By Senator Alice Nitka, Windsor County, February 10, 2012
Myriad reports and studies are received each week on a variety of issues and topics. Many are related to bills that have been introduced or were passed previously and require a report back to see if the bill did what it was intended to do. All aspects of the budget requested by the Governor require reports on what the money requested will be used for and comparisons to past years. An example would be the Buildings and General Services (BGS) budget and their request for the VT Information Centers, better known as rest areas to most people. But, in fact, they are providing marketing and promotion of businesses and attractions in our state to travelers while providing a needed service at the same time.
This past year 3,165,029 visitors were at the centers which are open 365 days per year. Hours were reduced at nine sites in 2009 to save money and 4 sites were closed completely due to budget cuts. However, two new sites will be opening; Hartford on I-91 in 2012 and the Bennington Welcome Center in 2013. Presently the Welcome Center in Guilford draws the most visitors in the state. The center at Sharon with the Viet Nam Memorial is another popular site. It also has a unique composting system with vegetation that can be found in South East Asia. A very expensive issue for the centers is waste disposal as the centers are not on municipal sewer systems and must pump out the waste and transport it to a disposal site. Operating expenses for all the centers in 2011 were $3,891,422 and in 2008 were $4,901,497. They are doing their best to reduce costs while still providing services. The question is always how much can we afford. Public-private partnerships are also being explored to address service voids.
BGS also has a fleet of vehicles that they lease and rent to various state agencies. Some may be interested to know that of the 530 vehicles, 232 are passenger sedans and station wagons and of those, 68 are hybrid vehicles. The report also provided information on charging stations, mileage for vehicles and options for the future. The cost of a charging station is about $10,000 and a number of companies are manufacturing them.
A Senate bill that has generated some interest with the driving public is #244, An Act Relating to Referral to Court Diversion for Driving with a Suspended License. It has been changed a lot since it was introduced but addresses the issue of persons who have failed to pay fines and have lost their license because of the failure to pay. It excludes DUI and other serious offenses. The goal is to collect money and reduce the number of persons suspended. Presently there are 23,000 Vermont licenses suspended just from failure to pay fines. It will be interesting to see how this bill progresses.