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Editorial: Shotgun commentary — Fixing health care, mulling economic growth and a showdown over gunfire

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Posted on July 20, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



Note: I took a break and came back to lots going on in the area and, in national politics. Here’s a shotgun commentary on a few of those issues:

Fixing health care:

Obamacare has its problems, but it wasn’t the six-eyed monster Republicans had made it out to be when they needed a foil to rile up their voters. Turns out, Obamacare is providing a lot of necessary services that many Republican voters (and many others) don’t want to give up, and Republican senators finally heeded the message that governors across the country were shouting from the rooftops. (Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R, wrote an articulate commentary in the New York Timeson July 19 on the need for bipartisan support to fix Obamacare, in case you missed it.) So, here we are: TrumpCare failed, Obamacare survived (again), and now the question is whether Republicans will work with Democrats to fix the known, but manageable, problems that exist with the program. Hopefully, they will.

In the meantime, Porter Medical Center has embarked on a truly revolutionary health care initiative: it has embraced a capitated payment system for its Medicaid patients for the upcoming budget, rather than the traditional fee-for-service model. In short, Porter gets paid a lump sum from the government and if it can treat its patients for less, it can keep the “profit,” and if it goes over budget, it has to absorb that “loss.” That’s reform that puts market forces at work by allowing the hospital to use its expertise and knowledge of its local patients to treat them in the most cost-effective way possible — and provides the real prospect of getting a handle on the nation’s spiraling health care costs. If we’re to reduce the growth of health care expenses, preventative care and preaching wellness is the way to do it.

The initiative is part of Obamacare (and part of the effort purposefully delayed by Republicans not wanting the program to work), which could work nationwide, if legislators would only give the reforms a chance to succeed. That Porter is one of the first hospitals in the nation to embrace the option is an exciting proposition, and one full of promise. To learn more, read the story prominently featured on Page 1A and online here.

Middlebury mulls economic growth:

Now that the Middlebury selectboard has ended the town’s economic development position, the question of what to do was taken up by an Economic Health Task Force led by selectwoman Heather Seeley. The committee, comprised of 11 town residents, came up with seven ideas: establish a revolving loan fund, put additional information on the town’s website, create a standing economic development committee, create a brochure explaining local permitting, explore the prospect of creating a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in the downtown, and axe the extra penny on the town’s property tax rate that was the driving force behind the past four-year effort at economic development, and which created much of the $200,000 pool from which the revolving loan fund will draw to help “young and growing Middlebury businesses.” The committee also suggested that more than $1 million in surplus funds generated by Middlebury’s local option tax (dedicated to paying off the Cross Street Bridge, see story) could be used for town infrastructure improvements dedicated to attracting new entrepreneurs.

Of the 11 people on the committee, six voted in favor of the proposals, two were opposed because they didn’t think the measures went far enough and three missed the vote. Residents should know, therefore, that these proposals that now go before the selectboard for approval had only modest endorsement.

Of the seven ideas, a few have obvious merit:

• Certainly, let’s create a revolving loan fund with the cash on hand. Create a committee to oversee the management of that fund. Those are obvious solutions, which should be part of any larger town’s quiver.

• Certainly, let’s move forward as fast as possible in creating a TIF for the downtown area. The state has thrown open the process to six new applicants, and Middlebury should be among the first to jump onto this bandwagon. It’s a no-brainer and would be a loss if we missed this opportunity.

• Other ideas to improve the town’s website to contain information pertinent to potential businesses fall under the heading “but, of course, get it done now.”

What the committee did that was potentially harmful to economic development, however, was not as well noted in the story. First, it cut the penny on the property tax rate dedicated to economic development. While this may be a suitable plan for the short-term, it’s no vision for the long-term and short-changes Middlebury’s potential; $200,000 for a town of Middlebury’s size is a pittance unworthy of the effort.

Unsaid in the report was what infrastructure improvements the town might pursue with the funds from the local options tax. That suggestion, if embraced by the selectboard and the town, could help lay the foundation for growth.

Here’s the goal: To attract entrepreneurs in today’s marketplace, towns need to create a somewhat hip scene. Middlebury is ever-so-close, but could use a little help here and there to attract today’s millennials. That discussions along those lines did not come out in this report is a shortcoming, and opens the door for further dialogue with partners that might have a fresher take on what the town needs: say, the Addison County Bike Club; MiddleburyUnderground; Exchange Street Association; and, potentially, a few entrepreneurial students from Middlebury College. Let’s broaden the pool of ideas and continue talking. Read John Flowers' story on the task force by clicking here.

A showdown in Whiting?

The controversy is over a landowner who allegedly turned his home into a shooting range, upsetting neighbors and violating the town zoning regulations, according to town officials. This appears to be a straightforward case of a person running a commercial enterprise on a residential lot in violation of town zoning rules. Then again, interpreting zoning regs is rarely ever easy.

Still, it matters not whether the owner is a good guy, or runs a top-notch shooting range; what matters is that, according to town officials, he appears to be violating the town’s regulations. That should be the end of the story. What makes it slightly worse is that a few state police troopers have apparently adopted it as one of their shooting ranges (hopefully they didn’t realize it was in violation of town regulations.) What should be obvious is that hosting a commercial shooting range in which hundreds of rounds of ammunition are routinely fired, is not a compatible use within an established neighborhood — rural though it may be. Click here to read our story.

Angelo S. Lynn

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