Editorial: Newport City Council missed the boat

The Newport City Council missed the boat last week when approached about the possibility of putting a tar sands resolution on the agenda for the annual City Meeting in March.  The council could have welcomed city residents who want to talk about an important local issue.  Instead they snubbed them.

The council told residents and an environmental organizer who wants to put a question about tar sands on the ballot that they might accept a petition from 5 percent of the city’s voters and put it on the ballot.  Or they might not.

Traditionally, the city council has turned down items that are not strictly city business, aldermen told the voters.

In this discussion, they told voters and a representative of the Sierra Club that they should not put anything “politicized” on the ballot.

Isn’t the whole idea of Town Meeting Day about local politics?  How strange for the city’s leading political figures to say they want to avoid politics at their city meeting.

Beyond that, just whose city is Newport anyway?  If 5 percent of city voters want to talk about something, what harm is that going to do?

The city council seems to be saying that tar sands is not a local issue.

City Manager John Ward called the Sierra Club, “just one more lobbying group coming here to tell us how to live.”

But tar sands is definitely a local issue.  The Portland Pipeline goes through Newport Center, which borders the city.  The pipeline goes through a number of towns further south where the rivers drain into Lake Memphremagog.

Does the council believe that an oil spill into rivers and streams leading to Lake Memphremagog would not harm the city’s economy, not to mention the environment?  If there were a spill, we wouldn’t be eating bass, walleye, trout or perch for years to come.

Newport City’s annual meeting is typically a brief, perfunctory affair where almost no one comes and almost nothing is discussed.  The city’s business is done by paper ballot.

Certainly this works well in terms of getting a good number of people to vote on municipal and school budgets and elections.  It’s more convenient for working people to choose their voting time.

But the lack of discussion is unfortunate, and here is an opportunity to allow city residents to have a debate about an issue that could affect the city drastically.  What is the problem with allowing that discussion and even a vote on a resolution?

There is such a thing as being too provincial.  The Northeast Kingdom sometimes has that reputation, and it’s time for that to change.

The city council could have taken a step to welcome discussion on an important regional topic, but instead they mostly closed the door on it.  Why?  Tradition?  Maybe it’s time for a new tradition. — B.M.D.

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Spates Block sale spurs Newport City reappraisal

Newport's Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Newport’s Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The $2.85-million sale of the Spates Block will change the face of downtown Newport.  It will also require the city to revalue all property on its Grand List.

According to a memo from City Assessor Spencer Potter, the sale, along with the $1.1-million sale of the properties on which the new Maplefields gas station is to be built, will bring a call from the state for mandatory reappraisal.

City Manager John Ward urged the aldermen to act quickly on the matter at the city council’s meeting Monday night.  They heeded his advice and unanimously agreed to proceed with a full reappraisal of Newport.

Mr. Ward said it is quite possible that new sales will drop the city’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) enough that the state will raise education tax rates to compensate.  The CLA is a measure the state uses to ensure fairness in the statewide tax by making sure appraisals in all towns generally match the results of actual sales.

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