Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town Council comes up short of majority on energy district

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 11:47 AM EST

VERNON — A proposed ordinance that would have created a town wide energy-improvement district and five-member board to oversee its implementation failed Tuesday when the Town Council could not reach the required majority to pass the measure.

Despite changes to the proposal, which would have meant that appointees to the board and any contracts they would have signed would have required council approval, Democrats decried that the board would have too much power over the town’s energy-purchase agreements.

Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy issued a statement several hours after the council adjourned its meeting just after 11 p.m., expressing disappointment that the ordinance failed to garner enough support.

Council members Mark Etre, Harry Thomas, Dan Champagne, Brian Motola, Bill Campbell, and Sean O’Shea voted in favor of the proposed ordinance. Democrats Marie Herbst, Pauline Schaefer, Michael Winkler, Bill Fox, and Republican Nancy Herold opposed the ordinance.

The town requires a seven-vote majority to pass any ordinance, so it ultimately was shot down 6-5, the mayor said.

Councilman Daniel Anderson, who is employed by Connecticut Light & Power, abstained from Tuesday’s vote.

“I am hard pressed to understand why people chose not to support energy cost reduction for the Vernon taxpayer, a cleaner, greener environment, and a effort to reduce our reliance on foreign fuel usage,” McCoy said in his statement. “This ordinance would have helped our taxpayers, it would help to attract business, new jobs, business retention, and help our local hospital with its energy costs.”

Nevertheless, Winkler said, the ordinance, even with the changes, would have created a board that could have acted as an unchecked quasi-public agency, such as the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority, opening the door for the board to sign contracts that could have left the town vulnerable.

“I don’t want to embrace something we don’t understand completely,” Winkler said, suggesting that the proposed ordinance remove all powers from the board and allow the committee to operate in only an advisory role. “These things almost never work out the way we intend them to.”

Today, McCoy accused Democratic council members of playing politics, and said the proposed ordinance would not have required the town to enter into any contracts that were not economically advantageous.

“I don’t know why anyone would be opposed to this,” McCoy said of the ordinance designed to allow the committee to reach out to suppliers of new technologies, including fuel cell manufacturers and producers of hydroelectric and geothermal power.

He added that he’s committed to the creation of a district, and believes the town should look at ways to defray its estimated $2.3 million electricity costs while searching for cleaner energy alternatives.

The ordinance “may come up again,” McCoy said. “We need to find out what other changes need to be made.”

Campbell, who proposed the ordinance’s amendments, said he believed the added oversight from the council should’ve addressed fellow council members’ concerns.

“I didn’t want to see this board set up where it could spend money independently without approval by the Town Council,” he said, adding that the changes would have given the board powers similar to other town commissions.

Herold, the lone Republican to vote against the ordinance, did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment today.

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