MONTPELIER — The mayors of Vermont have formed a coalition to lobby the Legislature on issues important to their cities and to learn from each other.
Last month, the mayors of Barre, Montpelier, Rutland, Newport, Burlington, St. Albans, Vergennes, and Winooski announced they would be working together.
Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras said the two goals of the coalition are for the mayors to learn from each other, as they face similar challenges and goals for economic development, and to work to affect policy change at the state level concerning issues that impact their cities.
“The strategy is to work with and complement the Vermont League of Cities and Towns,” Louras said. “We will be focusing on issues not just important to the league, but important to large communities.”
Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon said those issues include tax increment finance (TIF) reform, public safety and enhanced state tax credits to help encourage the development of housing in Vermont’s cities.
TIF districts are state-sanctioned munucipal entities, typically downtowns in cities, that enable communities to capture and reinvest a portion of the increased revenue generated by new development in a targeted area on infrastructure improvements specifically designed to attract or enhance that development.
Lauzon said the TIF program has gone through some growing pains and the cities need help making the program more effective.
For public safety, Lauzon said the mayors are asking the Legislature to allow law enforcement to have access to the state’s prescription drug database. The Mayors have also tackled the issue of gun control in terms of requesting a state law banning felons from owning firearms. Felons are already not allowed to have guns under federal law.
“Rather than rely on a federal prosecutor, who is already very busy, we could rely on state prosecutors,” Lauzon said.
Lauzon brought up the idea of the coalition four years ago, but the group fizzled out as the mayors were all busy and the idea fell to the wayside. He said he wanted to bring the group together then so they could share information and “commiserate” about their positions, he said laughingly.
Lauzon said he stayed in contact with some of the mayors and the current coalition began to take shape a few months ago. It was further galvanized by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. where 26 people, including 20 young children, were killed in December. He said some of the mayors saw gun control as a real issue that needed to be addressed in Vermont and they could use their offices as platforms for advancing their views on the subject.
According to the 2010 Census, the combined populations of the eight cities in the new mayors’ council accounts for around 15.5 percent of all Vermonters. Lauzon said considering the size of the voting block they represent, they could have a tremendous amount of influence.
The mayors represent both the Democratic and Republican parties and Lauzon said that should only strengthen the coalition, not divide it.
“If there is something we all agree on, chances are it’s pretty good public policy,” he said.
Montpelier Mayor John Hollar said he sees his job as relatively nonpartisan because he works for people of all political persuasions.
Hollar said he hopes the new Vermont mayoral coalition is a permanent entity for the state, but that will depend on the individuals themselves as they come into office and leave the job over time. He said a related challenge is that some of the mayors are only part-time employees and don’t have the staffing or finances to help them get their goals accomplished.
“Right now, we’re at a point where most of the mayors are committed to pursuing some areas of common concern and I hope that continues in the future,” Hollar said.
The next meeting of the coalition will be Feb. 28 at the Statehouse. The mayors hope to meet at least once a month going forward.
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