A CLOSER LOOK: State House candidates answer our questions

Bock Reed Inside copy© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With two Democratic candidates vying for a seat in the State House from Windsor 3-1 and no Republicans or Independents in sight, next Tuesday’s primary might just as well be the Nov. 8 General Election for Chester, Andover, Baltimore and North Springfield.

As is our custom in contested races, we’ve asked candidates Melody Reed and Tom Bock a few questions about current issues to give voters a perspective that may not jump out of campaign material or endorsement letters. Both candidates were asked the same questions and in the interest of fairness, we have alternated the order of the answers. The Telegraph would like to thank both candidates for their thoughtful and timely answers.

What is the one issue that you believe you can make a difference in and why?

Melody Reed Answers logo-bulletThe reason why I can make a real difference is because I will really listen to constituents. I have been traveling around my district, hearing voters’ ideas and concerns. It has been inspiring and my favorite part of this campaign. I have heard about taxes, a lack of well-paying jobs, housing costs, health-care and food costs.

The issue I’m hearing that is most on people’s minds is affordable living.  As state representative, I too will focus on this issue. I support a gradual increase to the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and it is vital that we involve small businesses in this process. We also must ensure that there are affordable technical programs available for training our work force for the good jobs that are available in our area and that these programs are well-publicized.

And we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to lure good businesses into the state without compromising the environment. As representative, I will listen to people’s concerns and will work hard to address them.  I will work hard to help ease the burden on hard-working families. I know first-hand the costs involved in trying to get ahead, to get an education or the training you need for a better-paying job.

Tom Bock Answers logo-bulletI feel I can make a difference and be most effective in the area of responsible economic growth. My background as a former member of Chester’s Select Board, coupled with my participation on the Chester Economic Development Committee and as chair of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, has provided me with the tools and know-how. As state representative, I will have the opportunity to do more to promote state economic development initiatives through our regional and local boards.

I also think with my experience as a small business owner in Chester, more can be done to engage our business and real estate communities in an effort to attract new businesses and young entrepreneurs and to increase year-round tourism through creative broader based marketing in our district. Such a joint effort can also promote initiatives to encourage second home seekers and retirees to consider settling in this area.

In the longer term, I will work to create a partnership of our business and educational communities with the objective of providing more opportunities for our young people to learn the skills they need for quality jobs that meet Vermont employers’ needs.

What is your position on Act 46 (school consolidation) as it relates to your constituent towns?

Tom Bock Answers logo-bulletAct 46, the school consolidation law recently enacted by the state legislature, mandates a merger of school unions and school districts by the year 2019 or the Vermont Department of Education will create and impose its own consolidation plan.

Following the formation of our Two Rivers School Union a couple of years ago, I question whether this act, as currently written, will have any added beneficial impact on our community.The TRSU merger has reduced administrative costs while maintaining a high quality education for the students of Mt. Holly, Plymouth, Ludlow, Andover, Cavendish, Chester and Baltimore. However, consolidation of these districts as written in the current version of Act 46 could result in higher education taxes for Andover, Baltimore and Chester, which is unacceptable.

Act 46 will need to be amended in order for our towns to consider options that could provide possible tax relief and increase the quality of education for our communities. One such option being studied would involve consolidation on some educational level of Andover, Chester, Cavendish and Baltimore districts, which could prevent a mandated consolidation plan by the DOE.

I understand the apprehension about school consolidation and I would work with the legislature to amend Act 46 to allow the flexibility for our districts to work together. I also encourage ongoing discussion with the member towns of TRSU to come up with our own consolidation program that would have a beneficial regional impact on educational opportunities for our children and additional cost savings for our district.

Melody Reed Answers logo-bullet I believe Act 46 is a reasonable approach to addressing operational inefficiencies and increasing student to full-time staff ratios. Although school consolidation has its critics, I am not aware of any serious movement to repeal the law.

Our job now is to make sure we use this law to provide what is best for our kids and our towns. The law is complex and school boards are taking necessary time to make the best decisions for the district. Once the school boards can agree on a plan, and the Board of Education approves the plan, it will be presented to the voters. The plan is approved only if it passes in each of the necessary towns.

School districts will need to have an approved plan in place and be operational by July 1, 2019. This means that any alternate plan would also need to be approved and fully operational by that date. There are many variables to be ironed out before each town votes. I plan to be a participant in the discussions so that I can hear from the people and know exactly what the concerns are – and address them with legislation, if necessary.

[The implications of Act 46 are different from town to town. For example, Baltimore is in a “choice” district and will pay tuition to the school to which it decides to consolidate. Students will be required to attend the district school, which will effectively remove the option of “choice.” One thought expressed to me during this campaign is that “choice” favors wealthier families who could afford to take the time to drive their kids out of town to “better” schools. In theory, this drains a desired diversity and parent involvement in the local school. So while some may be upset about losing “choice,” others see this move as a benefit because it creates more parent involvement and commitment with an end result of improving the local school.]

What is your position on Act 64 (water quality) as it relates to your constituent towns?

Melody Reed Answers logo-bulletProtecting our natural resources, including water quality, is of the utmost importance, and Act 64 seeks to address potential damage to water quality by farms. What I am hearing from farms in our area, however, is that the law was crafted with big farms in mind, and may not appropriately suit small farms – both their impact on water quality and the potential harm they may suffer as a result of the law.

For example, the 200-foot buffer zones removes a lot of grazing land on one small farm I visited, and doesn’t take into consideration small farms using clean farming practices that don’t adversely affect water quality. Act 64 is currently in the rule-making process. I see my role as representative making sure our farmers’ voices are heard in Montpelier.

I am particularly disappointed that the public hearings were held in summer, when farmers are at their busiest, making it difficult for some to attend hearings. Small farms contribute to our local economies, maintain our working landscapes – a draw for tourists and locals alike – and produce fresh and delicious milk and dairy products for our communities. As a state representative I will advocate for farmers, making sure farmers’ concerns are heard and addressed.

Tom Bock Answers logo-bulletI support the intent of the Vermont Clean Water Act to protect our rivers and streams, which are an integral part of the natural beauty of Vermont. My biggest concern, however, is that the cost of this initiative will be, for the most part, borne by the towns. The state has determined that, in our district, gravel roads are a major source of water pollution. The concern is that erosion and washout of gravel roads result in sediment, phosphorous, salt and heavy metals washing into our rivers. The act requires that polluted run-off from roads and farms needs to be assessed and reduced.

While the standards for these new regulations are not yet finalized, our constituent towns would be most impacted by the new municipal road requirements, particularly for the many miles of Class 3 gravel roads in our district. Towns will be required to identify, prioritize and address high risk road segments.

The Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, of which I am chair, has been charged with the responsibility of identifying problem areas and for estimating the costs of corrective action to be taken by the towns in the region. While the end result will be more flood resilient roads and lower road maintenance costs long term, the required corrective action will place an overwhelming financial burden on our towns. I will push for technical and financial assistance, as well as an extended implementation schedule for meeting Act 64 requirements.

What is your stand on whether there should be an independent ethics panel for both the state House and Senate, with investigative powers and a budget sufficient for its work?

Tom Bock Answers logo-bullet I completely support an open and transparent government. A fundamental question with the ethics panel proposal is cost. As we try to control spending, I would need to know more the extent corruption is an issue in our citizen-legislature.

Melody Reed Answers logo-bulletI believe an open and transparent government is key to our democracy, and I am in favor of establishing an independent Ethics Commission. I am not alone: A recent Castleton Institute poll found that 74 percent of Vermonters favors the creation of an Ethics Commission.  Vermont is 1 of only 3 states that does not have an Ethics Commission. This is clearly a “best practices” for state government and it’s time for Vermont to adopt this practice. We can’t overlook the fact that there’s an expense for creating an Ethics Commission, and a funding source would need to be identified.

Renewable energy is a priority in Vermont, to the point that many towns do not believe they have a say in whether large scale industrial wind and solar farms are located in their communities. One such project is the Windham-Grafton wind project with 28 turbines at 500-feet tall, the biggest proposed project in the state. This is a two-part question:

a. How much weight should towns have in siting such private wind projects in their communities with the Public Service Commission?

Melody Reed Answers logo-bullet

Vermonters are accustomed to having involvement in making decisions that affect their community.  Towns should have significant voice in the siting of wind projects. While I am a strong proponent of renewable energy (and live in a solar-powered home!), I believe we have to balance personal interests and individual freedom with community interests, a town’s personality and environmental concerns.

Tom Bock Answers logo-bulletAlthough renewable energy is critical in addressing climate change, these large industrial wind projects are problematic for a state with mountainous topography like Vermont. Siting large turbines along ridgelines can have an adverse impact not only on the esthetics of a mountain view but also on local property values and local economies. The efficiencies offered by wind power may not be worth the possible detrimental environmental impact. I am concerned about increased flooding from slope erosion and storm water runoff and the impact on wildlife habitat due to the extensive tree removal required by these projects.

Town plans and zoning regulations typically take these concerns of the community into consideration in order to preserve a town’s character and quality of life so valued by its residents. I don’t believe the recent bill that gives towns with ‘certified’ energy plans “substantial deference” with the Public Service Board on this issue, will go far enough. I do support giving local town boards more weight with the Public Service Board in siting these projects than they currently have.

How will you work to ensure that, should the Windham-Grafton project be approved, all phases of it will have as little impact on your communities as possible?

Tom Bock Answers logo-bullet

I foresee the biggest impact to our district towns to be a very large volume of heavy truck traffic, particularly during the excavating and building phase. As chair of Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, I would encourage the board to exercise its statute-granted party status in Public Service Board hearings, which would allow them to help craft the conditions of the permits.

In addition, I would have Regional Planning prepare a cost analysis of potential road damage and hold the developer responsible as part of those permit conditions. I would further encourage the regional commissions and select boards to mitigate truck traffic by developing alternative and varying routes to the sites.

Melody Reed Answers logo-bulletAs I understand it, the most significant concern to Chester and Andover will be the impact from construction of the project, specifically truck and big equipment traffic on Routes 103 and 121.

Road degradation and road safety are paramount. In the event the project is approved, as state representative I will work with the Agency of Transportation to make sure that everything is being done as it should be concerning the condition of the roads, and that traffic is moved safely through the towns during the construction phases of the project.

I would also hope that any constituent with concerns would contact me so I could serve as liaison as necessary.

For Windsor 3-1 voters, the Primary Election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9. at the following polling places:

Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Andover Town Hall, 953 Weston Andover Road, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Baltimore Town Hall, 1902 Baltimore Road, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Riverside Elementary (for North Springfield voters), 13 Fairground Road, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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