News in Brief for December 2021

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News in Brief for December 2021

Sat, 01/15/2022 - 1:43pm -- tim

State revenues rebound as consumer taxes strengthen

A lag in the personal income tax was more than offset by a strong showing with the corporate and rooms and the tourism-related meals taxes for the month of November. General, Transportation, and Education Fund revenues were slightly above target for the second month of the second quarter. Cumulative revenues remain above target for the year-to-date. The State’s General Fund, Transportation Fund, and Education Fund receipts in November were a combined $188.3 million, or 3.2% above monthly consensus expectations. Cumulative revenues remain 3.0% above consensus revenue expectations for the first 5 months of the state’s fiscal year.

General Fund revenues collected for the month totaled $111.4 million, or $2.8 million above the monthly consensus revenue target.

Fiscal year-to-date, General Fund revenues were $689.9 million, exceeding their target by $27.2 million or 4.1%.

November’s revenues showed a bounce back from October’s slight lag, and while personal income taxes, the GF’s most important revenue source, were slightly below monthly expectations, other General Fund categories, notably meals and rooms and corporate income taxes, more than made up the difference.

 

Molly Gray, Becca Balint to run for Congress

Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray and Senate President Becca Balint (D-Windham), both Democrats, have announced that they are running for Vermont’s At-Large seat in the US House of Representatives. Balint, 53, is the first woman to serve as president of the Vermont State Senate in the history of the state, and she is also the first openly gay person in that position. She would also be the first woman and openly gay person to serve in DC on behalf of Vermonters, if elected.

Gray was first to announce she is running for the US House seat now held by Peter Welch. Welch is running for the US Senate seat held by the retiring Patrick Leahy. No other candidates have yet to step forward.

A lifelong Vermonter, Gray, 37, was born and raised in South Newbury, Vermont, on a vegetable and dairy farm still operated by her family today. She has served Vermont in Washington as an aide to Congressman Welch, statewide as an Assistant Attorney General and now as lieutenant governor.

 

Unemployment rate falls two-tenths to 2.6% in November

Vermont’s seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for November was 2.6 percent. This reflects a decrease of two-tenths of one percentage point from October’s revised estimate. The decrease was the result of a reduction in the number of workers unemployed. Meanwhile, the labor force fell slightly but the number of total employed increased. All these data points were small but statistically significant.

Vermont was tied for fourth lowest in the nation. Nebraska had the lowest rate at 1.8 percent. California had the highest rate at 6.9 percent.

The comparable United States rate in November was 4.2 percent, which was a decrease of four-tenths of one percentage point from the revised October estimate.

The seasonally-adjusted Vermont data for November show the Vermont civilian labor force decreased by 212 from the prior month’s revised estimate. The number of employed persons increased by 336 and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 548.

The November unemployment rates for Vermont’s 17 labor market areas ranged from 1.3 percent in White River Junction to 2.9 percent in Bennington.

 

Vermont Climate Council adopts CAP

The Vermont Climate Council has voted to adopt the climate action plan in a 19-4 vote. According to the Council, the Vermont climate action plan (CAP) outlines steps to cut climate pollution and help Vermonters prepare for extreme weather and other impacts caused by climate change. The Scott Administration members of the Council called the process “overzealous” and object to the costs some requirements would impose on taxpayers.

This initial Climate Action Plan includes 26 pathways for action, including a dramatic increase in efforts to weatherize Vermont homes and spur the adoption of electric vehicles, recommendations for investments to help Vermont homeowners and businesses relocate from harms’ way in the face of a changing climate, and steps to ensure the resilience and viability of Vermont’s farms, forests and natural lands, among others.

The Legislature will have to pass certain legislation in order to implement the plan.

 

Governor launches $5M program to rehabilitate housing stock

Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, along with statewide partners, have launched the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) designed to bring housing units back online by investing in existing, but under-utilized structures. VHIP builds upon past rental rehabilitation pilot programs that used modest public investment to revitalize housing in Vermont’s downtown areas, while helping renters and property owners who are most in need of assistance.

The program, funded using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, will invest a total of $5 million into the state’s aging housing stock. VHIP will provide grants of up to $30,000 per unit with a 20% funding match required to bring code non-compliant units back into habitability.

This round of grants is dedicated to units serving renters who are exiting homelessness.

 

Public-private effort to accelerate fiber broadband construction

The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) has announced that the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU), the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF), and Vermont’s Communication Union Districts Association (VCUDA) have partnered to purchase over 1,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in time for the 2022 construction season in conjunction with a 1,000 mile purchase by NEK Broadband, the state’s largest communication union district. The 2,000 miles of cable will be used to build publicly owned broadband networks across the state of Vermont.

 

Harsh weather could pose challenges to New England’s power system this winter

Well-documented natural gas pipeline constraints, coupled with global supply chain issues related to deliveries of oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), are placing New England’s power system at heightened risk heading into the winter season, according to ISO New England Inc., operator of the region’s power grid. The ISO expects to have the resources needed to meet consumer demand if the winter is mild, but a severe prolonged cold snap could necessitate emergency actions if power-producing resources lack access to the fuel they need to operate. ISONE’s concern was heightened by the catastrophic blackouts that plagued Texas last winter.

 

First case of the Omicron variant confirmed in Vermont

The Vermont Department of Health announced on December 18 that it had confirmed the state’s first case of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Genetic sequencing identified the new variant in a specimen collected on December 8, 2021. The individual is a Lamoille County resident in their 30’s. The individual was fully vaccinated and had been experiencing mild symptoms. The Health Department has partnered with the Broad Institute to perform genetic sequencing of samples collected from lab-confirmed COVID-positive cases.

The highest daily COVID-19 case counts have all been recorded since the beginning of November. December 2021 was on pace to have the second highest fatality total on record, after December 2020’s 71. However, hospitalizations have been stable even during the recent surge in cases. The more transmissible Omicron is expected to result in another surge in cases, but early data suggests that outcomes are less severe than the Delta variant that became the dominant coronavirus strain last summer.

 

UVM to require COVID boosters for students

The University of Vermont has announced that new and returning students are required to receive boosters no later than February 1, 2022. The new variant shows signs of being more contagious than any previously known variants, but more data are needed about the severity of COVID symptoms for those infected and not vaccinated or boosted. For those who are already fully vaccinated, boosters appear to significantly reduce or prevent serious COVID symptoms following infection by the Omicron variant.

 

GMP extends rebates through 2022 to help cut costs and carbon emissions

Green Mountain Power (GMP) is extending its popular rebate programs through all of 2022 to help more customers save money while reducing carbon emissions. The rebates were set to expire at the end of this year. In 2021, GMP customers saved with more than 7,000 rebates when they made the choice to switch away from fossil fuel at home and on the road – for heating, driving, mowing their lawn, and electric motorcycles. GMP rebates include a $1,500 rebate on all electric vehicles, plus an extra $1,000 for low- and moderate-income customers, and a $400 base rebate on cold climate heat pumps with an extra $800 in incentives for income-eligible customers in partnership with Efficiency Vermont.

 

Champlain Housing Trust acquires eighth hotel in eight years

The Champlain Housing Trust announced it has purchased the Days Inn in Shelburne, it’s second major acquisition in December and eighth lodging establishment it has purchased since 2013. These properties, spread across six municipalities in Chittenden County, are serving a variety of purposes ranging from a facility for people escaping domestic violence, to the State’s COVID-19 isolation motel, to permanent housing with resident services. Also in December, CHT acquired the TownePlace Suites in Williston for $13.45 million and will convert it into 72 apartments for formerly homeless and low-income residents.

The Days Inn will continue to operate as a hotel after some light rehab over the next few months. CHT’s Harbor Place motel will ultimately shift operation to the Days Inn site, setting in motion a plan to redevelop the Harbor Place site into nearly 100 homes for affordable homeownership and rentals. CHT has begun the process of working with the Town of Shelburne to redevelop the Harbor Place property into permanent housing.

The Days Inn was purchased for $6 million. A $7.345 million grant from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board from Federal American Recovery Plan Act – State Fiscal Recovery funds appropriated by the Vermont State Legislature is covering the acquisition, rehabilitation and related development costs.

 

Two Vermont Superfund sites to get EPA money

The EPA has announced a $1 billion investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to initiate cleanup and clear the backlog of 49 previously unfunded Superfund sites across the nation including Commerce Street Plume in Williston, Vt. and Ely Copper Mine in Vershire. Until this historic investment, these sites were part of a backlog of hazardous waste sites awaiting funding. Thousands of contaminated sites exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites.

 

Stoweflake sold to NYC hotel firm

MCR Development from New York City — the country’s 4th-largest hotel owner-operator — has announced that it has acquired the 117-room Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa(link is external) in Stowe, Vermont. Financial terms were not disclosed. The resort was founded, owned and operated by the Baraw family since 1948. MCR is a hotel owner-operator which has expanded through a series of acquisitions since its founding in 2006 with three Value Place hotels.

 

New grant funding for agricultural clean water initiative now available

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (the Agency) has announced $3 million dollars available through the Agricultural Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP) grant funding opportunity to local and regional partners for the reduction of agricultural nutrient runoff throughout the State of Vermont.

The Request for Proposals opened December 15, 2021, and applications are due by 4:30 p.m. on January 31, 2022.  Eligible applicants include farmers, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and local government entities.

Visit agriculture.vermont.gov/agricultural-clean-water-initiative-program, call the Agency at (802) 828-2431, or email: AGR.WaterQuality@Vermont.gov(link sends e-mail).

 

Building Homes Together campaign announces five-year 5,000 home plan

The Building Homes Together campaign launched its second five-year targets for making Chittenden County’s housing market healthier, more equitable, and more affordable. Supported by over 125 local leaders, the campaign’s goals include creating 5,000 new homes, with 1,250 permanently affordable, over the next five years. The new homes would include a combination of new rental and homeownership development.

 

JA McDonald to pay $637,500 to settle allegations of False Claims Act violations

JA McDonald, Inc, headquartered in Lyndon Center, has agreed to pay $637,500 to the United States and the State of Vermont to resolve allegations that JAM violated the federal False Claims Act by knowingly causing the state to present false claims for payment to the United States in connection with the federally-funded construction of several bridges on Route 279 in Bennington and on Interstate 91 in Guilford. This settlement resolves allegations that, between approximately 2008 and 2010, JAM employees materially altered certain components of the bridges at issue by cutting or burning multiple sections of reinforcing steel out of the reinforced-concrete substructures that support the bridges, and that JAM employees took affirmative steps to conceal such material alterations from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

 

GMP files Integrated Resource Plan with the PUC

GMP has filed its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC). This report that is updated every three years. The IRP is a roadmap as GMP continues its work to strengthen the greater grid to increase resiliency for Vermont communities, while driving down costs and enabling more cost-effective local renewable power.

Leveraging innovation to empower customers and communities through this greater grid also drives down costs for all customers. GMP’s energy storage network provides added backup power for residents, businesses, and communities and in 2020 alone, reduced more than $3 million in costs for all GMP customers.

GMP analyzed data about system performance, customer programs, and power supply options in drafting the plan, and gained input from customers in a series of public meetings. Prior to finalizing the plan, GMP shared analysis with the Department of Public Service for feedback, as required. The IRP will now be reviewed by the PUC in a proceeding that will include public hearings and opportunity for input.

 

State gets $63 million for clean water and wastewater revolving loan funds

Vermont will be receiving $63,041,000 in funding for drinking water systems and wastewater treatment as a result of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden late last month.

The funds will go into the State’s revolving loan funds for drinking water and wastewater. Those funds are loaned or granted to municipalities for constructing, improving or expanding public drinking water and wastewater systems. This funding is in addition to the State’s annual allocation of approximately $15.8 million for the revolving loan funds, bringing the total federal funding for 2022 to nearly $80 million.

 

More than $7 million already committed to brownfield projects statewide

The State of Vermont has announced that more than $7 million of the $25 million appropriated for brownfield site remediation has been committed to 10 projects across the state.

The funding was previously announced by Governor Phil Scott as part of Act 74 and represents the first-time state dollars have been allocated to brownfield sites. Historically, remediation projects have been funded exclusively by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

 

Governor announces $3.5M in Community Development Block Grants

Governor Phil Scott and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) have announced $3.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding awards through the Vermont Community Development Program. The funding will support 14 projects in all 14 counties, including affordable home repair financing for low-income homeowners, improvements to community facilities, and the building of new mixed-income housing.

 

Saint Michael’s receives $1M gift in support of Career Services

A gift of $1 million to Saint Michael’s College from Antonietta “Toni” Boucher to honor her late husband, Henry “Bud” Boucher, Jr, will support the institution’s Career Education Center. Mr. Boucher died in January 2021. The Career Education Center long has been an integral part of the student experience at Saint Michael’s, offering comprehensive career readiness training throughout each student’s four years.

 

Vermont gets $2.66 million for OVW programs addressing sexual and domestic violence

Four Vermont organizations will share in $2.66 million in federal grants from the US Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Voices Against Violence/Laurie’s House received $650,000 to operate five transitional apartments for survivors of intimate partner abuse, sexual violence and stalking in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. An $823,126 Services, Training, Officers and Prosecution (STOP) grant to the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services will help to fund prosecutors with expertise in handling domestic violence cases. A Child and Youth Grant for $499,945 to Steps to End Domestic Violence will be used to support young people who may be exposed to domestic violence in their homes or community. The Vermont Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence received $270,782, which it will use to support domestic and sexual violence programs across the state.

 

Vermont legislators preparing bill to end qualified immunity

Vermont policymakers will introduce legislation that would eliminate the defense of qualified immunity for police accused of civil rights violations. Qualified immunity has been widely criticized, in Vermont and nationwide, for barring victims of police abuse from seeking justice or holding police accountable even for extreme misconduct. The ACLU-Vermont held a virtual press conference supporting the legislation. The list of business leaders who have come out in support of the national Campaign to End Qualified Immunity features prominent members of Vermont’s business community, including Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield, Donna Carpenter, Joey Bergstein, Mary Powell, Will Raap and Jen Kimmich.

 

Alex Hernandez named president of Champlain College

The Champlain College Board of Trustees have announced that Alejandro (“Alex”) Hernandez will become the tenth President of Champlain College. Hernandez currently serves as the Dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) and Vice Provost of Online Learning at the University of Virginia (UVA). He will begin his new role on June 6, 2022, and relocate to Burlington this summer.

 

HHS Secretary Mike Smith to retire

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith will retire at the end of 2021, after his second stint leading the state’s largest agency. In addition to its role in the pandemic response, the Agency of Human Services oversees six state departments, twelve district offices, and a network of community partners and providers. It is responsible for the implementation and delivery of all human service programs within the state. Each department has a distinct area of focus and responsibility and contributes to the creation and sustenance of an entire system of human service supports. Deputy Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson will serve as interim secretary following Secretary Smith’s departure.

Secretary Smith’s career has been defined by service to others. A veteran, Smith served in the U.S. Navy, first with the Underwater Demolition Team 21 and then as a member of SEAL Team Two. He served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1977-78 and as deputy state treasurer from 1995-99. Secretary Smith also served as the secretary of the Agency of Administration and secretary of the Agency of Human Services in the administration of Governor Jim Douglas.

 

Governor Scott appoints three Superior Court judges: Novotny, Gray, Jiron

Governor Phil Scott in December appointed three Vermont Superior Court Judges: Elizabeth Novotny of Jericho, Heather Gray of Quechee and Justin Jiron of Underhill.

 

CCV receives McClure award to increase postsecondary continuation

Vermont high school seniors, facing continued uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will have access to additional support at the Community College of Vermont (CCV) next year. Thanks to a generous award from the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, current CCV Early College students who matriculate at the College and enroll in two or more courses in summer or fall 2022 will receive a stipend to cover the cost of one class or the equivalent amount to be used toward other costs associated with college. Early College is a state-sponsored program that allows Vermont students to spend their senior year of high school enrolled as full-time college students.

 

Weinberger releases plan to fulfill promise of housing as a human right

Mayor Miro Weinberger has released his “Action Plan to Fulfill the Promise of Housing as a Human Right in Burlington,” a 10-point plan that outlines a roadmap to double the rate of housing production and end chronic homelessness in our community. The plan includes investment of at least $5 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds; creation of a new position in CEDO to work on this housing effort; supporting the creation of 1,250 total homes, including 312 permanently affordable homes, by the end of 2026; full funding of the Housing Trust Fund in fiscal year 2023; and more.

 

US Attorney collected over $1.8 million from civil and criminal actions

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont collected $1,874,911.26 in criminal and civil actions in Fiscal Year 2021. Of this amount, $1,326,495.45 was collected in criminal actions and $548,415.81 was collected in civil actions. Additionally, the District of Vermont worked with other US Attorney’s Offices and components of the Department of Justice to collect an additional $291,607,284.62 in cases pursued jointly by these offices. Of this amount, $20,151.91 was collected in criminal actions and $291,587,132.71 was collected in civil actions.

 

Cabot named Best Cheddar and garners 15 awards at national competition

Agri-Mark’s Cabot Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar earned the Chairman’s Award and the title of Best Cheddar at the National Milk Producers Federation’s (NMPF) Annual Cheese Contest held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Co-operative earned an additional 13 awards, sweeping the Extra Sharp Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar, and the Natural Cheese Snack categories.

 

Vermont hemp production plan approved by USDA

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets’ (VAAFM) Hemp Program received approval from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA of the Vermont Domestic Hemp Production plan. The approved plan supports the Vermont Hemp Rules and governs registration, production, and compliance for hemp cultivation beginning in 2022.

For registration year 2021, there were 440 hemp program participants.

Some programmatic changes expected for 2022 include: The acceptable hemp tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level is total delta-9-THC concentration includes 0.3 percent or less, as measured on a dry weight basis. Total delta-9-THC includes the potential conversion of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid into THC.

 

Panton farm fined for environmental violations

The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that Vorsteveld Farm, LLC, agreed to pay a fine and perform corrective and remedial actions for unpermitted activities associated with its Large Farm Operation in Panton, Vermont. In May 2016 and again in June 2017, the farm removed vegetation, performed dredging, and placed fill in a wetlands complex associated with the Dead Creek, ultimately impacting approximately 7.1 acres of Class II wetlands and their surrounding buffer zones. “Class II” wetlands exhibit significant functions or values such as water quality protection and/or habitat. In March 2020, the Agency observed evidence that the Farm had allowed agricultural waste like manure to run off from the farmstead to a tributary of the Dead Creek.

 

Milton landowner ordered to restore unlawfully filled wetland, pay penalty

The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that Ronnie M. Wells of Milton, was fined $27,819.50 for placing unauthorized fill into a wetland in violation of the Vermont Wetland Rules. Wetlands are places where land and water meet and are commonly known as bogs, marshes, and swamps. Wetlands often occur in association with open bodies of water like ponds and streams, but they can also be isolated from any obvious connection to open surface water. Vermont’s wetlands support plants and wildlife that depend on wetland habitat and provide important water storage and filtration functions that protect water quality.

 

Bromley ski resort powers up new solar array at Sun Mountain

Encore Renewable Energy and Bromley Mountain Ski Resort have completed a 615kWdc solar project on land owned by Bromley Mountain in Peru, Vermont. The new project, jointly developed by Encore and Tangent Energy Solutions, will generate clean, locally generated solar power and help Bromley reach their sustainability goals. The energized solar array will generate enough electricity to power 70 average households per year and offset the emissions of 120 passenger vehicles annually.

 

iSun announces investment in Encore Renewable Energy

iSun, Inc (NASDAQ: ISUN), a leading solar energy and clean mobility infrastructure company based in Williston with 50-years of construction experience in solar, electrical and data services and a provider of proprietary electric vehicle charging platforms, has announced it has reached a definitive agreement to make a strategic minority interest equity investment in Encore Renewable Energy, a leading innovator in community-scale clean energy and Top 20 US commercial solar developer. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

 

$1.16 million in recovery funding to 143 Vermont cultural organizations

In 2021, Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Arts Council gave $1.16 million in Cultural Recovery Grants to 143 Vermont arts and humanities organizations. This collaborative grant program was designed to offset continued economic fallout from the pandemic. Organizations used the funds to adapt programs, create new programs, or to simply survive. The grants were made possible by American Rescue Plan Act funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Casella closes $650 million amended and restated credit facility

Casella Waste Systems, Inc (NASDAQ: CWST), a regional solid waste, recycling and resource management services company based in Rutland, announced that on December 22, 2021, it entered into a $650 million Amended and Restated Credit Agreement with Bank of America, N.A., as administrative agent and swing line lender, Bank of America, N.A., Citizens Bank, N.A., JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. and Comerica Bank as joint lead arrangers and joint bookrunners, and certain other agents and lenders (the “Credit Facility”).

 

John McSoley retires from McSoley McCoy & Co

South Burlington accounting firm McSoley McCoy & Co has announced the retirement of John F McSoley. McSoley’s accounting career began after his receiving his B.S. from the University of Vermont. After graduation, McSoley was employed as a staff accountant at PF Jurgs & Company. He interned there when he was a junior in college. Ten years later that firm merged with KPMG and McSoley met Peter McCoy. Three years later, in 1990, they decided to start a company in the depths of a recession.

 

Vermont adopts CDC guidance for isolation and quarantine
The State of Vermont has adopted the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for COVID-19 isolation and quarantine, while adding an additional layer of protection. In addition to the CDC guidance, the Department of Health guidelines allow Vermonters to end isolation on the 5th day if they have gone 24 hours without a fever and have two negative antigen tests performed at least 24 hours apart, beginning no sooner than day 4 of their isolation period. Continuing to wear a mask around others through day 10 of the isolation period is strongly recommended by both the CDC and the Health Department.

 

President Biden names Sarah Waring USDA state director
President Joe Biden has appointed the following individuals to serve in key regional leadership roles at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Sarah Waring was named the USDA State Director, Rural Development for Vermont and New Hampshire.

 

Robert and Jessica Bigelow arrested for many Dollar Store thefts
Throughout December 2021, Vermont State Police received multiple reports of thefts from Dollar General stores in Richford, Enosburg, and Georgia. The same suspect was observed on security cameras loading shopping carts full of merchandise, exiting without paying - even when confronted, and loading the stolen merchandise into a vehicle before fleeing. VSP’s investigation identified the suspects as Jessica and Robert Bigelow, who reside on Weaver Street in Winooski, and a Search Warrant was granted for their residence.