Uniting for a new Rutland
In 1886 Redfield Proctor and his business associates created four distinct and competitive towns: Rutland City, Rutland Town, West Rutland and Proctor. This spirit of competition and individualism is epitomized in the enduring message atop the Marble Savings Bank at the corner of West Street and Merchants Row. Carved into the white marble in 1924 when Rutland was Vermont’s premier city are these words: VICTORY FOR THE INDIVIDUAL OVER THE ODDS THAT BESET HIM. Check it out sometime.
The very great success of this philosophy in the 20th century is now the core of the current distress in our community, our nation and around the globe in the 21st century. This notion serves only those individual victors, but not all of us can succeed against the odds. It also fosters the “us vs. them” division that we are currently experiencing, locally and nationally. The more workable fundamental for the 21st century is community unity, not individual accumulation of wealth, which so often is jealously guarded and ultimately deprives the community the funds it needs for wealth-creating infrastructure. Rutland is primarily a working class city. Let’s be honest: adequate wages for the taxes to maintain our infrastructure haven’t been keeping up. So how can wealth be generated in a city with a crumbling infrastructure and a population struggling to pay its property taxes, water and sewer bills?
Rutland City is the hub of this region. People come here to conduct business, work and play. Almost every person and business use the city’s infrastructure. Rutland City and the region have infrastructure needs that residential taxes aren’t able to meet. Due to longtime deferred maintenance Rutland City has antiquated water pipes, a water system that may need a new filtration plant, problems with storm runoff, and crumbling streets and sidewalks. We’ve all seen Department of Public Works workers fixing the old pipes that crack and leak or explode anywhere, any time. With its fiscal constraints and valiant Band-Aid efforts, Rutland City DPW does a stupendous job. How many water geysers, potholes and broken sidewalks are we prepared to endure?
We would be wise to invest in a granular activated charcoal (GAC) water treatment plant to take chemicals out of our water rather than put chemicals, including fluoride, into our water. Perhaps, instead of the proposed plan to entice business with cheap water, which shifts the burden of repairing our water infrastructure to local property owners, we should be enlarging and expanding the water distribution system to reach new ratepayers. But this too needs funding. If abundant water is our greatest resource, shouldn’t we do what we can to preserve it and keep it clean and safe for future generations? Some economists say that water will be the gold standard of the 21st century. Let’s use this resource wisely. There are better ways to entice businesses, and a reliable water system is one of them.
I see young mothers pushing their baby strollers on our streets — yes, the streets, because the sidewalks are too rugged. Fragmented and heaved concrete sidewalks are often impassable and dangerous. In some places they no longer exist. Maple Street is so bumpy it’s hard to imagine that vehicles have not been damaged. We now have a bond issue on the next ballot asking Rutland property owners to approve a $5,200,000 bond to pay for the Northwest Neighborhood Sewer Separation Project (NNSSP) on Library Avenue. This is not a new issue, but has been deferred for years. And the time may have arrived to pay the piper.
Federal and state funding is fiercely competitive, as there is not enough government money to go around. Rutland just lost out on a $1 million revitalization grant that went to a much larger city. Just where is the money to come from for these infrastructure upgrades? We can no longer wait for state or federal grant money. It is apparent that we can no longer count on funding from outside the county, and we need to address our infrastructure problems before they deteriorate further. With a unified effort we can also triumph over our infrastructure challenge.
All across our country towns and cities and citizens are suffering when individual victors who have bested the odds possess the wealth and capacity to repay their communities and instead use their political and financial power to hold down tax rates. Such people do indeed pay their legal tax obligation, but property tax is not a progressive tax and falls hardest on those least able to pay. As a result our Rutland infrastructure has been on the back burner for too long and is in serious need.
As a Rutland City resident, I propose that a Rutland Fund be established to support infrastructure upgrades so that our children don’t have to pay for them and we don’t have to live without these extensive, long overdue improvements. If this idealistic notion of a Rutland Fund can be imagined, for my little part, I suggest we have a kick-off community auction, and I am offering to donate many of the stone sculptures I’ve created over the last 35 years, my own individual victories. Others can offer goods or services.
The Rutland area needs endless millions of dollars for these infrastructure undertakings, far beyond proceeds from any auction or government grants. Community efforts like this need to be ongoing, similar to the United Way Fund. Let’s use our imaginations. We owe it to ourselves and our children, as well as the descendants of the people who built this town. Simple. We are in this infrastructure predicament together regardless of whether you live in Rutland Town or the Northwest neighborhood of Rutland City.
The competition that Proctor established back in the Gilded Age still exists between Rutland City and Rutland Town and has become detrimental to our Rutland area community. I’m suggesting that our separated local communities once again consider uniting as Vermont’s premier city, whether it be known as Rutland City or Rutland Town or Rutlandia. It doesn‘t matter. It seems our local prerogatives just get in the way of the best interests of this entire region. Unification would create an integrated cohesive force, going forward to a future prosperity rather than the competitive towns that Proctor intended. Our Vermont community commands such a prime location at the juncture of Route 7 and Route 4. We need to carefully work together to maximize this geographic asset for the good of the community.
The last decade has seen us experiencing two floods downtown, Tropical Storm Irene and the the Nor’icane. Our community pulled together to help each other. We can further demonstrate our tenacious unified spirit and leadership as we did with the triumphant Gift of Life blood drive. We can unite in a real economic way and truly revitalize the area for the community’s future prosperity and provide an inspirational model for the country and the world. Individuals here in the Rutland area who have been the prosperous victors over the odds have the compelling and noble opportunity to lead our Rutland community into its future. Little kids over at Rutland Town School, Rutland Intermediate School or Christ the King will someday honor you for stepping up to the plate. Let us not burden them with an inheritance of our unfixed water pipes, broken sidewalks and streets that now endanger all of us. Rather let us gift our children with our wealth now.
Nick Santoro is a sculptor who lives in Rutland.