over refugee resettlement. “I think we all have, um, are well aware of what the issues are before us. Certainly what this town has gone through, the city has gone through over the last year. There’s a divide, there is no consensus or a lack of consensus on how we should move forward. I have tried to provide a message and that message is: I will bring trust, transparency and leadership to city hall.”

As the forum came to a close, Louras looked out to those sitting in the audience and noted the amount of interest in the race.   “Throughout the state people recognize Rutland is a community on the move. And we’re being watched. We’re being assessed.  And the result of next Tuesday’s race will define who we are.”

Candidates do not provide party affiliation on the mayoral ballot.  The polls will be open next Tuesday in Rutland from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Audio of the forum is courtesy of the live stream by PEG-TV Rutland, community access television.

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