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Economically Vibrant Communities

Submitted by matt.stirnweis… on Fri, 11/04/2022 - 11:25
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Revitalizing Regional Economies

Recognizing stark economic disparity between northwestern Vermont, particularly Chittenden County, and all other regions of the state, Governor Scott has made restoring economic equity between regions a focus of the Administration’s work. 

  • Transformational infrastructure plan – Starting with American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the Governor proposed a $1 billion package to address long-standing infrastructure needs that were hindering growth in the areas of Vermont that need growth the most. This transformational investment package dedicated over $1 billion in five strategic buckets:
    • Over $250 million for housing.
    • Over $100 million for economic development, including helping keep businesses, child care centers and other community assets operating and growing.
    • Over $350 million for broadband. 
    • Over $200 million for water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure which ensures clean drinking water, protects natural resources and is critical to ensuring communities can build the housing and expand the businesses needed to thrive.
    • Over $200 million to mitigate climate change and build community resiliency to its impacts. 

          Click here to view the 2022 Governor's report on these investments.

 

  • Restoring brownfields for economic development – Governor Scott proposed the state’s first ever direct investment to clean up brownfield sites (old industrial sites that need remediation in order to be safe to use for other purposes), totaling $31 million in FY22 and FY23 budgets. As of November 2022, nearly $7 million has been awarded to 20 projects in seven counties (Caledonia, Chittenden, Franklin, Washington, Windham, Windsor, and Orange). Combined, these projects are expected to cleanup more than 35 contaminated acres and create 540 jobs, 288 units of housing, and 115 new hotel rooms.

 

  • Community grant programs 
    • Proposed and secured increased investment for existing grant programs, like Building Communities Grants, and launched new programs, like Better Places and Working Communities programs. These programs have received nearly $10 million in new funding to support stronger communities based on the needs identified through grassroots, local efforts. 
    • Using federal recovery dollars (ARPA), the Governor also proposed and secured $40 million for the Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program to support municipalities, businesses and non-profits in sectors severely impacted by the COVID-19 emergency through investments to recover and revitalize their businesses and local communities, with a preference for projects located in regions and communities with declining or stagnant grand list values.

 

Strengthening Downtowns and Village Centers

  • Increased and expanded Downtown and Village Center Tax Credits – This program helps move forward dozens of projects each year that create more vibrant downtowns and village centers, resulting in more housing, jobs and economic activity for their surrounding communities. Governor Scott has continuously proposed more funding to this program, working with the Legislature to increase available tax credits from $2.2 million a year when he came to office to $4.2 million for FY23. 

 

  • Expanded Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts - Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a tool designed to spur private development, support public infrastructure investments, and benefit taxpayers. The Governor proposed and signed (Act 69 of 2017) legislation creating six new TIF districts throughout the state.

 

  • Increased and Expanded Downtown Transportation Grants – In 2021 (FY22), proposed and secured a $5 million one-time increase for the Downtown Transportation Fund grant program and expanded eligibility to include village centers. This program makes downtowns and villages more accessible, including for foot traffic to drive economic activity, with projects that improve and expand parking, rail and bus facilities, bike and pedestrian access, signage and more.  

 

Helping employers survive and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Driving Recovery - Governor Scott proposed multiple initiatives to help Vermont businesses recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, and secured over $100 million in state fiscal recovery funds for Vermont employers. This included the FY22 Economic Recovery Bridge program, and the FY23 VEDA Forgivable Loan and Community Recovery and Revitalization programs.

 

  • Capital Investments - Governor Scott proposed and worked with the Legislature to pass a Capital Investment Grant program, providing $10 million to help Vermont employers impacted by the pandemic make capital investments to ensure they could survive and grow. Awardees have included non-profits, child care centers, arts and entertainment venues and other employers critical to their communities and local economy. 

 

  • Emergency Aid - In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor worked with private partners to implement Federal programs and with the Legislature to ensure more than $100 million in State coronavirus relief funds were used to help businesses survive closures and operational restrictions. This included State programs like the Emergency Economic Recovery Grant Program, and Federal programs like PPP and SBA's EIDL.

 

Leveraging our Outdoor Recreation Assets for Economic Growth

  • Through Executive Order, created the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), a task force to strengthen and expand Vermont's outdoor recreation economy and support overall economic growth. Acting on the Group’s first set of recommendations, the Scott Administration:
    • Proposed and passed the “Outdoor Recreation-Friendly Community” pilot program, to grow local outdoor recreation economies. You can view the recipients by clicking here.
    • The FY20 budget signed by the Governor expands this important program by an additional $100,000.
    • Launched a new camping gear loan program in state parks, giving more Vermonters access to Vermont’s camping facilities to expand interest in outdoor activities.
    • VOREC’s recommendations have also led to the creation of a private sector group, the Outdoor Business Alliance.

 

  • Proposed and launched the VOREC Grant program, dedicating $10 million over two years (FY22-23) to fund projects that help rural communities develop their outdoor recreation assets to support economic growth. 

 

  • Proposed funding to finally complete the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, a 93-mile trail going east-to-west across Northern Vermont. This trail brings much-needed economic activity to some of the most rural areas of our state. 

 

Working to Modernize Act 250

Since taking office Governor has consistently proposed comprehensive reform to Vermont’s over-50-year-old land use law, Act 250. For the Administration, this means creating a more predictable, consistent and modern program to allow for development – like housing and for vibrant downtowns – where we want and need it in concentrated, already-developed areas. While the Legislature has not supported many of the Governor’s proposals, and there is still much more work to do, the following improvements have been secured:

  • Streamlined the regulatory process for Priority Housing Projects (PHPs) in 2017, and further modernized this process in 2022, to allow more PHPs to fall under this Act 250 exemption. 

 

  • Required municipalities to respond to Act 250 within 90 days to give projects more timely and consistent responses. 

 

  • Preempted municipal permits for conditional use or site plans from expiring within two years.

 

  • Changed definitions and permit conditions to increase flexibility for forestry operations. 

 

  • Changed rules to allow sawmills under 3.5 million board feet to get processed as “minor” applications, making it easier for these businesses to responsibly operate. 

 

  • STILL NEED SUPPORT FROM THE LEGISLATURE – The Governor has proposed multiple initiatives to modernize Act 250 that the Legislature has declined to support in a balanced package that improves the program, including:
    • Expedited processes for time-limited ARPA-funded projects - Reforming Act 250 has become more important than ever due to the unprecedented time-limited federal funding and the number of infrastructure projects that will need to be permitted over the next few years. The Governor put forward proposals and funding to expedite permitting for federally-funded infrastructure, but the Legislature did not pass or fund these efforts. 
    • Full and permanent Act 250 exemptions for state-designated downtowns, village centers, neighborhood development areas and other designated centers. These exemptions would encourage housing and commercial development into these areas, which is a critical way to mitigate climate change impacts and to meet our housing goals. 
    • Adding flexibility for farm accessory businesses, our forestry sector, and recreational trails, which would benefit rural communities and the agricultural economy. 
    • Allowing for municipal-only approval of water/wastewater permits. This change would allow municipalities to approve a sanitary sewer service line and a water service line from a building to the collection line or water main to reduce cost, time and complexity in the permitting process.
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