Keelan: Let’s bury the hatchets

Photo by Matthew DeVries

by Don Keelan

The time is long overdue for the Republicans/Conservatives, 

Democrats/Progressives to put away their hatchets and stop attacking each other. Instead, let’s deal with the Vermont crisis of losing young people at a rate that will soon devastate the State. 

The devastation has already begun, and its impact is felt throughout the State. It is a decades-old issue: the State continues to lose its young people (18-45). All politicians have given the case minimal attention. 

Some will say that the issue(s) of mental health, addiction, crime, education, homelessness, child care, family leave, climate change, and the environment are more important and take precedence. They are important issues; however, in the absence of young people, life as we once knew will deteriorate slowly at first and then rapidly soon after that. The former is upon us. 

Don Keelan

I venture to say that many amongst us have experienced the response, “Due to a lack of staff, we are not open today.” We can survive for another day if this is a restaurant or a shop, but not if it is the Emergency Department at the local hospital or a local doctor’s/dentist’s office. Nor is it acceptable if one needs a police or rescue service presence. You can call, but will they come? 

A call to the police or rescue can be life-saving. The need to call for a plumber, heating specialist, or electrician may not be (unless in the dead of winter when there is no heat), but the results are the same: “We will be there when we can.” When speaking to folks about this, the response is the same: it might be weeks or 

months before a tradesperson can address their problem. 

The weak canary in the coal mine is all around us. For example, take the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington. This 100-plus-bed State institution, operating since the 1880s, has 59 vacant positions out of 196. The Home is charged with taking care of our Veterans. The Vermont State Police, AOT, mental health agencies, long-term care facilities, and hospitals are all in the same crisis. They cannot fill positions. 

Some will say, and they are correct, that it is a housing problem. Sadly, we are beyond that now. We must find a way to resolve the housing problem directly or in the short term.

Housing development has four critical factors: available municipal infrastructure and zoning, building supplies, labor, and low-cost financing. For many, the latter two have made it nearly impossible to acquire a new home. 

Acquiring a $300,000 house will take $70,000 in downpayment funds. An 80 %, 30-year mortgage and an annual interest rate, now at 7.23%, will require approximately $114,000 in yearly income (before any college or car loan debt) to qualify. Of course, this assumes that a house can be acquired at that price. 

It takes young people to build housing, and they are not here. It is not just building new housing; it is the weatherization and restoration of Vermont’s old housing stock that also needs attention. To compound matters, the destruction from the July rainstorms resulted in scores of homes, businesses, and government facilities requiring construction workers. But are they here? 

I generally stay optimistic, but considering what I have seen, the future for this State is not encouraging. It is one thing to have a problem that one must deal with. What is tragic is that the political forces in Montpelier, on all sides, are unwilling to come together and address this dire issue. 

I often wonder if the Vermont Legislature has become irrelevant and incapable of solving the State’s problems. 

How many institutions, businesses, colleges, and nonprofits will have to close their doors before we realize how foolish, selfish, and in self-denial we were and continue to be before we act? Let’s put those hatchets away and get on with what we must do. Make it possible for young people to afford to live and work in Vermont.

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

9 replies »

  1. With all due respect, the notion of fixing what is broken in Vermont is akin to closing the barn door after the horse has run three counties away. Until all who are involved in the corruption, collusion, and fraud are fully exposed, prosecuted and sentenced to the maximum, expect more of the same. New England, including New York, is the carotid arterty to the District of Corruption. Perhaps if we get slammed by Hurricane Lee, the populace may wake up and stand up. Seeing how my local area is “bouncing” back from the recent flood, the season of great sorrow and misery is all we can expect going forward. The Fall tourism season is likely to leave many mouths agape and bank accounts flattened. The war is real.

  2. Unfortunately in the current climate (with a weak governor and the legislature controlled by Prog/Dems) a call for “burying the hatchet” is synonymous with surrender. Surrendering to the ideas of the progressive/left which means, for example, taxing successful businesses and their owners in order to fund an ineffective housing bureaucracy that will succeed only in building $300,000 homes at a cost to the taxpayers of $700,000 per unit. This is what California does. It provides little relief for the actual housing crisis and it chases away the very businesses that are necessary for places to thrive. If Vermont were able to attract more businesses, many of the other issues would solve themselves. But supporting businesses mean supporting capitalism and our current legislature will never do that. So I fear there’s no way to compromise to a solution. We need to persuade the people of the state that the many challenges we face are themselves symptoms, not a causes of our challenges.

  3. This is a very sad article, but unfortunately, right on point. My oldest son decided to come back to Vermont after college. He’s a trouble-shooting programmer, meaning he fixes the “junior” employees’ mistakes. He’s worked his way up, and he’s well-compensated for his expertise, earning well into six figures.

    Yet he cannot afford a house in Chittenden County. The prices are [still] outrageous for what you get, and the places he could potentially afford require so much work he’d end up spending the same as for a move-in ready house. One would think the housing market would collapse under the rising prices and interest rates, but it hasn’t yet, even though I believe it eventually has to. And Chittenden County will probably be one of the last areas to go.

    You’re asking, why can’t he afford it? You try saving $80k for a down payment. It isn’t easy, In addition, he’s paying $2500/mo in rent for an average apartment. Why? Because he doesn’t want to live in a slum, frankly, and that’s the going rate. And even if he did have the down payment, why would he take a loan at 7.25%, knowing he’s likely to be under water within 3-5 years?

    He’s lucky enough he can afford to at least live in Vermont in the area of his choice. But what about 90% of the other young people? If they don’t stand to inherit the family property, they really don’t have a chance.

    Sounds bleak, doesn’t it. Nevertheless, I have to believe that in the end we’re judged on who we raise up and give opportunity to, not on who or how many we trample on our way to what we mistakenly think is “the top”.

  4. Bury the hatchet….and agree that abortion is “empowering” & a Constitutional “right”? That assisting the mentally ill & those in chronic pain to die isn’t murder?
    That taxing middle-income residents to the tune of over $10,000 annually in order to help perpetually house drug addicts/dealers and out-of-state homeless and the many who refuse to work & to pay for millionaire’s kids to eat “free” meals in schools?
    To keep adding to the already skyrocketing addiction issues by legalizing more drugs for the citizens to partake in despite dire warnings from the medical community?
    To acquiesce to forced “diversity” and to kotow to VT prosecutors who refuse to prosecute minority offenders in violation of the US Constitution?
    To generally disregard lawfulness and buy into the sickening notion that societal ills such as legalized prostitution is actually a “feminist pursuit”?
    To disregard at best and mock at worst the laws of Judeo-Christianity which our nation is founded upon & teach schoolchildren that their country is intrinsically evil?

    Ummm….no. The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

    So be it.

    • I disagree on one point: The “mentally ill” are often people who have been labeled as mentally ill for political purposes.

  5. Mr. Keelan’s musings “I often wonder if the Vermont Legislature has become irrelevant and incapable of solving the State’s problems.” fall short of the actual.
    The current Vermont legislature, along with it’s leadership deem themselves extremely relevant, to the point of indispensable and required to control every aspect of their subject’s lives. As this body of socialist/totalitarian elitists continues to legislate every aspect of Vermont citizen’s lives- and find little resistance, it will only embolden them to control more, legislate more and regulate more.
    Please, enlighten me as to what positive benefit any legislative session has produced since 2000. I would define positive as improving any economic, social, environmental and regulatory conditions for a majority of Vermont’s citizens.

  6. Let’s be blunt here one of the big elephants in the room in the local housing market in VT is the large portion of non occupied homes owned by out of state owners! In our Township it is 55% and thanks to the largess of our liberal Legislators they actually pay a lower property tax rate than we do. And we pay income tax on top of this. Why would a sane person want to live in Vermont full time. I have pointed this issue out to our fearless idiots in Mount Peculiar and I get nothing more than middle finger on the issue. If this doesn’t make you mad your brain dead!


  7. The government was NEVER supposed to solve our problems!!!!!!!!!!!! That is where things went off the rails! Anything government gets its hands on gets screwed up PERIOD.

  8. I have to agree with Mr. Keelan for a Republic to work it takes people to work together. At this time in our state however there seems there are no concessions with any major impacts coming from the current super-majority in our government. The point made with the thousands of letters and calls to Legislators over the new green heat standards, which were ignored. Now the state, AKA Enviromentalists, say you cannot do anything to a brook or stream to make sure your house doesn’t get flooded in the next go around of torrential rains. In the same breath telling the state that they can alter a brook to prevent roads from being washed. I’d guess these towns that got so damaged will not be here long!
    Who do these people work for? Apparently not the taxpayer who pays their wages!
    Bury the hatchet? I’d say just the opposite is true!