The Readers Write

Pensions and fossil fuel

Recently there has been a push for the Vermont Treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to divest itself of its fossil fuel holdings. While I believe most Vermonters support our state’s move away from its dependence on such fuel sources and embrace a clean energy portfolio, divestiture is not a prudent fiscal strategy for the pension fund. The Treasurer and VPIC have a strict fiduciary obligation to the nearly 50,000 Vermonters whose pension funds they manage and who rely on these funds for their fiscal security. Independent analysis has shown that divestiture would result in an estimated ten million dollar ongoing loss in revenue if such a strategy was implemented.

While we can debate investment strategies and speculate as to how one might be better than another, such debate is speculative. Retirees’ dependant on a predictable stream of income to carry them through their golden years cannot afford to be on the losing side of that debate. So, until there is greater certainty regarding investment and subsequent returns it is prudent and fiscally responsible to maintain the current portfolio diversity and ensure that those who have served Vermonters so ably do not suffer economic insecurity.

Tom Torti, President Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

Harbor Place – Another Perspective

I read with interest and concern the rather inflammatory and inaccurate letter to the editor in the June 25th edition of Shelburne News. I feel moved to offer information that might enable us to discuss the operation of Harbor Place in a more informed manner.

Harbor Place was not “swept in behind closed doors without any Shelburne Community notification.” The assertion that Champlain Housing Trust displayed “disregard of Shelburne’s legal, local zoning processes” is inaccurate. Champlain Housing Trust purchased the property (zoned as a motel) from the previous (motel) owner. Conversations took place between Champlain Housing Trust and town officials and police regarding its operation prior to closing on the property in Oct. 2013.

The perception that Harbor Place originally indicated it would be open only to “women, children and families,” as recently suggested by a town official, is inaccurate. I might direct readers to the Oct. 28, 2013 posting on Front Porch Forum by Chris Donnelly, Community Relations Director at Champlain Housing Trust (you can go to the Front Porch Forum archives to read it).

The claim that we see “community crime skyrocket directly as a response to those housed at Harbor Place” is offered with an unsupported, broad, dramatic brush and disregards the harsh reality that communities throughout Vermont are dealing with the very real challenge of increased substance abuse. We are not immune and cannot be immunized. The increased crime we are talking about is primarily for shoplifting – of food.

Most of the emergency calls to Harbor Place have been for those with medical needs, not criminal behavior. As Chief Warden has stated publicly, the previous motel was a known location for prostitution and drug abuse, deals, and busts. He has indicated that those are now significantly down at Harbor Place, given the close monitoring of those coming and going from the facility. Shelburne police have made it clear they want Harbor Place to be making calls about any suspicious activity there – an arrangement that apparently did not exist with the previous owner. I view Harbor Place’s offer to pay the town for any increased police response to be commendable.

Champlain Housing Trust is accused of “erecting a silly vacancy sign to evade Shelburne’s zoning regulations and to continue to do battle with the community.” Perhaps the author was unaware that earlier offers to erect this sign by Champlain Housing Trust were discouraged by some town officials.

Champlain Housing Trust’s “huffing and puffing political hubris with disregard for others” and their purported evasiveness must be considered in light of their extensive efforts to work with town officials regarding its operation. I have taken the opportunity to attend one of the four recently-offered tours of Harbor Place, organized by its staff in response to the concerns. I asked, “How many of those who have voiced those concerns have taken advantage of the tours?”

The answer? “Very few.”

The property was purchased by Champlain Housing Trust in response to the overwhelming need for a more stable, temporary roof over the heads of many who have none. As we might recall, for years the state has paid many tens of thousands of dollars for putting homeless people in motels – without any supports.

Harbor Place was envisioned and is structured to provide temporary housing and with critical supports for these folks. The assertion that Champlain Housing Trust has failed in is mission, is, again, inaccurate. Overwhelmingly, its guests feel safe there and they are twice as likely to subsequently secure stable housing as those previously placed in motels. We have much to be proud of in being the home to Harbor Place, which continues to dialogue with the town about vetting those who stay there.

Tom Zenaty – Shelburne

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