Around town: July 11

Red signs celebrate connectivity of Charlotte’s conserved lands

To the Editor:

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the beauty of Charlotte’s landscape. For many years the Charlotte Land Trust has put its red signs on conserved land throughout town as a way to highlight a major tool in preserving that landscape.

Approximately 20 percent of Charlotte’s land acreage has been conserved. Conservation protects our scenic views and so much more. Conservation protects prime farmland, forests, wetlands, water courses, wildlife habitat and other natural areas.

The signs, together with the map of all conserved lands in town, provide a picture of not only the individual properties that have been protected but also the pattern of conservation. While each conserved property is important on its own, the larger benefit comes from the connectivity of those properties.

Connections to adjacent or nearby lands is an important consideration in assessing whether a property should be conserved. With each additional conserved property in proximity to another, wildlife habitat and corridors become stronger, the water quality and aquatic habitat of streams and wetlands are more thoroughly protected and blocks of farmland are more efficient for grazing and cultivation.

The red conserved land signs are also a celebration. While land in Charlotte has been conserved by several different land trusts, most projects have been a partnership of two or more and that collaboration is part of our success. Each sign is an acknowledgement of the generosity of landowners who have conserved their land.

At the heart of any conservation project is a landowner motivated by love of their land and the wish to put long-term stewardship into place. And the signs are a celebration of all those who have contributed to the Charlotte Land Trust and other land trusts, because without that support, none of our conservation success would have been possible.

Kate Lampton
(Kate Lampton is president of the Charlotte Land Trust.)

Needs to be more feedback on town employees unionizing

To the Editor:

There’s been very little community engagement about 10 Charlotte town employees organizing to become unionized. This is not a small issue for the taxpayer, and it will be very costly in terms of our property taxes going up to cover union-negotiated salaries and benefits. Because of any potential future binding contractual obligations between the selectboard and the union, the taxpayer will have no choice but to pay for the salaries and benefits negotiated between the selectboard and the union, and we will either have services cut in other areas such as fire and rescue, road maintenance, etc., or face continual property tax increases. The binding contractual obligations will become the priority in the town budget with all other budgets becoming less prioritized or cut. Under these contractual obligations, the only winners will be the 10 employees. This will affect upcoming generations into the future. Many of the town employees don’t live in this town, so it’s likely they’re not worried about how this move to unionize will long affect the people of Charlotte.

Just a couple of years ago, the town employees were given very generous pay raises. Currently, the majority of town employees contribute no money toward their healthcare premiums. The taxpayer has been paying for 90 percent of employees’ healthcare deductibles. It seems like the town employees have it quite good. It’s time for employees to help contribute toward their own benefits, and the selectboard is working to do just that based on the taxpayers voting down the budget in 2023. With the rising cost of healthcare premiums, food, gas, school budgets and property taxes at an all-time high, it feels only fair to take some of the burden off the taxpayer. Blue Cross Blue Shield is looking for an increase of 19.1 percent in healthcare premiums for 2025 after receiving an increase of 13.3 percent in 2024. Because the selectboard listened to town taxpayers and is now working to cut approximately $30,000 from the employee healthcare budget, the move to unionize seems like either retaliation or entitlement. Asking the employees to pay for 25 percent of their healthcare premiums is not outrageous, but when most of them have been paying zero toward their healthcare premiums, deductibles, vision, dental and life insurance, I guess 25 percent of their health insurance premiums sounds like a lot. Most of us pay more than 25 percent of our premiums and our full deductible.

If we take a look at some salaries for 2024 and healthcare premiums and deductibles for 2023 (I don’t have 2024 numbers, so these numbers will be smaller than the current numbers for 2024), let’s see what that tells us about the entire package for these employees:

  • Employee 1, working 40 hours a week — salary $94,252, annual healthcare premium $13,955, annual deductible $12,690 — total compensation package is $120,897.
  • Employee 2, working 30 hours a week — salary $55,257, annual healthcare premium $20,112, annual deductible $12,690 — total compensation package is $88,059.
  • Employee 3, working 40 hours a week — salary $65,962, annual healthcare premium $14,679 (after employee’s 10 percent contribution), annual deductible $12,690 — total compensation package is $ 93,331.

To be clear, the healthcare premium and the annual deductible amounts are not money the employee is taking home, but it is also not taken from their own wallets like it is for the rest of us, nor is it taxed. In the real world, businesses offer what the business can afford, and there is no negotiating with the employees. You either take it or leave it. The salaries, benefits and working conditions have been a sweetheart deal for our employees. The mindset that it’s only $30 (as one Front Porch Forum poster wrote) per household leaves out that the rising cost of everything hits those the hardest who can least afford it. Expecting someone else to pay for something without me contributing anything shows an entitled mindset. There are plenty of people who live in Charlotte who are struggling to survive financially right now.

Our elected officials represent their constituents; they do not represent the employees, but our selectboard has shown a history of being very generous to the town employees in pay and benefits. Our town employees being unionized seems like the taxpayer is left out of the process.

How will unionizing affect our legal budget? If our legal budget goes way up, this will either cause cuts in other areas or our taxes will go up. When I spoke to a selectboard member in a Vermont town where the employees are unionized, I asked if unionizing had caused an increase in tax rates. He laughed at my question like the answer was obvious. He responded that their legals fees had gone way up and that their town employees were now paid at a far higher rate than the average rate of non-municipal employees in that town.

How will unionizing affect our budgets for building and maintaining recreational facilities, services, trail development and maintenance, town building maintenance, etc.? How will this affect the need and desire to build affordable housing? How will this affect families already struggling to make ends meet? Will Charlotte become a town for just wealthy people? We should be considering how this will affect our town and residents into the future.

The following was taken directly from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93 website: “We consistently fight for and secure the best wages, benefits and working conditions for our members. Since so much of public service workers’ rights, benefits and funding are impacted by actions of elected officials, we maintain a strong presence in the corridors of government.” In other words, they fight for more and more of your tax money. It sounds threatening for the union to state that they will be holding politicians accountable for their actions.

Unions are powerful organizations with deep pockets, and we should all be concerned by this move to unionize. Years ago, labor unions were useful in helping maintain safe working conditions, working hours, wages, child labor laws, etc. Now, unions are used for higher wages, good working environments and excellent benefits. Because the town employees have made the move to unionize, the selectboard and the employees are not allowed to speak on this topic. If you are concerned about this and want to write to the selectboard, please write them, but know that they can only listen without responding. I think it’s important for the selectboard to hear from more of us.

Tanna Kelton