Taxes emerge as big issue in Rutland mayoral race

02/25/09 5:35PM By Nina Keck
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(Host)   Two years ago City officials in Rutland were trying to sort out embarrassing accounting problems and the mayor's race was wide open with six candidates.  

This year's race is noticeably quieter with just two men vying for the city's top job.  

But as VPR's Nina Keck reports, the stakes remain high. 

(Pips barbershop)

(Keck)   At Pips Barbershop in downtown Rutland, several customers admit they're glad that the local treasury is back on track.   But Jim Salvi says with property taxes up over 12 percent this year, the good feelings stop there.

(Salvi) "No I'm not happy with the way things are going.   I think the last year the roads are getting worse and worse. And taxes - I think they're too high.   We're not getting any services for it."

(Keck) Like many municipalities, Rutland is struggling to pay for services.  Mayoral candidate Dave Trapini says the city needs to be run more cost effectively.    

Trapini owns a plumbing supply business and was one of six candidates who ran for mayor two years ago.   Despite finishing last, he says he enjoyed the campaign and was initially pleased that Christopher Louras won the race. But he says too many storefronts in Rutland remain vacant and he feels the city needs to be more pro business.

(Trapini) "The last straw was when the current administration put out a press release saying they were going to raise property taxes by 25% within the next two or three years and the people in this city - taxpayers and businesses are tapped out.   We don't have any more money."

(Louras) "And that is grossly, grossly inaccurate - saying that property taxes are going to go up 25 percent.''

(Keck)    Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras says he predicted tax rates would go up that much only if the city kept the same staffing levels that were in place in June 2008 - something he says he would not allow to happen.    In the last two years, he says, 10 city employees retired or left their jobs and those positions have not been filled.

(Louras) "And it saved the taxpayers literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and has not impacted city services yet and created a great deal of efficiency.   So for anyone to contend that I'm going to raise taxes 25 percent in the next three years is grossly and patently false and it's unfortunate that that's the tack that he's taking."

(Keck)   Louras says growing the grand list and bringing new businesses to the region are his top priorities.   To do that, he says the city is working with the Downtown Rutland Partnership to offer free rent for a year to qualified new businesses.  Louras says he's also been working to replace antiquated water and sewer pipes in the city, which he says will help enable more commercial development.   Challenger Dave Trapini says he thinks the city's future lies in tourism.   He points to Pine Hill Park, a 275 acre gem in the middle of the city as an untapped resource that could be turned into a major attraction for mountain bikers, cross country skiers and nature lovers.  

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

(Host outro) The two candidates will face off in a televised debate tonight on local access television.   

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