Connectivity build out in rural Vermont

Wired and wireless internet expansion projects in Stamford, Readsboro and Whitingham were announced by the Vermont Department of Public Service, Fairpoint and the southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative.   While I wish that these expansions were all resulting from service providers seeing increased market opportunities to sell their products, in fact these projects are the result of sustained local volunteer efforts and successful public private partnerships.

The story of these particular project investments starts many years ago in the town of Stamford.  Isolated from most of Vermont and sitting right on the border of Massachusetts they formed the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative, a paid wireless internet provider run by volunteers in the town.  These rural telecommunications pioneers refused to take no for an answer and came up with an entrepreneurial solution to connect their residents to modern life and the internet.   Fast forward to 2015 and the Town of Readsboro loudly letting me know that their town’s economy was being severely hurt by their lack of internet and cell service.  The selectboard formed a volunteer committee and together we set out to find out what was knowable about providers and coverage from the Department of Public Service.  Locals will remember that what we found out was both shocking and unacceptable.  Vermont coverage maps showed virtually all of Readsboro had acceptable internet speeds.  This supposed coverage had made most of Readsboro ineligible for a small competitive state broadband grant program and also unlikely to see expanded service by Fairpoint through a federally funded buildout program: the Connect America Fund (CAF) – also known as the universal service High-Cost program.  CAF is the Federal Communications Commission’s program to expand access to voice and broadband services for areas where they are unavailable.

And why was Readsboro (and much of the rest of rural Vermont) ineligible for these programs? Because VTel’s federally funded Wireless Open World program had indicated in their 2009 project they would cover virtually all of the unserved addresses in the town (and virtually all of rural Vermont).  And so most of the towns addresses were shown as “covered” by the VTel project.  Taxpayers will be pleased to know that addresses shown as “covered” were not eligible for most additional taxpayer funded build out investments.

Many will remember that as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, VTel was awarded an $81.7 million grant and a $35.2 million loan to bring fiber to homes in the Springfield area and to build 119 towers and antennas to set up a system of wireless broadband which would cover 33,000 unserved Vermonters in our state’s most rural areas.  Readers should understand that the landmass size required to cover those 33,000 is most of the state.  The 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan described the wireless project as “central to the state’s broadband efforts.” While the fiber to the home project is completed and an asset to the Springfield region, VTel has publicly acknowledged that seven years later, the wireless project only has about 3,000 subscribers.  And still, virtually no one in Readsboro can get the service.  And the towers that federal taxpayers funded VTel to construct in Dover and in West Wardsboro are still waiting for transmission equipment to be placed, by VTel, atop one of our highly cooperative local ski-resorts.

VTel’s wireless project has been removed from the state’s broadband coverage maps, thus opening up funding for other providers to serve what were previously considered VTel areas.  Places like Readsboro, where Fairpoint and the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative have recently both been funded by the Departmetn of Public Service to build out internet access in the town – wired and wireless.

Recent articles in our local Deerfield Valley News have featured some loud protests of these non-VTel investments by local VTel customers.  They have insisted that wireless internet is the future in internet.  This may or may not be the case.  What is true is that after almost a decade of waiting for wireless internet our fellow U.S. taxpayers paid for, it is unacceptable to ask the 30,000 mostly Vermonters still unserved by VTel to continue to wait for the company to install equipment in a timely fashion, staff a sales effort capable of providing 30,000 customers service and technical expertise, and have staff respond professionally to customers queries rather then the quirky, sarcastic, sing song replies that individual customers often get from the companies founder.

If VTel is working for you, that is fantastic.  These rare customers are amongst the lucky 10% who are actually successfully receiving the federally funded W.O.W. project.  For the remaining 90%, we need to keep working to support the creation and funding of local initiatives and planning efforts that our local volunteers are stepping up and creating.

Map of original VTel wireless project area here.

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2017 Session perspectives

Happy late summer!  I’m looking forward to seeing you all at a number of events in the coming weeks and months in the valley.

An update on the end of the 2017 session: This year I served on a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology which was created by Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson.  There was previously no single committee responsible for state IT projects and telecommunications was a a commerce function. This committee has jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board (now the Public Utilities Commission) and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   I was also appointed to the House Ethics Panel.

Highlights from 2017 bills:

Telemarketers Legislation: After hearing from many constituents about fraudulent calls, Bennington County Senator Brian Campion and I introduced mirror bills in the House and Senate and with support from the Attorney Generals office, this bill passed.  S.72 An act relating to requiring telemarketers to provide accurate caller identification information and established a data broker working group.  Unfortunately this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of dealing with what at best are nuisance calls and at worst criminal fraud activity.  Enforcement will present its own challenges.

The Attorney Generals office maintains a Consumer Assistance line to resolve problems you may be having with a business and to also report suspected scams.  I’d strongly encourage residents to call and sign up for their scam alert system 800-649-2424 (toll-free in Vermont) or 802-656-3183. Please consider checking out the “Stopping Scams” page at https://www.uvm.edu/consumer to better understand the tactics being used and how to protect yourself and your family.

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Rural Economic Development Infrastructure districts: Allowed the formation of Rural Economic Development Infrastructure Districts  Working with the Rural Economic Development Working Group, Rep. Chip Conquest and I introduced legislation to form REDI Districts . These special municipal districts can finance, own, and maintain infrastructure that provides economic development opportunities in rural and under resourced areas of the State, in designated areas within one or more municipalities.

Highlights from the Energy and Technology Committee:

  • Our committee recommended House agreement of an Executive Order establishing the Agency of Digital Services. The executive order elevated the Chief Information Officer to a cabinet level post charging the Agency of Digital Services to join IT personnel, software and hardware across state government to achieve the overall objective of improving the coordination and effectiveness of providing services to the public.
  • Reauthorizing Act 248A: Act 248A provides an ease in permitting for telecommunications facilities.  In addition, we passed legislation providing authorization for the Department of Public Service to issue administrative citations for alleged violations of statutes and approvals related to in-state energy and telecommunications facilities.
  • Energy Storage Bill: The House passed legislation I sponsored which requests a report from the Department of Public Service relating to fostering energy storage on the Vermont electric system and authorized the Clean Energy Development Fund to fund energy storage projects that support renewable resources.  Given Vermont’s abundance of renewable energy, our rural nature and our MA neighbors investments in energy storage, energy storage infrastructure is critically important for electric grid stability, protecting existing rate payers and efficient use of renewable energy.
  • 10 Year Telecommunications plan: The plan is being rewritten and requires a survey of residents and businesses as part of its development.  I successfully advocated for adding specific surveying requests from our healthcare, education and public safety sectors.  As many in our district know – our challenges with broadband and cell service can become life threatening when police, rescue or social service personnel are unable to utilize modern communications to assist citizens in need.  Representatives from Dover School, Grace Cottage and Rescue Inc. testified in support of this needed change.

Additional local interest items – Marijuana legalization:
Voters in our district have communicated passionately on this issue – both for and against.  In the past I have been a no vote on full legalization, and voted no for a home grow only proposal at the beginning of this past session.  With recreational use being legalized just over the border in MA, we are going to see an increase in legally acquired marijuana in traffic stops and possibly impaired drivers in our district.  For this reason I voted yes for a taxed and regulated recreational market.  We can’t ask Vermont law enforcement to deal with stops where drivers possess legally acquired marijuana, and may be under the influence, are increasingly crossing over the border without increasing funding for them to do so.  My sense is that there will be agreement on legalizing recreational marijuana sales and use in Vermont and we may see full legalization in the coming year.  It might have been possible to get agreement between the governor (who vetoed a legalization bill, but then provided a means for agreeing) and the legislature during the June veto session, but that would have required the legislature to be in session for a week, incurring additional costs .

Education
Between advocating for needed changes to Act 46, continuing to try to illuminate that the funding mechanism is creating inequities in our rural districts, working with Rep. John Gannon and others to try and secure Act 46 benefits for Twin Valley and other districts that merged prior to Act 46, and advocating for a statewide employee health benefit, no issue consumed more of my time this year then education.  I’ll be writing more about education and what I see on the horizon for impacts in Southern Vermont before the next session.

State Budget
The final budget passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the governor this year did not raise taxes or fees. Given the federal budget uncertainties, this was especially good news.  The Legislature invested $8.3 million in Vermont’s mental health care system, $2.5 million in child care services for working families and $3 million to the Vermont State College system. Some programs of value to rural Vermont were prioritized including working lands, Farm-to- School programs, and the logging industry.  There was no additional funding for telecommunications infrastructure build out.

Ethics
Though I noted my appointment to the House Ethics Panel, there is no state Ethics Commission for all of state government.  Vermont is one of only a handful of states without an Ethics Commission which can be an important factor in government accountability. Vermont’s first ethics law, S.8, establishes an independent State Ethics Commission which prohibits legislators, statewide office holders, and executive officers from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving office, imposes restrictions on no-bid contracting and requires financial disclosures for legislative and statewide candidates and executive officers. It requires the creation of a state code of ethics and each municipality to adopt a conflict of interest policy for all its elected officials, appointees, and employees.

Next session:

  • A payroll tax increase on every Vermont employee passed the House year.  The tax will pay for a new paid family leave program.  Employees who currently received paid family leave are not exempted.  I expect there will be a big push to pass this in the Senate next year.
  • Push for a $15 minimum wage continues. Some Burlington area lawmakers, surrounded by national chain establishments, have explained they see this push as adding revenue to Vermont.  Wages are rising which likely relates to Vermont’s continued shortage of workers, employers have to pay more to get qualified staff.  It’s my hope that we will spend equal or more energy trying to bring in new workers as we will spend trying to raise the minimum wage.

Be assured that I’m carefully monitoring the EB-5 Regional Center conversations and have been maintaining communications with federal and state officials and Mount Snow on both federal and state support for the local projects.

As always, thank you for providing feedback and suggestions.  I plan to hold several public forums later this fall and hope you will consider coming out and sharing your thoughts.  Please don’t hesitate to call or email with questions or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

 

 

Budget, Taxes and Act 46 public hearing

“We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major responsibility of it is participation”
~Wynton Marsalis
April 1, 2017  
Public Hearing on possible changes to Act 46: The Senate has passed S.122, which would make modifications to Act 153 and Act 46.  The bills stated purpose is to provide increased flexibility for school district mergers.

The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on S.122 on Tuesday evening, April 4, 2017.  The hearing will be held in room 11 at the State House in Montpelier from 5:30-7:30 PM.Witnesses may begin signing up at 5 PM for time to speak.  Testimony will be limited to three minutes per person with witnesses speaking in the order of sign up.  The Committee will also accept written testimony.  Testimony and questions may be directed to:

Marjorie Zunder, Committee Assistant, House Education Committee
mzunder@leg.state.vt.us

802-828-2258

This is an important opportunity for boards and members of the public to share information that can assist the House Education Committee as they consider the changes the Senate has suggested and whether or not to accept those changes and whether or not to make additional changes themselves. 

This is an important hearing. Testifying is easy.  Consider writing out your three minutes of testimony, and also consider framing it the form of a suggestion.  What could the legislature do that would make the job of improving opportunities for students easier?  If you do plan to come up and testify, please send me an email or text to let me know so I can plan to meet up with you.

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Important Wardsboro Meeting also happening on April 4th:

Wardsboro has scheduled a re-vote on the Dover/Marlboro/Wardsboro Act 46 merger articles to be held on May 1, 2017.  The board has warned the following meetings:

April 4, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. at Wardsboro Elementary School – regularly scheduled school board meeting which will be attended by Brad James and Donna Russo-Savage from the Agency of Education.  Brad is a long time AOE staffer and Donna literally wrote Act 46 when she was employed as one of the lawyers for the legislature.  This will also be a good opportunity for Wardsboro residents to get answers to questions they have prior to the re-vote.

April 24, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. at the Wardsboro Town Hall (public forum specifically for Act 46 reconsideration vote)

An abundance of information, previously posed questions and answers, and the proposed merger articles can be found at http://wcsu-committee.blogspot.com/

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This past week the House passed the tax bill unanimously – raising virtually no new taxes, but banking on increased enforcement for a small amount of funding. There was nearly unanimous support for the budget which increased by 1%.  The budget was largely uncontroversial with the exception of a study on education spending.  Rep. Heidi Scheuermann from Stowe and I, both proponents of property tax reform, spoke at length in opposition to this proposed study which calls for identification of cost drivers in education and legislative proposals to address the cost drivers.  Rep. Scheuermann spoke to dozens of studies which have been done on cost drivers in the past and called for action on the funding formula.  I spoke to the statutory definitions that make per pupil spending the definition of equity of opportunity called for in Brigham and also called for action on the funding formula.  Our request to strike the study received tri-partisan support but was was ultimately defeated 86-42.

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Thank you to all who have been contacting me on issues impacting or interesting you individually and our communities collectively.  I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts on particular bills I have heard from a number of folks on:

H.422 An act relating to removal of firearms from a person arrested or cited for domestic assault.  This bill passed the House 78-67.  This bill was initially troubling for me.  I am a strong supporter of our Constitution, but also know very well the danger and unpredictability in domestic violence situations.   Ultimately I voted against this measure because the law basically changed only one thing, whether or not a judge was contacted prior to removing a firearm after a crime had been committed which did not convince me made anyone safer and did infringe on due process for the accused.

H.170 An act relating to possession and cultivation of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older.  Voters may recall I voted against last years (very different) marijuana legislation.  I’m convinced legalization will happen, but as long as it is still illegal federally, Vermont legislation needs to thoroughly consider taxation, regulation, impaired driving and youth prevention in order for me to consider voting for it.  This past week H.170 came to the floor for a vote.  I made a motion to send it to the Human Services Committee for additional considerations on youth prevention, which was agreed to.  My sense is the bill may yet emerge for a vote in the House.  If a vote passes the House it is expected to pass the Senate which overwhelming approved last years bill.

H.316 An act relating to renewable energy goals for Vermont’s total energy consumption.  This legislation seeks to put Vermont’s renewable energy goals into law, that is that we will provide 90% of our energy by renewable resources by 2050.  I am not opposed to this legislation, which was also introduced in the Senate.  The bill is in my committee for consideration this year or next, along with about 30 other bills.  We have taken zero testimony on this bill, and that will definitely happen prior to us taking it up.  Given that the session is 3/4 over, the chances for this bill this year are pretty slim.   I was surprised to be contacted by a number of constituents asking me for action on this bill, notifying me that VPIRG had been persistently contacting them and urging them to contact me.  VPIRG is the largest nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization in Vermont.  They are in the statehouse every single day, and in my committee more days then not.  To the best of my knowledge, they never even asked our Committee Chair, never mind me, if he would take this legislation up this year.  VPIRG does some good work including grassroots outreach.  Unfortunately, this is not my first experience with them misleading my constituents – unnecessarily I might add.  Thank you to the folks who reached out to me to ask me about this!

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We are starting to hear talk of coming back in October to address federal impacts on the Vermont budget.  There may be significant impacts to healthcare, education and environmental programs.   As soon as more is known definitively, I will share that information.

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I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Please stay in touch, and stay engaged,

 

Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

2017 Town Meeting update

Town Meeting Update March 2017

presentation1It’s an honor to represent you in our State Legislature and to communicate the activities of the General Assembly to you in this Town Meeting update.

BUDGET: Governor Scott has provided a 7.93B budget to the Legislature which outlines his priorities for the state.  Included were increases for early childhood education, higher education, workforce training and housing.  The Governor proposed paying for cradle through college services through the state’s education fund, proposed increased efficiencies and effectiveness opportunities through combining the agencies of Commerce and Labor as well as the Liquor and Lottery Commissions.  These proposals have been met with varying degrees of pushback in the Legislature,including a significant increase proposed to the property tax and some concerns about ensuring worker protections.  I have voiced my opposition to both the Governor’s office and to our house leadership regarding increases to the property tax resulting from added services being paid for out of the education fund. The House Appropriations Committee has been working through the proposals and has hosted public hearings around the state to gather feedback.  We will vote on the House’s proposed budget in the coming weeks, and then the process will move to the Senate.

EDUCATION:  Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb has been reappointed by Governor Scott to lead the Agency of Education.  ACT 46 Many legislators in the House support consideration of a number of changes to Act 46, including clarity around alternative structures and increased time for districts, through H.15.  There has been resistance by the education committees toward making any changes to Act 46 prior to Town Meeting when a number of merger votes will take place, but the Senate Education Committee has been working on a bill that would increase Act 46 timelines if certain criteria are met and provided more flexibility in establishing a side by side district.  Education Finance I have been named to an Education Finance Committee Speaker Mitzi Johnson has established.  We have been told that our goal is to produce options for changes to the financing mechanism for next year.  This year, we have at least six different education finance proposals.  Along with Rep. Olsen, Rep. Long and Reps. Gannon, I have co-sponsored H.183  which proposes a temporary funding solution for school districts with declining student enrollment like Twin Valley and Leland and Gray.  I have also proposed H.274 which asks the Agency of Education to make a recommendation on the addition of a school district population density factor to the weighting factors used to determine equalized pupil counts, an outline of the minimum high schools located in rural Vermont should be required to have, and an opinion on the consequences of schools in rural Vermont closing.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: New Committee  This year the house created a new committee, Energy and Technology, to provide greater focus for both telecommunications and IT projects.  This is the committee I have been placed on for the next two years.  Act 248a We have been working on H.250 which reauthorizes Act 248a for three more years.  248a was enacted to provide an easier means of erecting telecommunications technology then Act 250.  My colleague Rep. Yantachka has written a helpful brief history of Act 248a.  Telecom Plan I’ve also introduced H.347 which seeks to have the Vermont 10 year Telecommunications Plan developed in consultation with Education, Healthcare and Public safety agencies, in addition to Commerce.  Locally I have been working with the Department of Public Service and CoverageCo, a company contracted to delivery limited cellular services to communities isolated during T.S. Irene.  Both Readsboro and Whitingham have these sites operational, though in some cases the placement has not been optimal.  Wardsboro was to have two sites which to date have not been installed.  We are working with the company to do some Town Meeting surveying to better inform next steps.  Along with Rep. Chip Conquest, I’ve introduced H.459, a bill looking to help municipalities finance telecommunications infrastructure projects.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Much of this year’s focus in economic development is on workforce training and recruitment needs and career and technical training.  There are also a number of communities who are looking to lift the limit on the number of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) Districts in the State.  TIFs are a municipal infrastructure financing tool, used widely throughout the country.  In Vermont, almost all TIFs exist in Chittenden County, and there is a ban on establishing any new districts.  In my committee we have been looking at what impact energy storage can have both on helping us achieve our renewable energy goals and on providing more stability to the energy grid.  Our neighbors are getting ahead of us in developing storage which could have negative impacts for Vermont ratepayers in the future.

ON THE HORIZON:   Paid family leave insurance program, $15 minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, and a fight over how to pay for the cleanup of Lake Champlain.

FEDERAL IMPACTS ON STATE:  There are a number of federal impacts to workforce, education, healthcare that are being carefully monitored by both Governor Scott’s Administration and the Vermont Legislature.  It is not clear how our budget, heavily dependent on federal funding, may be impacted by changes to healthcare.   Working with Governor Scott, both the House and Senate have bills which address possible over reaches by the federal government with our law enforcement personnel and with the collection of personal information.  H.228 has passed the Senate 30-0 and is likely to be voted on in the House this week.  More information on what these bills do and do not do can be found on my website www.laurasibilivavt.com 

I look forward to seeing folks at town Meeting and over the town Meeting week legislative break.  As always, don’t hesitate to call me 802-384-0233 or email if I an answer questions or be of assistance.

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
Vermont State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

 

First weeks in the Vermont House

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Wednesday January 3rd the 2017 Legislative Session opened.  Among the first items to take place were elections of new leaders for the Vermont Legislature.  In the House, Rep. Mitzi Johnson of South Hero was elected to serve as the new Speaker of the House.  In the last biennium, Rep. Johnson was the Chair of House Appropriations.

Timg_6373he Speaker assigns all members of the house to various committees which is where the bulk of our work is done during the legislative session.  This year a few of the committees were modified, and a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology was created.  This committee will have jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   This is the committee I will serve on for the next two years.  I’m really pleased we now have a committee tasked with focusing on state technology infrastructure and Vermonters telecommunications needs.

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Issues that look likely to receive some attention this year include financing water quality improvements, health care finance, universal

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background checks, State Board of Education rule-making authority, marijuana decriminalization, paid family leave, Act 46 timelines, Housing and 10 yr telecom plan.  We’ll know in May which of these or other issues were able to move through the legislative bodies.

I have been spending much of my time on local transportation challenges, broadband and cell access, government transparency and school finance issues in our district, region and state.

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Just after the election I was honored to be asked to Co-Chair an advisory committee for incoming Governor Phil Scott.  This committees charge was to assist in bringing forward names of individuals who shared Governor Scott’s vision of affordability and service to work in his administration.  Hundreds of names were placed into consideration and the new cabinet is filling out.   There are also a number of Boards and Commissions posts to be filled in the coming year.  If you are interested in serving in one of those posts, more information is available here: http://governor.vermont.gov/boards-commissions

img_6379Governor Phil Scott will propose a budget on January 24th.  Just after being sworn in, he signed four executive orders, establishing his strategic priorities, and creating teams in support of his efforts to address the opiate epidemic and modernize state government.

 Executive Order 01-17, “Governor’s Strategic Goals,” directs all State agencies and departments to utilize their powers, duties and programs to establish strengthening the Vermont economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting vulnerable Vermonters, as cornerstones of their strategic and operational goals.

Executive Order 02-17, establishes the Opiate Coordination Council and also creates the position of Director of Drug Policy, who will act as the executive director of the Council to support, coordinate and monitor its progress.

Executive Order 03-17 established the Government Modernization and Efficiency Team (GMET). Executive Order 04-17 created the Program to Improve Vermonter Outcomes Together (PIVOT), which will be tasked with implementing and tracking progress of the

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state

recommendations issued by GMET.

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The Dover, Marlboro, Wardsboro merger study committee is in the midst of hosting a number of public meetings.  These are important opportunities for our taxpayers, parents and students to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed merger in advance of a vote at this year’s Town Meeting.  The public hearing dates are open to anyone from the any of the towns:

  • January 12  6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • January 19  6:30pm – 8pm  Dover Town Hall
  • January 23  6:30pm – 8pm  Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 2  6:30pm – 8pm Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 13 6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • February 27 6:30pm – 8pm Dover Town Hall

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I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

State Board hearing on independent schools, updates on Act 46 and telecommunications

5988599The State Board of Education is holding a public meeting this Monday December 12th (tomorrow!)  at 6PM at the Riley Center at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester. The purpose of the hearing is to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to the approval of independent schools. I will be attending this hearing as will my fellow Deerfield Valley representative Rep. Ann Manwaring and her successor Rep-elect John Gannon.

If you are unable to attend and provide comment, it is possible to provide comment to the State Board of Education for review at: SBE.PublicComment@vermont.gov ;  specify “SBE Rule 2200 Series” in the subject line of the email.

State Board of Education Chair Stephan Morse issued a statement about the proposed rule changes in late November.

Bennington County Senators Dick Sears and Brian Campion recently addressed the controversy

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ACT 46 Update – Wardsboro, Dover, Marlboro

Click here to read the full 30-page Report & Articles of Agreement prepared by the Act 46 Elementary Study Committee for Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro.  Instructions for HOW TO COMMENT.

Next Meeting:
January 5th, 2017, Marlboro Elementary School, 6:30pm. Open Public Meeting. Agenda to follow.
Time to decide! Over the next several weeks the Committee Members are scheduling six public information sessions to give voters many opportunities to discuss what will be on the ballot when they go to vote in March, 2017 at Town Meeting Day. Voters, parents of school children, and interested residents may go to any of these meetings in any of these towns. The meetings will help voters understand what happens if the articles are approved and what happens if they are not.  The schedule is as follows:
  • January 12  6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • January 19  6:30pm – 8pm  Dover Town Hall
  • January 23  6:30pm – 8pm  Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 2  6:30pm – 8pm Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 13 6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • February 27 6:30pm – 8pm Dover Town Hall

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  Legislative Briefing  

All members of the Legislature were able to attend a one day pre-session briefing regarding the economic outlook, revenue projections, All-Payer model for health care, and implementation of the Clean Water Act.

The most serious issue continuing to plague our state are our demographics.  Vermont has the lowest birth rate in the country.  We have also seen a steady decrease in the prime child bearing age population.  The most significant effects of this can be seen in our declining student population and in the unfilled demand for professional and skilled workers our employers are experiencing. Look for private and public measures at the state level and in the Southern Vermont Zone to begin to directly address reversing population loss and employer recruitment. This is not a Vermont specific problem, but a rural America problem. For those who may be interested in the broader context of this challenge this is a great read with a lot of data. America: This Is Your Future

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Telecommunications:  There is a lot happening right now with phone and internet service across Vermont and our district.  As you may have read, Fairpoint is being sold to Consolidated Communications out of Illinois.  Fairpoint is down to about 1/3 of the landline phone customers it had when it first purchased Vermont’s landlines from Verizon.   The purchase will require the Public Service Board to issue a Certificate of Public Good which will take some time.  Important questions likely to be asked during that process include the new companies experience running 911 systems, what happens to Vermonters currently employed by Fairpoint, and what the new companies plans are with regard to broadband improvements/expansion.  In related news, the Public Service board has recently issued a decision in a nine year old open docket regarding Comcast and their VOIP (voice over IP) service.  Traditional telephone service is subject to quality regulation by the Department of Public Service.  VOIP has NOT been subjected to that same regulation, but appears that the Public Service Board believes they should be.  

In federal telecom grant related matters, reports from Whitingham indicate a number of new residents are able to access the VTel Wireless Internet service, funded by VTel’s $100M+ federal funded stimulus award in 2009.  Good news.  Unfortunately this is still not so in Readsboro, parts of Wardsboro, Dover and Searsburg.  Expect to hear more on this issue in the very near future.  Locally, I have also received complaints about another federally funded project, intended to provide cell service in towns isolated during T.S. Irene,  Obviously there is work to do, but I am encouraged by the organizing and planning happening on the ground here.  Recently we have seen those local efforts result in a planned wireless internet expansion in Readsboro. I look forward to continuing to work on these issues with our towns during the upcoming Legislative Session.

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Great southern Vermont resource developed and managed by locals:   Searsburg/Woodford Road Conditions  This is a Facebook page where eyewitness reports, videos and current conditions reporting are available for those who need to travel Route 9 between Wilmington and Bennington.  Highly recommended!

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As always, if you need help or assistance don’t hesitate to call me at 384-0233 or email at lhsibilia@gmail.com.