Vermont news in brief for March 2019

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Vermont news in brief for March 2019

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 10:25am -- tim

Brewer named VT Small Business Person of the Year

The owner of a St Albans brewing company has been named the 2019 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year. Steve Gagner, owner and founder of 14th Star Brewing Company is being recognized by the US Small Business Administration for employment growth, financial success, expansion and community involvement.

The business plan for 14th Star Brewing Company was originally drafted on the back of a notebook by Gagner while he was serving in Afghanistan. Upon returning home to Vermont from deployment, Gagner and his best friend and fellow soldier Matt Kehaya, worked to refine the plan to make their dream of 14th Star Brewing Company a reality in 2012 (Gagner is majority owner). The brewery’s name signifies Vermont becoming the 14th state.

Vermont’s unemployment rate sets new record low of 2.4 percent

One month after reaching a historic low, Vermont's unemployment rate fell again to a record low 2.4 percent in February, according to the Vermont Department of Labor report. The February rate reflects a decrease of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised January rate. The current estimate of 8,436 unemployed Vermonters is the lowest total since April 1988. While the number of employed has increased, the year-over-year data reveals a decrease in the labor force and a steep decline in the number of people unemployed. Vermont is now tied with Iowa, New Hampshire and North Dakota for the lowest rate in the nation.

General Fund tax revenues disappoint in February

General Fund tax revenues fell below expectations for February and are now behind targets for the fiscal year. The vital personal income tax, after a strong January, was off by -11.25 percent, or -$3.02 million. A whopping increase in the corporate tax was undermined by a poor month in the insurance premium tax. February marks the eighth month of Fiscal Year 2019.

General Fund tax revenues collected for the month totaled $68.29 million, or -5.94% below the monthly consensus revenue target. Year-to-date, fiscal year 2019 General Fund revenues are -$3.04 million, or -0.38%, below expectations.

A bright spot in February tax revenues is the sales tax, which now goes solely to the Education Fund. The sales tax, the second most important revenue source, was up +5.48 percent over targets (+$1.69 million).

The Transportation Fund collected $18.57 million for the month of February, or $0.17 million above target. Year-to-date, fiscal 2019 Transportation Fund revenues were $0.38 million, or 0.21%, above target. The Education Fund collected $40.43 million for the month, or $0.96 million above target.

Citibank fully releases Burlington from $33.5 million BT lawsuit

The City of Burlington has closed on the transfer of Burlington Telecom to Schurz Communications, marking the final step in the resolution of the city’s years-long financial crisis. The closing was announced March 13 by Mayor Miro Weinberger. The closing follows the City Council’s 2014 unanimous decision to transfer Burlington Telecom to Blue Water LLC as part of the settlement agreement with Citibank; the Vermont Public Utility Commission’s February 19, 2019, order to grant certificates of public good and approve the sale; the City Council 11-1 vote March 11 to authorize the final transaction between Blue Water LLC and Champlain Broadband, which is the local affiliate of Schurz Communications. Schurz is based in South Bend, Indiana. Despite the ownership change, it will still go by Burlington Telecom.

Rutland Regional suffers email breach

Rutland Regional Medical Center suffered a breach to several employee email accounts starting late last year, potentially exposing sensitive patient data including names, diagnoses and prescription information. The breach, which occurred between November 2, 2018, and February 6, 2019, was identified by an employee who noticed spam emails sent from their account. On February 6, the medical center confirmed that nine employee email accounts had been compromised, and unauthorized users could have accessed any data contained within those accounts.

Over 72,000 patients may have been affected by the breach, according to a press release, which also stated that 3,683 Social Security Numbers were also vulnerable. Rutland Regional said in a press release that it has not heard of any instances of personal information being misused as a result of the breach.

Family leave bill makes way through tax committee

The House Ways & Means Committee has approved H107, which establishes a mandatory paid family and medical leave insurance benefit program housed in the Department of Labor. Under the bill employees would get, on an annual basis, up to 12 weeks paid leave for “bonding,” e.g., being with a newborn baby or newly adopted child, and 8 weeks of paid medical leave. If an employee makes no more than the amount benchmarked as a livable wage they would get 90 percent of the livable wage while they are on leave. If an employee makes more than what is considered a livable wage they would be paid 90 percent of the livable wage amount plus 50 percent of the amount they earn above the livable wage.

The bill allows DOL to contract with an insurer to provide and administer the benefits. The program will be financed by a 0.55 percent tax deduction employers must make from their employees’ wages (although an employer may voluntarily bear some or all of the burden). Employers may, with DOL’s approval, opt out from the requirement that they deduct and remit the payroll tax if they offer a leave benefit as generous as what is provided for in the bill. 

Fuel taxes proposed

The House Ways and Means Committee has proposed a tax increase on the retail sale of heating oil, propane, kerosene and dyed diesel fuel from two cents per gallon to four-cents per gallon. Environmental and low-income advocates support the increase as the revenue generated would go to the state’s weatherization program. Separately, the House Ways and Means Committee included language in the miscellaneous revenue bill that would maintain the two-cent per gallon tax on heating fuel, but expand the base from which the tax is collected to include all retail sales in Vermont, adding municipalities and non-profits which are currently exempt from the two-cent tax. It remains to be seen what will happen with the two-cent increase as representatives from Governor Phil Scott’s administration have indicated that he is not supportive of the proposal. 

AG sues opiate distributors Cardinal and McKesson

Attorney General TJ Donovan has filed a lawsuit against two distributors of opiates, Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corporation. The lawsuit, filed in Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington, alleges that defendants committed unfair and deceptive acts in violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act and alleges claims of negligence and public nuisance. The state also contends that these distributors fraudulently concealed their unlawful conduct.

Bennington College announces $150 million campaign, largest ever

At an event in Los Angeles in mid-March, Bennington College announced that it has already raised $78.5 million — or more than half — of its ambitious $150 million capital campaign goal. The event was the first of two kick-off celebrations for the historic campaign, which will support Bennington students, programs, and facilities for years to come.

Norwich and Leahy announce $7.3M for cybersecurity grants

Norwich University President Richard W Schneider and Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont) announced on March 21, the award of three major contracts totaling approximately $7.3 million that continue Leahy’s long-standing support of cybersecurity education programs and research at Norwich University.

Porter Medical Center names Choudhury president

The UVM Health Network/Porter Medical Center has announced that Seleem Choudhury DNP, MBA, RN, CEN, FAEN will be its new President/Chief Operating Officer as of June 1.  Dr Choudhury will follow Dr Fred Kniffin, who has led Porter since March of 2016.  Dr Kniffin will return to practice in the Porter Emergency Department where he has served Porter since 1990. As Porter’s President for three years, Kniffin led the organization through the process of becoming an affiliate of the UVM Health Network in April of 2017.

Intervale Center completes $1 million capital campaign

With the help of almost two hundred generous donors and community support, the Intervale Center is pleased to announce the completion of Celebrate Intervale, a $1 million capital campaign to increase the productivity, accessibility and beauty of the Intervale. The Intervale Center, a food and farming non-profit, manages 340 acres of open space in the heart of Burlington for agriculture, conservation and recreation.

VHCB awards $1.9 million for housing, farmland, forestland and water

The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board has awarded $731,500 in VHCB funding, $127,500 in federal funds, and $1,130,000 in Housing Revenue Bond funds for the development of 24 new homes in St Albans, predevelopment work on a neighborhood revitalization project in Windsor, and a pilot program to support the development of accessory apartments in Burlington.

Mathisen leaving Copley for NH hospital

Arthur Mathisen, President and CEO of Copley Health Systems, Inc in Morrisville has announced plans to leave Copley, after three years of service with the hospital. Mathisen will be pursuing a new career as the President of Memorial Hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire, a member of MaineHealth. Like Copley, Memorial is a Critical Access Hospital, and Mathisen should be well prepared to handle the challenges of delivering health care in a rural New England community.

VHB expands services with acquisition of The Johnson Company

VHB, with offices in South Burlington, has acquired Montpelier-based The Johnson Company (JCO)—a 30-person environmental science and engineering firm serving clients throughout the US. Together with JCO, VHB’s growing firm is poised to deliver a broader array of services and additional resources to meet market demands for clients nationwide. JCO brings a new Contaminated Site Assessment and Remediation (CSAR) practice to VHB.

NVU gets Cyndi Lauper, Bess O'Brien as speakers

Groundbreaking Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning songwriter, performer, and social activist Cyndi Lauper will deliver the commencement address at Northern Vermont University-Johnson on May 18. Meanwhile, Award-winning Vermont documentary filmmaker and theater producer Bess O’Brien will deliver the commencement address at 11 a.m. May 19 at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.

Krista Tippett to give Middlebury College commencement address

Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show On Being and a bestselling author, will deliver the 2019 Middlebury College Commencement address on Sunday, May 26. A National Humanities Medalist, Tippett is a Peabody Award–winning broadcaster whose weekly show is carried on more than 400 public radio stations across the country.

Saint Mike’s names Korematsu as 2019 commencement speaker

Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T Korematsu Institute and daughter of the late Fred Korematsu, will be the Commencement speaker at Saint Michael’s College on May 12 at 10 am in the Ross Sports Center. Korematsu is a civil rights advocate, public speaker, and public educator whose civil liberties work is motivated by the experiences of her father in a World-War-II-era incarceration camp for Japanese Americans and his subsequent civil rights activism.

Ecologist Dr Vandana Shiva to deliver Sterling commencement address

Dr Vandana Shiva, internationally-renowned ecologist, activist and author, will deliver the commencement address at Sterling College’s 20th baccalaureate commencement ceremony on May 4, 2019. Dr Shiva will also lead an all-day public workshop on May 5, through Sterling’s School of the New American Farmstead, exploring strategies for environmental and social justice.

State to get $3.8 million in MTBE settlement

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has announced that his office has resolved Vermont’s lawsuit against more than two dozen of the nation’s largest refiners of gasoline. The State’s case, filed in June of 2014, alleged that these refiners caused widespread pollution of Vermont’s groundwater with the gasoline additive [Anchor] methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). As a part of the settlement between the state and the gas companies, the state will receive a payment of $3.8 million. In return, the state has dismissed its remaining claims against the gasoline companies.

Stratton to make another $6.5 million in capital improvements

Stratton Mountain Resort has announced more than $6 million in capital spending for the 2019- 20 season. With this investment, guests will see further refinement to the Stratton experience from mountain biking and terrain based learning, to paving and lift operations. Continuing from last year’s investment, Stratton’s new lift serviced mountain biking is slated to open to the public in early August, pending permit approvals.

Pico to invest $2.1 million in snowmaking

Vermont’s Pico Mountain has announced it will make major upgrades to its snowmaking system, which means starting in the 2019-20 season guests will experience a better, more consistent and more reliable snow surface. Pending permit approval, the $2.1 million investment will be the largest since Killington took ownership of Pico more than 20 years ago. Pico and Killington are part of the POWDR adventure lifestyle company.

Starr Farm acquired by Elderwood, renamed

Elderwood, a leading provider of senior care in the Northeast has acquired Starr Farm Nursing Center in Burlington. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Elderwood began serving the Burlington community on December 17, 2018, and has renamed the facility Elderwood at Burlington. Elderwood at Burlington has a 150-bed capacity, serving both skilled nursing and short-term subacute rehabilitation patients.

Vermont to join lawsuit over Title X funding

Attorney General TJ Donovan has announced his intent to file a lawsuit against the federal government over a new Title X funding regulation. Title X is the only national federal grant program that is dedicated solely to providing comprehensive family planning and preventative health care. In Vermont, 10,000 people rely on Title X for their healthcare. The new rule includes a “gag rule” that limits providers’ ability to give neutral, factual information to their patients about abortion, and prohibits abortion referrals. The new rule also redirects funding priorities from the CDC’s birth control recommendations to only “natural family planning methods.” In Vermont, the only recipient of Title X funds are the 10 Planned Parenthood health care centers located around the state.

Safety-Kleen to pay $70,000 for hazardous waste violations

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has announced his office has reached a settlement with Safety-Kleen Systems, Inc to resolve violations of Vermont’s Hazardous Waste Management Regulations. Under the court-approved settlement, Safety-Kleen resolved claims that it failed to properly identify and manage hazardous waste as required by the Hazardous Waste Management Regulations and Safety-Kleen’s Hazardous Waste Facility Permit.

State’s opioids lawsuit against Purdue Pharma moves forward on all claims

The Chittenden Superior Court has denied Purdue Pharma’s motion to dismiss the State’s case against it. The judge ruled that the State may bring all its claims against Purdue Pharma arising from allegations that it “aggressively and misleadingly marketed opioids such as Oxycontin in Vermont, leading to massive addiction and the resulting societal costs.” Attorney General TJ Donovan said, “This decision is an important step toward holding Purdue responsible for its contribution to the creation of the opioid crisis.”

DFR monitoring delays in BCBSVT payments to healthcare providers

The Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) has been actively monitoring the circumstances relating to healthcare provider payment delays that appear to have resulted from implementation of BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont’s (BCBSVT) new claims payment system. DFR has been working with affected providers and BCBSVT to understand the scope of the problem and ensure it will be resolved quickly.

Randolph, Newport awarded outdoor recreation grants

Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) have announced that the Town of Randolph and the City of Newport are the first two recipients of the VOREC Community grants to help grow their local economies by promoting outdoor recreation. The program, which was proposed by the Governor based on VOREC recommendations and passed by the Legislature in 2018, awards grants of $10,000 to $100,000 to help Vermont communities fully leverage their local outdoor recreation assets to become “outdoor recreation friendly.”

Solar project in Hartland converts brownfield to brightfield

Long View Forest, Inc and Encore Renewable Energy have commissioned a 745 kilowatt peak (kWp) community solar array on three acres at the new Long View headquarters and woodyard on Ferry Road in Hartland. The project is on a 28-acre remediated “brownfield” property formerly used as a saw mill and lumber treatment facility. Brownfields, because of prior environmental contamination, are deemed prime solar sites under Vermont regulations.

GMP puts charge into EV purchase with new rebate

Green Mountain Power is launching a new way for Vermonters to cut carbon and fight climate change by driving electric.  All GMP customers buying or leasing a new all-electric vehicle can now get a $1,500 rebate, new plug in hybrid customers can get $1,000, and customers getting pre-owned EVs can get a $750 rebate. Low and moderate income GMP customers can qualify for an extra $1,000 on all-electric vehicles for up to $2,500 in rebates. These are among the largest electric vehicle rebates offered to customers by any utility in the country. The GMP savings can be used in addition to dealer discounts already being offered plus up to $7,500 in federal tax credits.

UVMMC and technical employees reach deal on contract

The UVM Medical Center and the union have agreed on a new three-year contract for the 340 technical employees represented by the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. This is the same union that represented nurses in bitter negotiations last year, but which also resulted in a new contract last September.

DFR releases over 400,000 pages of records related to EB-5 Jay Peak fraud

Governor Phil Scott has announced that the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) has released 443,070 pages of records related to the EB-5 and Jay Peak fraud, which occurred between 2008-2016. These newly-released documents are available for download at eb5.vermont.gov/public-records. Additionally, approximately 250,000 more pages of DFR records will be released and made available on the EB-5 website in the coming weeks.

Middlebury to relocate several language schools to Bennington College

After a decade operating some of its summer Language Schools at Mills College in Oakland, CA, Middlebury will consolidate all 11 of its schools in Vermont beginning with the 2020 summer session. The change was made possible by a new agreement between Middlebury and Bennington College, which will host several of the Middlebury Language Schools starting next year. Middlebury President Laurie Patton and Bennington College President Mariko Silver announced the agreement on the Bennington campus.

Gender pay gap in Vermont is lowest in nation

The gender pay gap in Vermont is the lowest gender pay gap in the nation. PayScale, a national compensation data and software provider, has released new research into the gender pay issue called The 2019 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report. Overall, women in the US earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men; when comparing compensation for all women versus all men (what PayScale calls the uncontrolled pay gap). However, in Vermont, women earn more - 87 cents for every dollar earned by men. Additionally in Vermont, the uncontrolled pay gap essentially disappeared and women and men in the same roles were paid the same amount.

Commuter rail idea advances – a little bit

Montpelier gave the possibility of more passenger rail service in Vermont a small boost on March 26, when House legislators voted to instruct the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to conduct a technical analysis of a commuter rail system that would serve the Burlington-St Albans and Burlington-Montpelier corridors. The action came during consideration of the pending transportation bill, which would mandate the analysis as well as authorizing VTrans appropriations and providing other guidance to the agency. In a voice vote, the chamber rejected an amendment advanced by Representative Pat Brennan (R-Colchester) that would have deleted the technical analysis provision from the measure.

Vermont Teddy Bears announced for USS VERMONT

The USS VERMONT (SSN 792) Commissioning Committee is proud to partner with The Vermont Teddy Bear Company to offer Dewey Bears with a USS VERMONT logo.  The bears are called Dewey in honor of Admiral George Dewey, the only officer of the U.S. Navy ever to hold the rank of Admiral of the Navy. Admiral Dewey was born in 1837 in Montpelier and his distinguished service during the Civil War in 1861 through the Spanish-American War in 1898 resulted in Congress awarding him the rank of Admiral.

Brattleboro Savings & Loan earns B Corp Certification

Brattleboro Savings & Loan has been named a Certified B Corporation, joining a small group of ambitious companies around the world that meet exceptional standards for environmental, social, and community impact.

High Meadows Fund awards $218K in grants for forest ecosystem

In collaboration with the Vermont Community Foundation, the High Meadows Fund is putting $218,000 into action over the next two years to launch a new initiative supporting statewide and local efforts to improve forest health and integrity in Vermont. In this first year, High Meadows is awarding grants to nine projects around the state that foster collaborative approaches to creating resilient, adaptable forests.

Vermont ranked 11th for midterm election voter turnout

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has announced that Vermont has been ranked 11th in total voter turnout for the 2018 Midterm Election across all 50 states in the 7th biennial edition of the "America Goes to the Polls" report, released by the nonpartisan groups Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project this week.

Governor appoints Pelham as deputy commissioner of tourism

Governor Phil Scott has appointed Heather Pelham as the deputy commissioner of the Department of Tourism and Marketing. Pelham joins the marketing team responsible for promoting Vermont as a top tourism destination and attracting 13 million visitors each year who contribute $2.8 billion in spending to the state. For the last four years, Pelham has served as the state’s chief marketing officer.

Scott appoints Gaffney to lead Insurance Division

Governor Phil Scott and Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak have announced the appointment of Kevin Gaffney as deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s (DFR) Insurance Division.

Linda Bowden named AARP Vermont president

Linda Bowden of Burlington has been appointed State President of AARP Vermont, a volunteer position working closely with both staff and volunteers throughout the state to help AARP achieve its mission in Vermont. Her responsibilities include serving as a volunteer spokesperson, chairing the AARP Vermont Advisory Council, building networks and community partnerships, and recruiting volunteers.