Free North Bennington
Being tremendous fans of the fight for American independence, naturally we feel the call to arms when our brothers and sisters upon this earth cry for freedom.
We say free Tibet. Free Taiwan. Free North Bennington.
Wait a moment. Did the Banner just say "Free North Bennington"? Why, yes, it did.
Anyone who cannot see that North Bennington is an entity unto itself, distinct from the town of Bennington, to which it formally belongs, is blind. It is as if Bennington is displaying a marital familiarity with the village, breeding a kind of disdain that comes from years of mutual resentment and petty annoyances.
Essentially, the town and village have reached the zenith of their relationship, and it's time for both to move on, as in a divorce or, at the very least, a legal separation.
Of course, it hasn't been all bad. There were plenty of good times along the way.
But that was then and this is now.
The village Board of Trustees - a salt of the earth crew, each of whom is as approachable as a next-door neighbor - has been subject to the "seen but not heard" treatment for years. Unlike some other local boards that like to make leaps without public consent, the trustees put an important question to the voters this past Tuesday.
The vote was a resounding, "Huzzah, let's investigate secession from Bennington!"
Please keep in mind, this is no frivolous ploy to secede, as we have seen a number of Vermont towns feign in the past in an effort to avoid paying taxes.
You see, North Benningtonians don't mind paying taxes at all. It's just that they actually expect something from them.
Ever try to get a building inspection in North Bennington? If not, then you wouldn't understand.
But, if you're a resident of Bank Street, and you nearly get run over by a speeding car every time you go to get the mail, then you would.
Again, you wouldn't understand if you don't see that Select Board is stacked with townies.
North Bennington already has a good infrastructure in place. Now it merely needs the services to match it.
There's a fire department; an elementary school; a post office; general store; a pair of restaurants and accompanying bars; a gas station; a road crew; a college; and a railroad depot.
The village has a well-defined core, something the town could take note of, with its development tendrils threatening to branch out every which way.
Additionally, the rail depot may blossom in the near future, as public transportation is likely to play a larger role in all our lives as fuel sources grow too expensive and wane. A reinvigorated depot could truly put the village on the map, generating business that the town would undoubtedly want a piece of.
One of the area's most reasonable officials, Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd, appears to have lost his sensitivity when it comes to North Bennington's push for secession. Rather than accommodate its needs, Hurd has brushed the pleas of the village aside, suggesting instead that the village should join with the town.
To do so would cost the village even more of its identity, relegating its name to a place on a roadway sign or a blip on a map, like the once vibrant southern Vermont centers of Fayeville, Chiselville and East Kansas.
Any move by Bennington to consume its smaller spouse - 15,000 residents to the village's 1,400 - should be viewed with skepticism, especially on the development front.
With Northside Drive creeping closer and closer to village boundaries, one has to wonder what Route 67A would look like after a consolidation between the town and village. Bennington's voters shot down a cap on big-box stores last year, wanting instead to allow mega- stores to build as big as they like. Is that what North Bennington wants for Church Street? Not bloody likely.
The trustees are setting out on the long road of investigation and will determine if secession is right for the village. They're going to find out, in no uncertain terms, if the $363,000 it sends to the town every year in taxes is being well spent.
If it turns out that it isn't, which is the village's assumption, we think North Bennington will be OK, as it is primed and ready to shove off on its own anyhow.
And furthermore, Bennington will be OK too. Its tax base is growing every year, and picking up $363,000 from other sources to replace the village's current tax share shouldn't be too much of a chore.
We look forward to North Bennington's Independence Day most optimistically. But if it turns out to be the wrong thing to do for the villagers, we hope the town of Bennington begins to give North Bennington its fair share. It's way overdue.
Reprinted from The Bennington Banner
March 24, 2006