In Vermont, there remains more than a billion dollars in federal money to help Vermont communities be better places to live. Gov. Phil Scott wants to appropriate $3 million to help the state’s smallest communities use the money to their best effect.

“Smaller, under-resourced communities, often powered by volunteers, are lacking the capacity to identify priority projects, submit applications, and then actively manage projects and corresponding reporting should funding be awarded. The cumulative effect is that, despite our best efforts, we continue to see more resources being placed in Northwestern Vermont compared to other parts of the state, “ Mr. Scott said in his inaugural address.

The separation between rural Vermont and the more populated areas of the state is annoying to some legislators, particularly those representing larger communities, i.e. Chittenden County. They see Vermont as a single community where the needs of one are indistinguishable from the other. They are bothered by any proposal that would, for example, indicate the needs of Berkshire are any different from those in Burlington. Their contention is that there is no difference, that we all face the same struggles.

But that’s not accurate. There are significant differences between life in Burlington and life in roughly half of Vermont’s cities and towns. Yes, we all must deal with the cost of living, and affordable housing, but to suggest that life in Burlington with 45,000 people is no different than life in Alburg with 404 people is nuts. Roughly one hundred of Vermont’s 277 cities [from the 2021American Community Survey] have populations of less than 1,000 people. The smallest, Granby, has 50 people. People in Granby [named after the Marquis of Granby, the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Rutland - you can’t make this up] were the last in Vermont to get electricity [1963.] They have little in common with Burlington or anyplace else in Chittenden County.

To contend we are all swaddled with the same cloth and that differences should be played down, is shorthand for those with resources to dominate those without. It’s a story as old as time.

The governor wants to make sure those without the resources are given an equal chance to use this gift of federal money to meet each town’s individual needs. It’s a guarantee the needs of Vermont’s smallest towns will differ markedly from the needs of Burlington, or Colchester, Montpelier or St. Albans.

So is it appropriate to acknowledge a division between urban and rural areas?

Of course. It’s when legislators from the larger municipalities use the word “dividing” that it even becomes an issue. It’s wordplay intended to divide, when most of us understand the commonsense distinctions between large and small communities.

It’s important for the governor - and the Rural Caucus, of which Rep. Lisa Hango, R-Berkshire, is co-chair - to keep the focus on basically the have-nots of Vermont. The timing is propitious in that rural areas are more appealing to people now able to work remotely. Instead of having a handful of communities that are appealing to today’s workforce, we have 277. Give or take. 

For a state withering from our declining workforce numbers, our rural communities could offer help that wasn’t available before the pandemic.

There isn’t anything easy about it, but the potential is there, and it is not helpful for legislators from Vermont’s largest communities to pretend that “we’re all in this together” and to say it’s “divisive” to recognize our considerable differences.

The differences are there.That’s okay. From differences come strength.

By Emerson Lynn


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