News in Brief, January 2019

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News in Brief, January 2019

Sat, 02/09/2019 - 11:13am -- tim

Green Mountain College to close

Green Mountain College trustees voted January 23 to close the Poultney college following commencement in May. The surprise announcement was made at an all-college meeting.

With the college age population decline in Vermont and New England over the past decade projected to continue, there has been an associated decline in enrollment. At the same time, the costs of providing the quality education that GMC students want and deserve have remained stable or have increased. That combination of a decrease in tuition payments and an increase in the costs of providing unique programming have overstrained GMC finances.

To provide continuity, GMC is partnering with Prescott College in Arizona. Prescott will hire some Green Mountain faculty; house all of Green Mountain’s academic records; provide opportunities for Green Mountain students to complete their degrees, and create a center, school, or institute that carries on the Green Mountain name. The two colleges share a mission and are founding members of the EcoLeague consortium of environmentally focused colleges.

Nearby Castleton University, Marlboro College and Sterling College in Vermont are three of seven colleges that also will provide teach-out opportunities for GMC students.

Economists add $11 million to expected tax revenues

Revenues through the first six months of the fiscal year were generally at or above expectations, however, both the timing and magnitude of revenue flows have been affected by provisions in the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) and changes to Vermont’s Personal Income tax made in 2018 in response to the TCJA.

Scott's budget focused on growing the economy and workforce

Governor Phil Scott delivered his third budget address January 24, presenting a balanced budget emphasizing investments and policy reforms to expand the economy and state revenue, by reversing Vermont’s demographic trends, increasing the number of Vermonters in the labor force and transforming the State’s education system to the very best in the nation. The $6.1 billion budget includes $18 million in new taxes and fees. He also said he would not support a carbon tax. To wide agreement from lawmakers, he proposed a tax on e-cigarettes to the same extent as tobacco products (about $1 million in new revenues and hopefully dissuade kids from buying them).

Including about $19 million in federal funds, his budget funds $48 million in clean water infrastructure projects; $7 million increase into Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program; move aggressively to pay down state pension obligations; encourage 10 percent—about 50,000—of the cars and trucks to be electric by 2025, and 25 percent by 2030; $48 million for clean water projects (includes dedicating $8 million in ongoing revenue from the estate tax to the Clean Water Fund); increase the estate tax exemption from $2.75 million to $5.75 million over four years; increase the Downtown and Historic tax credit to $2.6 million; voluntary paid family leave plan in conjunction with New Hampshire; and $2.5 million to encourage people to move to Vermont.

The governor is also counting on more tax revenues from online sources, like Amazon and Airbnb.

Personal income taxes slump in December

After several months of strong results, personal income tax revenues fell last month and dragged down total General Fund revenues. Along with the General Fund, the Transportation Fund was below its monthly target. Both funds, however, remain above their cumulative target due to the strength of revenues over the first half of the fiscal year. The Education Fund was above its monthly target but remains slightly below its cumulative annual target.

Labor force falls again, jobless rate holds at 2.7 percent

The seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for December was unchanged at 2.7 percent, tied for fifth lowest in the nation. Embedded in this calculation is the monthly estimate of the Vermont labor force, which decreased compared to the previous month’s estimate. December marks the sixth consecutive month with a decrease to the labor force.

Entergy completes sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar

Entergy Corporation has completed the sale of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee to subsidiaries of NorthStar Group Services, which will decommission the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station site. The sale completion is a major step toward the safe, timely and efficient decommissioning of Vermont Yankee, and is a positive outcome for the Town of Vernon, Windham County, the State of Vermont and other stakeholders. The sale is a first-of-its-kind in the nuclear power industry – a permanent ownership and license transfer to a company that is slated to perform timely and efficient decommissioning and site restoration.

Under its ownership, NorthStar will commence decommissioning and environmental clean-up work at the facility on an expedited timeline, which will allow the site to become available for reuse decades earlier than previously planned. The agreement ensures that decommissioning and cleanup activities commence as early as this year and will be completed by 2030, perhaps earlier, and the project will be bolstered by additional financial protections.

CityPlace partner assures Council that project will move forward

Seven Days reports that CityPlace Burlington will get built. That was the message from a representative of real estate firm Brookfield Asset Management who sat before the Burlington City Council in mid-January to allay concerns about the stalled 14-story project.

Brattleboro paper company sold, jobs saved

Long Falls Paperboard has acquired the Brattleboro paperboard plant formerly owned and operated by Neenah Paper, Inc. On December 31, 2018 LFP completed a complex financial transaction to acquire the business. The plant otherwise was scheduled to shutter. The project had support from numerous local, regional, and statewide partners. Neenah Paper, Inc bought the assets of the former FiberMark in 2015 for $120 million.

Jay Peak to be put up for sale

Jay Peak Receiver Michael Goldberg has received court permission to retain an outside financial firm to help him sell the resort. The Miami court authorized Goldberg to retain Houlihan Lokey Capital, Inc. Houlihan Lokey is a financial firm specializing in, among other things, mergers and acquisitions. It’s an international firm based in Los Angeles. The agreement is only for Jay Peak and not Burke Mountain Resort. There is no timeline nor proposed price for the sale, which could take a couple more years.

State makes deal over Bennington PFOA contamination

The State of Vermont has reached an agreement in principle with Saint-Gobain for the properties on Bennington’s east side affected by perfluorooctanoate acid (PFOA) contamination. This represents a critical milestone in Vermont’s response to the contamination that impacted hundreds of homes across the two communities. The agreement in principle will expand municipal water service to the majority of impacted homes on the east side of Bennington. The state and Saint-Gobain are awaiting the final design of the water system prior to formally finalizing the agreement. Once finalized, the state, Town of Bennington, or the Town’s engineers will contact individual residents to discuss how the settlement agreement relates to their long-term drinking water solution.

2nd airline announces new non-stop flight from Burlington

A second airline is announcing new non-stop service from Burlington to Denver. United Airlines has announced it would add one new roundtrip flight. The service begins June 8 and was described as seasonal. The Denver flights will only be offered on Saturdays. Frontier previously announced a non-stop to Denver three days a week.

Amtrak to keep rolling in Vermont, for now

With the end of the year at hand, a threat by Amtrak to suspend all passenger rail service in Vermont appears to have evaporated, at least for the time being. Fears of a service suspension grew out of an announcement last February by the company's chief, who said that Amtrak would probably stop serving routes that, like those in Vermont, lack a safety technology known as positive train control, or PTC.

State wins Pillsbury nursing homes case, receiver takes over

A Vermont court has ruled that a “receiver” is needed to run the Pillsbury residential care homes in South Burlington and St. Albans. On January 25th, the court ruled that the current owner-manager had caused the Pillsbury residents to experience food shortages, inadequate nursing care, and related mental stress, among other harms. Attorney General TJ Donovan had requested the receiver on behalf of the VT Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living (DAIL). The Attorney General filed the request for receiver on behalf of DAIL on November 7th, 2018. That day, at the State’s request, the court put a “temporary receiver” in place to operate the Pillsbury facilities on an emergency basis while the parties went to trial on whether a receivership was needed.

Putnam Block approved for $3.1 million in redevelopment

More than $3.1 million in approved funding commitments has been received for the Putnam Block redevelopment project in the heart of downtown Bennington. The project is being funded through a combination of federal, state and local sources, including the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) ($1.25M), a Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit Award ($1.3M), as well as ACCD Brownfields program ($150,000) and Windham Regional Commission’s Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund ($430,000) – both of which are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sub-grants.

Norwich surpasses $100M Bicentennial goal

Norwich University officials announced at the January board of trustees meeting held in Naples, FL, that the $100 million goal of the university’s bicentennial campaign “Forging the Future” has been reached in advance of the December 2019 end date. During the meeting, the trustees also approved raising the goal of the campaign to $110 million.

VEDA approves $8.3 million in business financing

The Vermont Economic Development Authority has approved $8.3 million in financing to support manufacturing, agricultural and small business projects totaling $26 million throughout the state. Firms included: Flex-A-Seal, Williston ($1.5 million); Long Falls Paperboard, Brattleboro ($1.5 million); Branon Farm, Fairfield ($1.4 million); and Small Business Loan Program ($1.8 million).

WhistlePig partners with BDT Capital, Bhakta exits

WhistlePig, the Shoreham-based Number 1 distiller in the fast growing, ultra-premium and luxury rye whiskey category, has announced a partnership with BDT Capital Partners of New York. BDT will become a minority equity partner. As part of this investment, Raj Bhakta, one of the original founders, has been bought out is no longer involved with the company. BDT invested through a structured equity investment that includes a significant minority common equity stake. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Missy Siner Shea to lead Special Olympics Vermont

Special Olympics Vermont Board of Directors have selected Melissa "Missy" Siner Shea to be the new President & CEO of Special Olympics Vermont, effective February 1, 2019. Shea comes to Special Olympics Vermont after four years as the Executive Director of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association. Prior to her time at Wellesley she worked as the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut.

Prior to her time at Wellesley, Shea worked as the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT. A lifelong Vermonter, Shea has held leadership and teaching positions at Green Mountain Valley School, at Sugarbush Resorts as VP Recreational Services and at Mad River Glen Ski Area, first as a ski instructor and later as the Director of Skiing from 1998-2001. Shea began her career as a paraeducator, teacher, and coach at Harwood Union High School, and served for 11 years on the Waitsfield Elementary School Board.

UVM Medical Center President Eileen Whalen to retire in June

The University of Vermont Medical Center has announced that president Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN will retire in June after four years at UVM Medical Center and 35 years in health care. Dr Stephen Leffler will take on the role of interim president.

Tax examiner accused of embezzlement, identity theft

A state tax examiner employed by the Department of Taxes has been arrested by the Vermont State Police on suspicion of embezzling more than $15,000 from the state of Vermont by altering a single taxpayer’s return information in fall 2018. No taxpayers suffered losses.

State gets $3 million to settle consumer and enviro cases

The State of Vermont will receive $2,941,047 million as a result of four different settlements. The settlements are the results of consumer and environmental protection actions taken by the Vermont AG's office.

Wells Fargo Bank will pay $1,984,047.03 to the State of Vermont as part of a $575 million 50-state settlement resolving claims that the bank violated state consumer protection laws. Fiat Chrysler will pay the State of Vermont $362,428.34 ($204,303.34 for environmental violations + $158,125 for consumer violations).  Bosch will pay the State a total of $544,550 for environmental and consumer violations relating to Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen vehicles sold or leased in Vermont.

Burlington School Board, teachers ratify contract

The Burlington School District Board of School Commissioners and the Burlington Education Association (BEA) jointly announced on January 10 a new contract teachers’ contract for the 2019-2020 school year was ratified by both parties. The renewed collective bargaining agreement covers the maximum length of time allowed by Vermont law for this round of bargaining.

Vermont minimum wage increases to $10.78 for 2019

Vermont's minimum wage rate increased to $10.78 per hour from the 2018 rate of $10.50 per hour, effective on January 1, 2019. Twenty-nine states have a minimum wage higher than the US minimum of $7.25 an hour. Most of those states are raising their minimum wage again this year. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are the only states in the Northeast to retain the federal rate.

Court rules state must refund Swanton wind project fee

VPR reports that the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled the state has to repay a wind developer all or part of a $100,000 fee required for environmental review of a project in Swanton that is now on hold.

Vermont Airbnb hosts earned $48 million in 2018

Airbnb, the world’s leading community driven hospitality company, has announced that its Vermont host community earned a combined $48.5 million in supplemental income while welcoming approximately 341,300 guest arrivals to the state in 2018. Chittenden County led the way followed by Rutland and Lamoille counties. Surprisingly, Grand Isle had by far the smallest numbers.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock and GraniteOne propose combined system

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) and GraniteOne Health (GOH) have signed a letter of intent (LOI) to combine their two organizations to better serve the health care needs of New Hampshire residents and communities. The combined non-profit health care system, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne, will build on years of successful community engagement and clinical collaboration in order to meet the growing demand for seamlessly integrated primary, specialty, ambulatory and inpatient care, offering patients a high-quality, lower-cost, New Hampshire-based alternative choice to out-of-state providers.

United Van Lines: Vermont tops moving-in list for second year

Vermont topped the list of Top Moving Destinations of 2018 according to the 2018 National Movers Study by United Van Lines, the nation’s largest household goods mover. In 2018, more residents moved into Vermont than out of the state, with 72.6 percent of moves being inbound. This marks the second straight year that Vermont is the top inbound moving destination in the US. Overall, the Northeast region continues to see more residents leaving than moving in, with 57 percent of all moves within the Northeast US being OUTBOUND moves. Vermont, however, was an outlier in this trend. Vermont also ranked highest in the Northeast for the U-Haul survey, ranking 7th best in the nation.

BED discounted residential EV charging rate at $0.60 per gallon of gas equivalent

The Burlington Electric Department (BED), joined by Mayor Miro Weinberger, Vermont Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney, and customers Bert Johnson and Betsy Nesbitt, announced on Tuesday a new, discounted residential electric vehicle (EV) charging rate that will allow customers to charge their vehicles for the equivalent of $0.60 per gallon of gasoline. BED also launched a new, residential charging station incentive that will provide customers who purchase all-electric vehicles (AEVs) an additional $400 rebate on the purchase of eligible Level 2 home charging stations. Further, BED increased its incentives on the purchase and lease of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) to $1,000, with an enhanced rebate increase to $1,500 for low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers.

Governor forms digital alliance with Microsoft

Governor Phil Scott has announced the state’s plans to enter an alliance with Microsoft to improve access to digital skills programing and computer science education and to promote rural broadband access, with the organizational support of Microsoft technology experts and partners.

Casella closes on $105.2 million public offering of Class A common stock

Rutland's Casella Waste Systems, Inc (NASDAQ:CWST), a regional solid waste, recycling and resource management services company, has announced the closing on January 25, 2019, of its previously announced underwritten public offering of shares of its Class A common stock, including the full exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase an additional 465,000 shares at a public offering price of $29.50 per share, before offering discounts. The exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares brought the total number of shares of Class A common stock sold by Casella in the offering to 3,565,000 and increased the aggregate gross proceeds from the offering to $105.2 million, before deducting underwriting discounts and offering expenses.

Business Roundtable elects new leadership for 2019

At its 32nd Annual Membership Meeting held January 17th at The Essex Resort and Spa, the Vermont Business Roundtable elected new officers: Chair Mark Foley, Foley Services; Vice-Chair Judith O’Connell, Champlain Investment Partners; Treasurer Scott Giles, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation; Secretary Stephanie Mapes, Paul Frank + Collins; Immediate Past Chair Michael Seaver, Peoples United Bank; and, President Lisa Ventriss. 

Ben & Jerry's plans to eliminate single-use plastic

Ben & Jerry's intends to eliminate single-use plastic. As a first step, the company will no longer offer plastic straws and spoons in any of its more than 600 Scoop Shops worldwide in early 2019. The company also announced a plan to address plastic cups and lids used to serve ice cream by the end of 2020. Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops currently hand out 2.5 million plastic straws a year, and 30 million plastic spoons. If all the plastic spoons used by Ben & Jerry's in the US were placed end to end, they'd stretch from Burlington, Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida.

Vermont's Hill Farmstead wins title of world's best from RateBeer again

RateBeer, the leading online beer rating and review site, has released its annual RateBeer Best list, naming the Top 100 Brewers worldwide. This year’s winner is Vermont’s very own Hill Farmstead Brewery, based in Greensboro, clinching the top spot for the fifth year in a row. RateBeer founder Joe Tucker and Portland beer personality Ezra Johnson-Greenough announced the awards in late January from River Pig Saloon in Portland, Oregon, via a Facebook Live broadcast.

Vermont moves toward e-cigarette tax

Governor Scott has proposed to tax e-cigarettes at the same rate as on other tobacco products, which is 92 percent of the wholesale price. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey points out that one in eight Vermont high school students and one in 25 Vermont middle school students report using e-cigarettes, and this was before the boom of Juul, a popular e-cigarette brand among youth. The Legislature is likely to pass such a bill.

New report card on reproductive rights gives Vermont an 'A,' US a 'D-'

On the 46th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision (January 22) the Population Institute is releasing its seventh annual 50 State Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights. The most comprehensive assessment of its kind, it tracks multiple indicators of reproductive health and rights, including access to family planning and abortion services. While Vermont and a handful of states received an "A," the new report card gives the US a national grade of  "D-" for 2018. That's unchanged from the previous year, but with new threats emerging, and reproductive rights coming under intensified assault, the Institute warns that the grade for 2019 could be even lower.