Crime, water pipes to be discussed in Rutland

03/03/08 8:50AM By Nina Keck
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(Host) And now we go to Rutland. Last Town Meeting, voters turned out in force for a highly publicized mayoral election that was crowded with candidates and issues.

This year, locals expect things to be much quieter.

And as VPR's Nina Keck reports, the city's most pressing concerns are not on any ballot.

(Louras) "The most important issue facing Rutland is the scourge of the drug related violence that we've been dealing with for the last few months. "

(Keck) That's Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras. Last month a shooting at a downtown house left one man dead. In early December, on another city street, shots were fired into a van, hitting a teenage girl inside. In November, a man from Brooklyn was brought to the hospital with a bullet in his chest. The next day several people from Brooklyn were arrested on drug charges.

(Louras) "The folks that have been bringing the drugs and bringing their culture of violence to the state the past several years, don't play by any rules at all.''

(Keck) Louras says it's not just Rutland that's seeing a jump in violent crime. But he says the city does appear to be a hot spot in the state. Louras says to fight this kind of crime, the city needs more resources.

(Louras) "It takes the money to have the drug investigators focus on these locations to try and build a case. It's not as simple as knowing or thinking something is going on. You have to have proof, you have to have informants before you go busting down a door.''

(Keck) Central Vermont Public Service and a local resident donated $30,000 to help the city cover police overtime. Members of the Board of Aldermen say that's bought them some time in coming up with a longer term funding solution. Some members of the board suggested raising the local rooms and meals tax by a quarter of a percent, which would bring in about $120,000 a year. But Alderman Tom DePoy says he's glad the board decided not put the tax hike on the ballot.

(Depoy) "You know most of the downtown business seems to be restaurants and entertainment these days and it makes it tough for businesses like that to hold their prices and be competitive yet still have to absorb another quarter percent.''

(Keck) City officials plan to seek federal money for police. They also will ask police if they can cut costs.

While crime may be the biggest issue facing Rutland, the city's water and sewer system is a close second.

(Louras) "We have one pipe that services Woodstock Avenue, which is Route 4, which is the most marketable strip of property in the city. Unfortunately it has a six-inch water main that was installed in 1858 and this 150-year-old pipe cannot be tapped to provide water service to a new building."

(Keck) Louras says it's a big problem when you're trying to lure new commercial development. Because of the scope and cost of replacing 140 miles of underground pipes, the mayor wanted to ask voters to create a capital improvement fund to set aside $650,000 a year for 150 years. The Board of Aldermen said no. Considering the cost and the timing of the mayor's proposal, Alderman Sharon Davis says it's doubtful voters would have approved it.

(Davis) "We've had a reappraisal, the budget was up $2.4 million last year. People are having a difficult time paying taxes, paying water sewer bills, paying for oil and gas. People can't afford it right now."

(Keck) Aldermen say finding the money to adequately police the city and repair aging pipes will be an ongoing challenge. They say the city has spent the last year getting its fiscal house in order and they're pleased with the progress that's been made. An independent audit of the city's financial statements showed a surplus in the general fund of almost $225,000. That compares with a deficit of $1.4 million last year.

For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Rutland.



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