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Rutland Approves $2.5 Million Pool And Continued Fluoridation

Nina Keck
Newcomer Vanessa Robertson and incumbant Sharon Davis campaigned Tuesday for seats on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen. Both women won, with Robertson making history as the youngest person ever to be elected to the board.

On Town Meeting Day, Rutland City voters approved a $2.5 million bond for an outdoor swimming pool and sided with dentists when it comes to fluoride; they want Rutland to continue adding it to municipal drinking water. 

Voters also made history by electing the youngest person ever to serve on the Board of Aldermen.

Audio for this story will be posted by approximately 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 3.

A young newcomer

Vanessa Robertson, a 21-year-old junior at Castleton University, beat challengers George Gides Jr. and Kam Johnston for a one-year seat on the board. Speaking to VPR Tuesday night after her win, the political science and history major said she was thrilled by the support she received from voters and was looking forward to working to make Rutland better.

During her campaign, Robertson pointed out that only two women currently serve on the board and no one represents her twenty-something generation – a group that she says will one day start businesses, raise families in and lead the city.  

It was a message that resonated with voters like Matt Olewnik, who was impressed that a 21-year-old was stepping up to serve. "I like the idea of Vanessa Robertson, who's very young, but just wanting to come in and bring a younger perspective.  I thought it was very good for her to be running," Olewnik said at the polls.

Robertson wasn't the only newcomer elected to the board. Scott Tommola beat out three others for a two-year seat while incumbents David Allaire, Sharon Davis, William Notte and Gary Donahue all handily won re-election.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
A steady stream of voters cast ballots Tuesday at Rutland's Godnick Center.

Water fluoridation

Perhaps the most divisive issue for Rutland voters – apart from the presidential primary – had to do with fluoridating the city's drinking water, something Rutland has done for more than 30 years. While opponents waged a vocal and passionate campaign to end the practice, their efforts were voted down 2,817 to 1,813.

Longtime Rutland resident Tom Cohen said for him it was a no brainer. "I'm totally pro-fluoride," said Cohen. "I had kids grow up in the city and they had teeth that were very strong. And I always felt that it was important. When dentists like Dr. [Edward] Reiman and Dr. [Thomas] Opsahl came out for it, that just made it almost imperative that I vote for it," he added.

While voters had their say, the final decision rests with the city's Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg. He says he bases his decision on federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department, both of which strongly endorsed the public health benefits of fluoridation.

Credit Courtesy
A rendering of Rutland's proposed $2.5 million swimming pool. Voters approved the bond vote Tuesday by a more than two-to-one margin.

A $2.5 million pool

City voters weighed in on another water issue: a $2.5 million outdoor swimming pool. The new pool, which will actually include two swimming areas, was approved in a  3,379-1,332 vote. The new facility will replace White's Pool, which was closed in 2014 after more than 40 years of service.

The city has had a public pool since 1929, something many local residents appreciate. Michel Messier Champlain is one of them.

“Having been brought up in the city I enjoyed the old pool," he says. "I believe that recreational opportunities are important for the city’s youth to be positive, to build community.”

Renee Kitts, who has two school-age children, agrees. “I am a big supporter of getting things for the kids here in Rutland, so that was definitely a yes.”

In recent years, voters have turned down proposals to expand or build new recreational facilities. But Cindi Wight, commissioner of Rutland City’s Recreation Department, was confident this bond would pass. She says if all goes as planned, the city will have a new pool by June of 2017. 

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