Cabot Chronicle staff
Two vacancies, 5 candidates, 6 questions: in lieu of an in-person candidate forum for voters to speak directly with candidates for the two vacant positions on the Selectboard, The Cabot Chronicle and Cabot Community Association (CCA) posed these six questions to each of the candidates for election.
1. What do you think is the most important issue facing the Selectboard?
Skip Bothfeld: The biggest issue facing the Select Board is looking forward for the future growth of Cabot. Pursuing funding, partnerships, and helping ensure this is a quality place to live, work and feel connected.
R. D. Eno: Just when our local economy was revitalizing itself with new business, the pandemic struck. Our biggest challenge will be helping to restore economic momentum. I will devote myself to that objective, and I will do my best to reawaken volunteer enthusiasm as part of my effort.
Ruth Goodrich: Planning for the future infrastructure of the town – putting $$ aside and seeking grants available.
Amy Hornblas: The most important issue facing the Selectboard now is figuring out how to protect citizens from infringements on our ability to live here. We live in rural Vermont because we love nature, and enjoy living in harmony with it and each other. According to the town survey conducted for the Town Plan over a decade ago, a leading concern was our ability to continue living here. Too many nonsensical policies and rules can interfere with our ability to do for ourselves. In 2014 the town of Cabot was about to implement a new set of zoning rules which would have made it more difficult for people to live here, by restricting our ability to share our land with our extended families, have a home-based business, or grow our own food. That’s when I spearheaded a ballot question which returned zoning decisions to the voters. The ballot initiative passed with over 400 votes in favor, and only 50 against. Through the process, I met many of my neighbors and had great conversations. I’ve continued to participate in town activities, such as budgeting and planning meetings, and have promoted more transparency by recording meetings and making them available so people can be informed of decisions that are being made and their impacts.
Lisa Olson: I believe that one of the most important issues facing the Selectboard and the Town of Cabot is the lack of affordable housing. We need to be able to attract more families with children to our town. The more children that we enroll in our school, the less expensive our per pupil costs become and this directly affects our tax rate. I want young families including our own grown children to be able to afford to buy a house and raise their own families in Cabot.
2. What strategies will you use to solicit opinions of Cabot residents?
R. D. Eno: In addition to the “Public Comment” item on every Selectboard agenda, Cabot residents already have several platforms on which to voice their opinions – Cabot Connects, Front Porch Forum, and the columns of the Cabot Chronicle. Selectpersons should be monitoring these platforms and should respond to comments, if only to send the message: “We hear you.” Selectboard attention to public opinion is the best way to encourage its expression.
Ruth Goodrich: I highly encourage residents to tune in to the SB meetings via zoom, it’s easy, no travel, and opinions are welcome
Amy Hornblas: Based on survey results from the 2010 Cabot Community Planning Survey, the most valued feature were our working farms, with 78% of respondents rating them as “very valuable.” When asked to guide the planning commission’s work, “retention of farms” was listed as the top priority issue. Concerns about affordability, and being able to age in place, were also mentioned by many respondents. Through conversation with my neighbors, I know that these concerns are still present today. Over the next few weeks I will be calling and talking with as many people as possible, in order to understand what is important to them, and what our town can do to support each other. I want every voice to be heard, and none silenced. If you would like to talk, please let me know! You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Olson: I would like to see the Selectboard do some of the same outreach that the school does to engage with the residents. There should be surveys sent out and public gatherings to discuss the issues that the board is dealing with. I would also like to see coffee and dessert nights or afternoons at the library where board members can informally meet with town residents and discuss the things that are on their minds.
Skip Bothfeld: I welcome conversations with anyone wanting to make Cabot a better place to live. Folks can email me to begin a dialogue: Bothfelds@gmail.com. I would encourage people to participate in the SB meetings to be a part of the governing process.
3. What has the pandemic taught you about how the Selectboard could better serve the needs of Cabot residents?
Ruth Goodrich: the zoom capability is great but the SB needs to be mindful of those electronically asking questions. It has been hard not meeting with the board face to face, but on the flip side, it has made the meetings more civil.
Lisa Olson: I really appreciate the way that the Selectboard has started using Zoom during the pandemic. I have found that it is so much easier to keep track of what is going on, just by putting on my headphones and listening to the discussions as I am home making dinner or folding laundry. I also appreciate that the Selectboard solicited opinions regarding a mask mandate over the course of two meetings. I think that it has been helpful to post the agendas and Zoom links on Front Porch Forum and I would like to see the approved minutes also be posted, so that the town can easily have access to what is happening at the Selectboard meetings. I have not always agreed with some of the unanimous decisions made during the course of the pandemic and part of the reason for my candidacy is that I would like to see another point of view represented in their discussions.
Amy Hornblas: My favorite part about living in Cabot is participating in town activities. I attend Town Meeting faithfully, have helped mop the floors after Maple and Apple Festivals, and attend town and board committee meetings just for fun. (It’s better than TV!) I love being around people, and working together. The most important lesson I learned about the effects of COVID on our town was how quickly our connections with each other were severed. Not only did we not see each other, but suddenly people became very distrustful of each other. Insensitivity, isolation, and loneliness increased dramatically. Health issues related to food, addiction, and anxiety have most likely increased, as well. All of this stress increases the effects of pre-existing conditions. People are going to need more help than ever as we begin healing from this collective trauma. In the face of all of the strife over the past few years, our Cabot Selectboard has maintained its humanity, staying open and responsive to the community’s needs. I am running for selectboard so that I can help them continue this work. No matter what difficulties we face as a community, we need to stay united. Freedom and Unity is the Vermont motto- each generation is challenged to stay open and connected, even when threatened. Over the past few years, my faith in humanity and our ability to care for each other has grown tremendously. I believe our community is able to do this, and I am honored to help in any way I can.
Skip Bothfeld: After reading about the masking issue in the Cabot Chronicle, I think that the SB is trying to hear what people think. This pandemic changes weekly and the SB is learning just like everyone else. We all need to work together on this issue.
R. D. Eno: While I agree with Mike Hogan that it was irresponsible – and, I would add, cowardly – for the state to pass the burden of mask mandates to the towns, I was outspoken in favor of the Selectboard issuing such a mandate for Cabot. It was a hot potato, but taking the heat is part of the Selectboard’s job. As we learned during the state of emergency early in the pandemic, if masking is required, most people will comply without any need for enforcement. Happily, the latest wave of COVID infections seems to have peaked, but if another crisis occurs, I will advocate strongly for taking every measure recommended by public health authorities to keep our community – and our commerce – safe.
4. How do you think the Selectboard can engage local businesses and organizations to facilitate economic development?
Amy Hornblas: In 2017 I participated in the Cabot Village Revitalization plan, and also the revision of the Cabot Town Plan. My goal was to bring the priorities I heard from my neighbors (concerns about affordability and agriculture) to these planning groups. The Cabot Town Plan is going to be reviewed again this year, in 2022, and I encourage people to get involved so that our priorities can be included. As a representative on the Regional Planning Commission and chair of their Clean Water Advisory Council, I have continued to raise concerns about decisions that will affect us and our ability to live and grow food here. Many regulations are currently being implemented which will be affecting small farmers and rural residents in numerous negative ways, such as best management practices for farms and bans on wood-burning. We need to stay aware of these, and proactive about addressing them when we can. Residents and business owners need to be included when writing these plans so that the full implications can be understood and considered. For example, to me one of the most important statements in our zoning regulations is Section 3.4: “No regulation herein is intended to infringe upon the right of any resident to use a minor portion of a dwelling for an occupation…” As we continue to live and thrive in rural Vermont, these are the types of regulations we need to keep an eye on so that we can support ourselves and each other going into the future.
Lisa Olson: I think that we should be engaging with all of the different groups in Cabot, both coordinating with our local business owners, and also inviting the ideas and contributions of everyone in town. For example, I am interested in the trails committee’s vision to connect the town center to the rail trails. Cabot is already well known for our Ride the Ridges event. I think we could easily market Cabot as an outdoor adventure destination, drawing more people here to create a larger customer base for businesses in town.
Skip Bothfeld: As a local business owner, I understand how challenging running a business can be. The SB could develop incentives for people to locate in Cabot, i.e. tax breaks, permit assistance, etc. Having thriving local businesses benefits everyone.
R. D. Eno: There are state and federal municipal planning and development grants that Cabot can seek out to support private initiatives and non-profit organizations, as well as municipal needs. In order for grant applications to succeed, and to better advocate for local projects, the Selectboard ought to be in regular conversation with Cabot’s business community and municipal boards. The Selectboard can sponsor roundtable meetings of local officials, organizations and business owners and include both private consultants and representatives of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs to devise new strategies for promoting Cabot as a visitor destination and a wonderful place to live. We can also publish marketing materials such as rack cards for distribution at Vermont Visitor Centers. The Selectboard needs to be a proactive participant in the in task of economic development throughout the Town. Additionally, despite drastic mismanagement of the UDAG (CCIF) funds, Cabot still has a substantial UDAG capital reserve that it can apply to leverage additional grants for development projects. The assets of that reserve ought to be thoroughly and accurately accounted for and preserved for economic development purposes. An important component of new business development will be high-speed internet service, which we expect CVFiber, the Communications Union District of which we’re a member, to provide within the next two years. The Town can expedite the roll-out of this vital utility and help hold down future user costs by granting a portion of its ARPA funds, as other member town are doing, to CVFiber.
Ruth Goodrich: Get out and visit with business owners or set up a time to meet with them as much as possible to discuss concerns & ideas.
5. How do you propose to ensure the Town uses ARPA funds in a fair and equal way to benefit all residents of Cabot?
Lisa Olson: The regulations around ARPA funds allow them to be used only for certain purposes, among which are water, sewer, and broadband Internet. I would like to see a strong discussion of using ARPA funds to help bring fiber to more of the town. High-speed internet is becoming more of a necessity, as people use computers for more of their daily tasks and increasingly work from home. Having better internet speeds will make Cabot a more attractive place for families to call home.
Skip Bothfeld: The first step should be a community assessment to see where the community was hit the hardest by the pandemic. Help those entities, then consider organizations that benefit the largest number of residents, an example could be the emergency services. It could also be used to improve our infrastructure in town, such as roads and public buildings.
R. D. Eno: The Selectboard should use Cabot’s media platforms to invite applications for ARPA funds, and appoint an ad hoc ARPA Committee, consisting of representatives from the DRB, the Planning Commission, the School and the Town to sift through the requests (including from the Selectboard itself) and make recommendations.
Ruth Goodrich: By following the guidelines and purposes of the ARPA.
Amy Hornblas: I was in the room at the Cabot Selectboard meeting when the members signed the grant paperwork from the federal government for the town garage. I will never forget the amount of eyebrow raising, and concerns muttered under breath, for agreements they were having to make in order to secure the funding. Now that I’ve been a representative for the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission, and chair of their Clean Water Advisory Council, I can say with certainty that nothing is free. Funding has a purpose, and it always comes with strings attached. My motto, and that of my frugal neighbors, has been to keep expenses down as much as possible. Lowering the overhead frees us to avoid deals with strings. Not that we should turn down assistance, but we need to also consider the long-term costs, as many of these contracts can have the result of increasing our expenses in the long-term. As for ARPA funds specifically, it is clear that the money released from the government in response to COVID-19 has resulted in creating clear economic winners and economic losers. This fact needs to be openly discussed and its implications weighed in the process of recovery.
6. What would you suggest the Selectboard do to improve communication with the Creamery?
Skip Bothfeld: The SB should consider asking local business owners, big and small, to form a business group that could be given time to discuss relevant issues. To improve communication specifically with the Creamery, the SB Chair could have a set date every month to meet with Cabot Creamery representatives.
R. D. Eno: One Selectperson should be designated the official liaison with the Creamery, and that liaison should find a correspondent within the Creamery management. Communication between the two should be reported regularly to the Selectboard. It should also be a Selectboard priority to return a Cabot Creamery retail presence to the village and to make provisions for renewed tourist traffic. And as the Selectboard becomes more engaged with the local business community, the Creamery will be an important participant in the conversation.
Ruth Goodrich: Invite creamery representatives to come meet with us as a board, in the past SB members have met with creamery representatives at the creamery, and we need to open those lines of communication both ways.
Amy Hornblas: Improving everyone’s communication with the selectboard has been my top priority all along. The selectboard needs to hear from all the members of the community, including youth, elders, farmers, homesteaders, loggers, businesses, commuters, parents, etc… The Creamery is probably the most common topic of conversation among folks in town, which unites us all. Jobs, roads, tourists- what is the Creamery up to and how will its actions affect us? Is the plant leaving? What is happening to the Visitor Center? What is the Creamery doing to help us maintain our agricultural landscape? These subjects are constantly on people’s minds. A Cabot resident contacted me last year with a concern about the Agrimark Biodigester project, since there did not seem to be any public process prior to its construction. After asking my contacts at the regional planning commission, I learned that this kind of project does not need public review or Act 250 approval because it is not in conflict with the regional plan, and does not affect “more than one municipality.” It appears that, despite numerous regulations, public input around these kinds of developments is not routine, and the selectboard could be helpful in learning about and advocating for the town around such issues. Hopefully it can continue to improve in its role as a conduit between the various members of our community.
Lisa Olson: Many of the Creamery’s employees are also residents of our town. Addressing the needs of this workforce will benefit the town as a whole. Among other concerns, the Creamery has voiced a need for more childcare options for their employees. This is an issue that I am committed to helping the Selectboard facilitate.