The Vermont Mayors Coalition recently announced the issues it wants the state legislature to prioritize this session.
The Coalition represents eight of the state’s nine cities and was formed in 2013 to advocate on issues of joint concern. Six mayors must support any issue to be included in the priorities.
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said the group’s top priorities are pandemic response and support for housing and food security. “We would really like to see the legislature mobilize funds quickly, as soon as they’re available, and extend the housing stabilization rent and mortgage support programs that were already in place and leverage those programs for immediate assistance to Vermont Vermont households. So when somebody can no longer make their rent, make their mortgage payments, mobilizing funds instead of letting them fall months behind. We also want to encourage or rather urge the extension of contracts already in place that are supporting local organizations providing meals to households in need.”
Housing has been a priority of the coalition for years. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said one provision in particular almost passed during the last session and is once again a priority. “Act 250 reform that finally gets rid of the terrible redundant level of land use permitting that happens in municipalities that have strong fully resourced development review board processes. There’s enormous cost involved in that and it is a project killing redundancy.”
Weinberger noted two other initiatives that the state’s mayors want the legislature to address. “Mayors love weatherization projects. It is direct assistance to our residents. In the same vein we urge the legislature to continue to look for ways to really address head on homelessness.”
Barre Mayor Lucas Herring took up the issue of public safety and police reform. He said the coalition supports an executive order signed by Governor Phil Scott creating an Agency of Public Safety. “As part of that we bring back this year what we were asking for last year for the police academy. The mayors support moving the oversight of the academy along with the Criminal Justice Council under the jurisdiction of the Agency of Public Safety and the governor. And this model will improve the police training, clarify some the accountability and provide oversight for professional standards that are needed. In addition to that we’ve talked about the dispatching services. So we hope that the legislature will a look at the mindful, fair and equitable system that’ll provide parity among all of the communities of Vermont.”
Newport Mayor Paul Monette outlined child care concerns. The coalition, he said, wants the legislature to review and consider changing the regulatory barriers to accessing child care. “I think COVID really brought this issue to a head. From speaking with some local families they had to decide whether to continue working or to stay home with their families and so the Mayors Coalition I know fully supports proper funding of child care and actually reevaluating some of the regulations.”
Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson noted that the state has legalized recreational cannabis and stores will soon open, but the onus for public safety remains on municipalities. “Vermont cities and towns should be able to collect 2% of the state’s approved 14% on retail cannabis. Really the state should allow municipalities to have access to the resources that we need to keep our communities safe particularly with the retail of cannabis coming to the market.”
Access to broadband internet is a major issue especially in rural areas of Vermont. Newport Mayor Monette said in underserved areas like his, funding for internet infrastructure is crucial. “We look to the state’s support to fund and assist the Communication Union Districts that are being set up throughout the state. Because to move forward and to compete with many other states and to attract young workers to Vermont who can work remotely we need to have a good reliable broadband network.”
Rutland Mayor Dave Allaire said while the Coalition represents different parts of the state, the leaders often share priorities. “Act 250 reform I think that that’s something that is a commonality for all of us. I think that that’s just absolutely paramount for all of us who are facing issues with their downtown. And weatherization for us down here has been big. We’ve taken advantage of that here at City Hall. It has saved us an enormous amount in our energy costs and if we could replicate that across the city I think that that would go a long ways for not only for the public but for private enterprise too. So I just wanted to highlight a couple of those issues.”
The Mayors Coalition represents the cities of Barre, Burlington, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, St. Albans, Vergennes and Winooski.