News in Brief, May 2019

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News in Brief, May 2019

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 4:24am -- tim

Grand Jury indicts four over Jay Peak fraud

Four individuals were charged with conspiring in a multi-year wire fraud scheme to defraud immigrant investors seeking green cards through the EB-5 program, among other charges. United States Attorney for the District of Vermont Christina E Nolan made the announcement May 22 while standing in the middle of the fraud's most visible failure, a demolished and abandoned weed-covered block in downtown Newport.

Ariel Quiros, 63, William Kelly, 70, both of Florida; Jong Weon Choi, aka Alex Choi, 58, of South Korea; and William Stenger, 70, of Newport, Vermont, were indicted by the federal grand jury on criminal charges in connection with their management of the Jay Peak Biomedical Research Park EB-5 investment project, also called the AnC Vermont or AnC Bio project.

Receiver terminates Stenger's job at Jay Peak

Michael I Goldberg, the Receiver for Jay Peak, Inc and related entities, announced today that, in light of his recent indictment, Bill Stenger is no longer an independent contractor of the receivership estate or Jay Peak, Inc. In the statement, Goldberg said, "The Receiver stresses that Mr. Stenger’s termination should not be interpreted as an indication that the Receiver believes that William Stenger did anything wrong and, in fact, a forensic accounting performed by the Receiver’s professionals early in the case failed to uncover any funds wrongfully diverted to Mr. Stenger. The Receiver’s decision to terminate Mr. Stenger at this time is simply based on the Receiver’s opinion that it would not be appropriate to continue to retain Mr. Stenger in light of the recent indictment."

Vermont’s unemployment rate down again

According to household data, the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for April was 2.2 percent. This reflects a decrease of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised March rate. The current seasonally-adjusted estimate of the number of unemployed Vermonters (7,565) as well as the statewide seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate are both once again new lows since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics online historical series started in 1976. Vermont stood alone in April with the lowest unemployment rate in the US. More importantly, the data reveal that both the labor force (495) and number of employed increased (903).

April tax revenues show strong personal and corporate results

Consistent with last month and Vermont Business Magazine expectations, tax revenue collections for the month of April 2019 continue to exceed targets. April marks the tenth month of Fiscal Year 2019 and is an important month for net tax revenue collections as tax returns peak and refunds are calculated. The vital personal income tax had another strong month more than 22 percent above its target for the month and nearly 6 percent ahead of year-to-date targets.

General Fund tax revenues collected for the month totaled $248.69 million, or $44.69 million above the April consensus target. Year-to-date, fiscal year 2019 General Fund revenues are $50.06 million, or 4.58 percent, above expectations. Until the last two months, tax revenues had been very close to targets, if even a little below.

House adjourns without minimum wage or paid leave

The Vermont General Assembly effectively adjourned the 2019 legislative session on the afternoon of Friday, May 24. The qualifier “effectively” refers to the fact that the House adjourned and left the statehouse for the year before the Senate agreed they were all going home (at VBM deadline the Senate was still in session, but cannot act with the House adjourned).

The impasse on whether or not to adjourn reflects a disagreement between the House and Senate on two of their top priorities for the session - the minimum wage bill, S.23 (Senate priority), and the paid family leave bill, H.107 (House priority), which with the House adjournment meant they were effectively put off until next year. Similar bills passed the legislature in 2018 and both were vetoed by Republican Governor Phil Scott. The House was unable to override those vetoes.

VSCS Trustees approve smaller 1% tuition increase for fall

Tuition for Vermont undergraduates in the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) will only increase by 1% this fall, thanks to a boost in state funding promoted by Governor Scott and advanced by the Legislature. The $2.5 million in new state support for the VSCS will reduce a 3% tuition increase for undergraduate Vermont students that was scheduled to go into effect for the fall semester.

Burlington International Airport releases noise exposure map

Burlington International Airport (BTV) has released its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulated and funded Part 150 Noise Exposure Map (NEM). The NEM is a graphical presentation of the specific noise levels (noise contours) around the airport depicted over existing land use. The study, undertaken by The Jones Payne Group and HMMH, depicts noise levels for the current condition, as well as the 2023 forecasted condition. It was completed as part of the ongoing voluntary 14 CFR Part 150 update regulated by the FAA.

Auditor: St Albans made unauthorized use of TIF

Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer has released a broadly unfavorable audit that details the City of St Albans’ level of compliance with Vermont Tax Increment Financing (TIF) laws and rules. A TIF district allows a municipality to designate an area for development, incur debt to finance infrastructure improvements, and earmark a portion of new state and municipal property tax revenues from that district to repay the debt. St Albans is disputing the auditor’s findings. The auditor concludes that St Albans owes the TIF District $524,844 and the State Education Fund $111,886.

In the case of the City of St Albans, incremental property tax revenues have been insufficient to pay off the City’s debt, which precipitated some of the City’s non-compliance with Vermont statute. The auditor does not have enforcement powers.

The audit concludes St Albans City: Used TIF district debt proceeds (borrowed money) to pay debt service (principal and interest) of TIF district debt (on the same borrowed money), which is not allowed;

Used TIF district debt for site improvements of a private hotel development that were not authorized, as the costs were not in the description of the core brownfield improvement approved by The Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC) and were not described in materials made available in advance of a public vote. This situation also raises questions about the extent to which public financing may be used for private development, rather than for public infrastructure aimed at attracting that development;

Treated the parking garage constructed in the TIF district as tax-exempt when it should have been treated as taxable, which improperly limited the amount of incremental revenue for debt service and reduced the amount available to the Education Fund; and

Did not seek VEPC approval as required by statute for significant departures from the VEPC-approved TIF district plan prior to this audit’s finding that approval should have been obtained.

House passes 24-hour waiting period for gun purchases

The Vermont Legislature has approved gun violence prevention measures in S.169 on a vote. The law is intended to provide a "cooling off" period for people considering suicide. The bill also updates language regarding the purchase and use of high-capacity ammunition magazines. The governor has not acted either way on the bill and has not indicated how he may act by VBM press time.

$4M gift from Davis' allows UVM arena to begin construction

Construction on the University of Vermont’s long-awaited Multi-Purpose Center project is scheduled to begin as early as next week, University officials announced at a small, ceremonial groundbreaking held on the morning of May 18. More than 20 years in the making, a $4 million gift from UVM alumnus Chuck Davis (Class of 1972) and his wife Marna allowed the UVM Foundation to meet—and exceed—the initial fundraising goals stipulated by the University of Vermont Board of Trustees. UVM has raised over $32 million for the new facility. UVM has raised over $32 million for the new $95 million facility.

Bennington College gets $1 million from Mellon to address hunger

Bennington College has been awarded a grant of $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a three-year collaborative effort with local partners to address the systemic causes of food insecurity in Bennington County. Food insecurity—the inability to access affordable, nutritious food—affects one in eight Americans, or approximately 40 million people, and is particularly acute in southern Vermont.

AG Donovan sues Sackler family, makers of Oxycontin

Attorney General TJ Donovan has sued eight members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma LP, makers of the opioid OxyContin, among others. The lawsuit alleges that for over two decades the Sacklers personally oversaw Purdue’s deceptive marketing campaign. They directed Purdue’s strategy to minimize the health risks of opioids, claiming that prescription drugs were rarely the cause of abuse, addiction, or death. The Sacklers also directed Purdue to promote higher dose products, which were more lucrative -- and more dangerous and addictive.

Average education property tax rate set to rise a penny

The average education tax rate is set to rise a penny after school spending came in higher than expected, vtdigger.org reports. Lawmakers hashed out a deal on the so-called “yield” bill, upon local property tax rates are set. The average residential rate will be $1.51 next year and the average non-residential rate, which is applied to second homes, camps, and businesses, will be $1.59. About two-thirds of Vermonters actually pay property taxes based on income – that rate will actually fall, from an average of 2.48 percent this year to 2.47 percent next year.

ISO New England expects sufficient power supplies this summer

New England is expected to have sufficient resources to meet peak consumer demand for electricity this summer under both typical and extreme weather conditions, according to ISO New England Inc, the operator of the region’s bulk power system and wholesale electricity markets.

GW Plastics expands again in Royalton

In response to its growing medical device business, advanced contract manufacturing and injection molding company GW Plastics, Inc has announced the expansion of its Royalton, Vermont Manufacturing and Technology Center. GW Plastics has broken ground on a 30,000 ft² expansion to accommodate the growth of its thermoplastic injection molding and medical device contract assembly business.

Abortion constitutional amendment passes first step in lengthy process

The Vermont House of Representatives has approved Proposal 5, a Vermont constitutional amendment that protects personal reproductive autonomy, on a vote of 106-38. The proposed constitutional amendment now awaits consideration by the 2021-2022 Legislature. If it passes both chambers again next biennium, the question will be on the ballot in 2022 for the approval of Vermont voters. Governor Scott let a companion abortion rights bill pass into law without signing or vetoing.

Norwich receives estate gift of $3M from Professor Don Wallace

Norwich University President Richard W Schneider announced to trustees on April 25 that Professor Emeritus Don Wallace, who retired in 2017 after over five decades of teaching in Norwich’s Mechanical Engineering Department and passed away in November 2018, left in his will over $3 million to the David Crawford School of Engineering (DCSE).

Vermont requests federal disaster declaration

Governor Phil Scott has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from President Trump to acquire federal funds to assist six Vermont counties in repairing public infrastructure damaged in floods on April 15, 2019. Communities and public entities in Bennington, Essex, Orange, Rutland, Washington and Windsor counties sustained damage exceeding the minimum threshold for federal disaster assistance eligibility.