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A Referendum on Our Recovery

June 23, 2013

reptomstevens

kickass

An edited verstion of this opinion was published in the Waterbury Record on June 20, 2013.

In the days and weeks after Tropical Storm Irene, people from all over the State of Vermont — and from all over the United States — descended on Waterbury to help us muck out our basements, to help us to start to put our lives back together, to feed us, and to make donations to our community. Our Good Neighbor fund raised over hundreds of thousands of dollars from various sources, most of it in small donations. A church community from a town in Illinois — a town literally wiped off the map by flooding and relocated in the early 1990’s — sent a case of work gloves, cards of support and a donation they raised in their congregation.

Here in Waterbury, caught unawares, our community did what it did best: it reached out to help, no matter the cost, no matter the commitment, and no matter the risk. The State of Vermont came in and provided help, from the National Guard providing water to the State Treasurer forwarding important funds or delaying tax collections so we could meet our immediate needs, to the Governor and General Assembly providing tax relief to communities whose infrastructure damages were excessive. The Red Cross came, the Salvation Army came, Life Force came. FEMA came to provide federal guidance and, later, to sponsor a Long Term Flood Recovery process that asked the community to come forward to help themselves heal by discussing what the future of our town could be after the crisis. NECI came and cook meals for the affected and the volunteers. So called “big box” stores came and donated tools and supplies. A car dealership invested in a video about our recovery efforts and made a substantial donation to our recovery.

Amid the chaos, Revitalizing Waterbury and local volunteers formed Rebuild Waterbury, which raised over $1 million to help families and individuals pay for renovations they could not otherwise afford. Local business groups from Central Vermont and the Mad River Valley raised funds and disbursed them to the local small businesses who needed emergency cash waiting for exceedingly slow insurance companies to issue timely settlements.

Eventually, the State of Vermont announced it was going to rebuild the Waterbury Complex and return up to 1,000 employees. The historic structures will be saved and repurposed, and the new structure will be a gem made of local materials and energy efficient. They have designed flood mitigation in a way that will contribute to protecting our downtown. They funnelled grants to us to help us plan our recovery with respect to our municipal functions. Senator Leahy visited Waterbury this winter to announce a $900,000 grant to the Central Vermont Community Land Trust to help turn Ladd Hall into affordable housing for up to 27 families. The Vermont General Assembly passed legislation funding the reconstruction of the state office buildings, to be subsidized by FEMA and insurance money, and they have expedited construction of a new state hospital and mental health care system.

Is this, then, the time to help ourselves? We are recovering. We are tired of recovering, of worrying, of struggling. And yet there is an electricity in the air in Waterbury. All around us, people are amazed at how far we have come, how resilient we are. This bond vote is, in a way, a referendum on our recovery. We have invested so much time, energy, good will, and sweat equity to get to where we are today. This project is made possible by the generosity and foresight and hard work of so many people. It is now up to us to take advantage of this generosity and to make our local investment to a project that will solidify Waterbury’s municipal infrastructure for generations to come.

The words, frustration and anger coming from the opposition to the bond is curious. It is based on a pre-Irene balkanization of viewpoints on the size and function of government. Virtually none of the civic projects, from the school to the fire stations to merger were supported by this same opposition and made the road to completion more difficult and more expensive — exactly the opposite of their stated aim. In the buildup to this week’s vote, they have been denigrating the hard work done by the Select Board, the Trustees, the Library Commissioners, our town staff and, for that matter, the hundreds of community members who participated in the many long term recovery meetings over the course of eighteen months. In the end, they have not presented one option that has not been studied and put aside for one of many reasons, not the least of which is their own opposition to the same projects over the past ten years.

Water, mud, volunteers, courage, cash and compassion, along with dedication, planning and hard, hard work have brought us to this decision. That is what we are voting on this month. Please join me in supporting the bond, and for believing in a town that will always rise to the occasion. Our Town.

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