In these tough economic times, cities and towns across the country are taking drastic measures to make ends meet. But state officials in Vermont say the dire financial situation facing municipalities elsewhere isn’t so dire here.
Some American cities have taken to charging fees for their services. Others in even worse conditions are creating ad space on their fire trucks.
In Scranton, PA, the mayor last week required that all municipal workers take pay cuts to the minimum wage. And in California, the city of San Bernardino became the third city in that state to declare bankruptcy.
"There’s a lot of reasons why Vermont and its cities and towns are in a totally different place than cities that we’re reading about in California and Pennsylvania," says Steve Jeffrey, the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He says even in good times Vermont towns never had much financial assistance from the state, so they’ve largely avoided problems when the state had deficits.
"The state took over the welfare function from towns back in the 1960s so we’re not subject to additional costs that are coming when revenues could be under some stress," says Jeffrey, who points out that Vermont’s state government, which is expected to end this year with a slight surplus, is not suffering like other states. "The Great Recession hasn’t hurt as badly here. Economists have noted that Vermont rarely hits the highs or the low experienced elsewhere."
Jeffrey says property values, on which most of local revenues are based, hasn’t declined. And Vermont’s unemployment rate, at 4.6 percent, is one of the lowest in the country.