Waterbury Expects Return Of State Workers

10/24/11 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
A sign indicates a construction zone at the State Office Complex in Waterbury.

(Host) Town officials in Waterbury say they're disappointed that Governor Peter Shumlin isn't making a firm commitment to bring back state employees displaced by Tropical Storm Irene.

But as VPR's Bob Kinzel reports, Waterbury is finding a sympathetic ear among some legislative leaders.

(Kinzel) In one day, the town of Waterbury lost 1,500 state employees when the State Office Complex was severely damaged by Irene.  Many downtown businesses depend on these employees for their economic survival and right now the future is uncertain.

Local officials have asked Governor Peter Shumlin to make a commitment to Waterbury but the Governor isn't doing that. Instead he's created a special task force to look at this issue.

He says there are three options; stabilize and renovate the damaged buildings, build a new state office building somewhere in central Vermont or bring some workers back and locate others in different parts of the state.

(Shumlin) "As much as I care about business and the community in downtown Waterbury - and I do - we're going to make the right decision based upon what is best for Vermonters and we're going to make the right decision with the knowledge that the storms that Vermont received in April and May and then Irene are an example of what lies ahead for us."

(Kinzel) And the governor says renovating the existing buildings doesn't make a lot of sense.

(Shumlin) "Is there a way to go back to Waterbury without being flooded in the future? Because if not it would be penny wise and pound foolish to go back there."

(Kinzel) Bill Shepeluk is Waterbury's Town Manager. He's clearly disappointed that the Shumlin Administration won't make a commitment to his town.

(Shepeluk) "That's what Waterbury's request is, that's what our position is. I think right now the state has not agreed to say that."

(Kinzel) The Administration hopes to have a decision made by the middle of the winter. Shepeluk says that timetable leaves a lot of businesses in limbo.

(Shepeluk) "I won't deny that it would be better for this community if we could hear that now because of the reasons of reinvestment and just kind of hope for the future that the people would like some resolution about."

(Kinzel) The decision about Waterbury's future will be made by the Legislature. House Speaker Shap Smith says he understands what's at stake for this community.

(Smith) "I think that we can actually meld the needs of Waterbury and the needs of the state to ensure that we can rebuild with a good state complex a lot of it in Waterbury maybe some of it in other places and make sure we serve Vermonters well and that we also support the community of Waterbury."

(Kinzel) Smith says he's asked several House committees to look at this issue this fall to help facilitate the decision making process.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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