Keeping an eye on Montpelier

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For those Colchester business folks who were not in attendance Monday morning, March 13 for the Colchester Community Development Corporation gathering with our legislators, you missed information being shared on these legislative items, including the Clean Water Act. How does this impact your business, in terms of new taxes, new directives, new permitting?

Or maybe you are concerned about the new law that requires employers to pay for unemployment insurance on any in-state “independent contractor” they hire and how one local businessman avoids that cost by only hiring out-of-state independent contractors.

Concerns were also vocalized about the University of Vermont Medical Center becoming a monopoly on health care, thus raising the fees for services and what can be done about that. The answer, incidentally, was “not much.”

Act 250 – an oft-discussed thorn in the sides of business owners for its inconsistency and unpredictability – was also mentioned. According to Sen. Dick Mazza, our new Gov. Phil Scott is looking for ways to “soften Act 250.” Not entirely sure what that means, but it seemed hopeful.

Colchester’s economic development director Kathy O’Reilly presented the legislators and members of the audience with a project permitting flowchart for an Act 250 appeal. You have to see it to believe it, so call Kathy for a copy at 264-5508.

Four of the five-member delegation were present for this discussion with Sen. Mazza opening the event by sharing the plans for work on Exit 16 and the area on Route 2 by the Spanked Puppy. He says – and he has said it before – there will be no carbon tax, even though that bill is still alive and well.

Lake cleanup remains high on everyone’s list, and how to pay for it is still up in the air. The Fish & Wildlife/Water Resources Committee came up with a host of new taxes to pay for this effort that included a boost in the rooms and meals tax, a tax on marinas (did not make Moorings owner Moe Germain happy) and even a tax on coffee – really? Rep. Jim Condon said this bill, with all its new taxes, was not being taken seriously by his Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Curt Taylor expressed concern with the governor’s proposal to close the Windsor jail, especially with 250 incarcerated Vermonters in Michigan expected to return to the state shortly. He added that his Institutions and Corrections Committee also has to deal with the care of an aging prison population. Rep. Patrick Brennan of the House Transportation Committee talked of its work with the Clean Water Act and how it affects runoff and stormwater issues as well as hoping Act 250 can be made more predictable.

Peter Rowan of Hazelett had a question on the paid leave bill being worked on in this session. Sen. Mazza said he hopes the legislature will let employers take care of their own people, and it seemed to me, anyway, that the other legislators at the table were nodding their heads in agreement.

There were maybe 32 people in attendance at the early morning gathering, representing maybe 18 businesses. According to Lori Jensen, CCDC CEO, they have over 600 businesses listed, and the group contacted as many as they had addresses for about this meeting, more than once in many cases.

What concerns would you have shared with your legislator about pending legislation had you attended? Once it’s a law, there’s little hope for change, so sharing your thoughts with your legislators is vitally important. This is one way to have done it. Another is to send them an email – just look their contact information.

Many thanks to CCDC for holding this event, to Sen. Mazza for providing breakfast treats and to the town for the use of the great new conference room.

What else is new in town? Lots … keeping reading your local news. In the meantime, God bless.