By Keith Whitcomb Jr., as seen in the Times Argus: https://www.timesargus.com/news/vermonters-asked-how-to-go-about-rebuilding/article_32fde8c3-ad43-5dbe-8fe5-34336da4039e.html
MONTPELIER — An effort is underway to find out what thousands of Vermonters think should be done to set the state up for prosperity in the coming years.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) is calling it the “Vermont Proposition.” People can participate right now by taking a survey, found at futureofvermont.org that asks them what they think of 10 areas the state could move forward on.
Paul Costello, executive director of VCRD, said Wednesday the points being put forward for consideration, such as creating universal broadband infrastructure, better access to child care, were pulled from conversations and feedback VCRD has heard through the years, plus scores of new interviews.
Much of VCRD’s work involves facilitating community planning.
“We started to plan for this work two years ago,” said Costello. “The pandemic put everything into a frying pan with the heat of the moment and the pressure people feel on big issues, like broadband and child care becoming paramount as we think our way forward.”
VCRD plans to host 50 to 60 meetings during the next few months, talking to many types of groups and leaders, with some kind of large public summit to be held in April.
The survey consists of 10 statements. Respondents say they either agree or disagree and can add comments to their answers. One asks about universal broadband, two asks about racism and welcoming new Vermonters, three refers to climate change, four is about income inequality, the rest ask about localizing the economy, child care, strengthening entrepreneurship, working with other states in the region, protecting land and water, and increasing civic engagement.
“It lets people suggest changes to the ideas on the table and to add their own ideas,” said Costello. “It’s not a ranking system, it’s more of an open envelope that lets people put their ideas in and we’ll be digesting all of them. We hope to hear from thousands of people.”
He said VCRD isn’t pushing any one idea over another and wants to get at the heart of what Vermonters see as priorities, but many of these items have been talked about for years and have broad support, such as broadband.
“I think universal broadband access has become an essential public utility, not just a nicety for certain people or certain businesses,” he said.
The hope is to get people talking about how to proceed with something like universal broadband. For example, how could Vermont improve internet access for businesses without harming local downtowns and small stores. The internet can likewise connect people, but serve to alienate them from differing viewpoints at the same time.
Aly Richards, chief executive officer of Let’s Grow Kids, said she was interviewed by VCRD about this, and as a member of VCRD’s board of directors did some interviewing herself.
“One of the main things that I and many other people brought up for this report is child care,” she said, adding that the issue, like others VCRD had highlighted, overlaps with other areas such as economic development.
Richards said she’s hopeful this effort will result in a plan to not just rebuild the state from the damage caused by the pandemic, but to set things on a better, long-term course.