Peter Miller: Cold weather, hard state

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Peter Miller, who is a photographer and author who recently published “A Lifetime of Vermont People,” a collection of photos and stories on rural Vermonters created over the past 63 years. He is 80 years old and lives in Colbyville.

Cold penetrates my neck, creeps down my backbone, seeps into my limbs … cold … I am cold … my arms … fingers … toes.

Thirty days of below zero weather since December, not counting March … another eight or 10? I wear socks, flannel pajamas and sometimes a sweater when I slip under the wool blanket and duvet in my unheated bedroom. Like so many others in this state, my house is frigid as I cannot afford to keep the thermostat above 60 and I turn it down at night, and then make sure the faucets are dripping. Yes, I have suffered frozen pipe syndrome. I insulate, I conserve, I do what I can, but the energy costs are ever more each year. This winter I have spent, so far, close to $5,000 on fuel oil, propane and firewood. I am only warm when I sit in front of my wood stove. Yes, I live in an old house, as do so many Vermonters.

The temperature soars to just under 50, then like a burst bubble, dips to 10 below, sometimes in a day. The snow-rain-sleet blends into a porridge that flows onto roads and sidewalks, settles on walking paths and invades garages; by alchemy it smooths into the hated black ice.

Sometimes it is too cold for salt to melt the ice spread on roads. Cars slither down ditches and burrow into snow banks. Lawyers are off the mark with fistfuls of torts for those with fractured wrists, elbows, shoulders, cracked hips and ribs. Concussions too. Yes it is a slip and fall type of winter and hospitals harbor many of these injuries; nine people attached to broken wrists sought succor one day at a Burlington ER.

Fire and ice … the cold that freeze-sucks my body is matched by the heat it creates in the belly of my psyche — the heat of anxiety. After all this, how am I going to pay my bills?

This anxiety attack hit hard when I, and many homeowners throughout Vermont, received our property tax bills last summer and we saw the increase in the homestead education tax. That bill might as well have stamped on it: “You cannot afford Vermont!” (34 towns turned down their school budget this past Town Meeting Day. I was lucky I am so poor for I received for last year a hefty payback. Still, I’m behind.)

This past fall I was traveling through Vermont, delivering my new book to bookstores and talking to strangers. People told me they placed their homes for sale or had seen their neighbors put up for sale signs right after the tax bill was in the mailbox.

I talked to a young woman who lives in Wolcott. “My husband and I both work, but I don’t know how we can make it.” Worry lines were creasing her forehead and puckering her natural beauty.

“We recently retired,” said a friend who is now a clerk in a bank. “We don’t have as much work and our retirement funds are not enough to live here anymore. We have to move. Vermont is not what it used to be.”

“My house has been on the market for a year and no one has made an offer,” said a store clerk. He frowned, and looked away to something only he could see. “I want to leave but I have to sell first.”

Bleak it is. Vermont property taxes are rated among the top 10 most expensive in the country. This week in Vermont the average cost of fuel oil is $3.92 a gallon (17 cents below average); propane $4.34 a gallon ($1.17 above average); gasoline, $3.59 a gallon (eight cents higher in Waterbury); electricity (17.05 cents per kilowatt hour, fourth highest in continental U.S.). Food costs keep climbing in this “… one of the 20 coldest years in U.S. history.”

A friend in New Mexico pays a property tax of $1,400 for their abode home and it is appraised at half a million and could be sold for more. When they lived in Middlesex, Vermont, they paid $3,900 property tax on a house they sold for $150,000. Another refugee Vermonter living in Florida tells me if I sold and bought and lived in his community, I would save over $5,000 a year in living costs. “You can’t afford to own a house in Vermont,” he said, “You now support those who rent, on welfare and town and state employees who have a helluva lot more benefits than you.”

Many of us “new poor folk” are independent Vermonters, meaning we work for ourselves. Creative people (I’m a writer and photographer), mom and pop owners of village stores, people who work the woods or land, carpenters, landscapers, repair people — these are the Vermonters who crafted Vermont and gave it a flavor so different from most of America. Many of us are bereft of any lifeline — associations, lobbyists and public relations firms. Bankers don’t like our sporadic cash flow. We are the grunts of Vermont.

I’m suggesting that we need to embrace the democratic principles of governance by the people — legislators need to hear our stories so they can make informed governmental decisions on funding during their sessions in Montpelier.

 

Many a Vermonter has a certain foreboding of their future and it is evidenced by the ads and edit you see in Vermont Life and Vermont Magazine. Most of us can’t think of buying some of the lush windows and kitchens shown in ads. Luxury homes and their gardens are marvelously photographed and landscaped. Then there are the magazines that advertise estates for sale that run from $900,000 to $3 million or more. The thrust here appears to be that Vermont wants the newcomers with big bucks and then hit them with a property-education tax that makes them shed dollars like melting snowflakes, but hey, many a new Vermonter can afford it.

“What are we going to do, just work for a bunch of wealthy people?” said the son of a farmer who sold his farm. “We can’t afford to buy a home or land in the town we grew up in.”

But there is also a light side. One new homeowner in Stowe who bought fancy digs was talking to his landscaper (he mows the lawn, plows the garden and the driveway) and pointed to a neatly stacked woodpile of about three cords. “That wood looks shabby. Do you think you could get rid of it?” he asked the landscaper.

He looked at it and thought, hmmm, it’s been there three years, good hardwood … maple and beech … worth about $300 a cord mid-winter. … “Yes, sir, I can haul those logs away and you know what, I won’t even charge you a cent!”

Banks have often turned their back on the self-employed and some frown on approving loans for older people, unless their assets are quickly convertible. Many independent Vermonters have switched their banking to credit unions. And did you see there are more restrictions on your home insurance plan?

I love Vermont — have ever since I moved here in 1947. I love the hillside farmers I have met, the beauty of the land. I have written five books on Vermont that are recognized as classics on rural Vermont. I have been recognized as Vermonter of the Year and honored by the Vermont State Legislature and the U.S. Senate for my documentation of rural Vermont. “I am a treasure to Vermont,” I was told, “You can’t move away.”

I don’t want to leave Vermont that has been such a large part of my life and soul but I cannot afford to live in Vermont, own a home and pay property taxes and support the money our towns and state say they need so they can support me. I see our mountains becoming billboards for subsidized wind turbines. A Canadian firm owns our two largest power companies; other businesses are interested in pipeline and transmission stations to send energy through Vermont not to Vermont.

We need a return to the values that made this state free in thinking and bound by a common unity of spirit. I’m suggesting that we need to embrace the democratic principles of governance by the people — legislators need to hear our stories so they can make informed governmental decisions on funding during their sessions in Montpelier.

Wishful thinking, and meanwhile … many creative people have given up and taken salaried positions. Rob Hunter, the director of Frog Hollow, which is located in Burlington and is Vermont’s leading gallery for craft and art, reports a number of artists stopped paying dues as they cannot afford to create art they can’t sell. True, it is tough all over for creative people. The copyright is under attack. New business models created by CEOs with the expectations that every intellectual property is as free as the Internet has crippled the photography, illustration, writing and music creators. The effect reverberates. With the money crunch, buying artwork is not an option for average Vermonters. I put off repairing my car and winterizing my house because I need to pay taxes and fuel oil.

The Central Vermont Community Action Council’s weatherization group was going to winterize my old house and lower my heating costs 15 percent, they said. So a flock of them finally showed up, white-suited and wearing helmets — look-alike astronauts. They found Vermiculite that I put in the attic over 30 years ago.

“It has asbestos in it,” the boss said. “We don’t work in houses like these,” and they left. White suits and helmets marched out. He promised I would get a sample testing of the Vermiculite. I never did. (However, CVCAC did install a new fuel oil furnace in my cellar that burns as much fuel oil as my old one but doesn’t leak carbon monoxide.)

Alpine skiing, my favorite sport, is too expensive and new Vermonters have posted most of the land I used to bird hunt on. Instead of thinking of new book projects, I repair my house, shovel snow and spread salt, haul firewood, because of the cost of gas don’t drive around the state looking for photographs or people to talk to, argue with the companies who charge me too much on those monthly costs, stare aghast at my shrinking income but I thank god for Medicare.

We self-employed Vermonters grumble but we have carried on and every so often we remember that we live in beauty. That’s the Vermont Way and I think it is coming to an end.

This tome started out as a rant but it is not. It is a fact and a warning that perhaps the people who run this state have shot themselves in the foot.

My house, according to one real estate agent, is over appraised by a large amount and this is true for many homeowners. Our old homes were built large to hold families and farmworkers and usually had little or no insulation. When houses are reappraised lower will the towns raise taxes or lower salaries or cut staff? It is getting to the point that self employed Vermonters might do better going on the dole and using state and federal funds to pay their bills.

Back to the effects of a cold, cold winter … the cold that travels down my backbone — that seesawing of temperatures — is here to stay, says Roger Hill, our knowledgeable northern Vermont meteorologist. (www.weatheringheights.com)

Roger gave me the statistics on minus zero days this winter in my region. Roger went on to say this cold — ice, flooding and blizzards — according to a study at Rutgers University, is likely to become a constant for residents of Canada, North America and Britain. The high altitude jet stream, a river of air, is sucked up north. As the Arctic temperatures are rising rapidly, more so than the rest of the world, the jet stream slows down and creeps over the polar region, sucking up cold from the arctic sea that is no longer ice-capped so it is not reflecting back the heat of the sun. The meteo-techies feel the cold jet stream is going to hover over our small state for a while.

I love my home state but I can’t afford to own my house and now I hear rents are way too high too. Well, my old house is an anachronism and so am I. I have to minimize or go off the grid. I do have an out, and it is my 18-foot, 45-year-old Airstream trailer, but damn it makes my Jeep overindulge at the gas pump.

Comments

  1. Matt Fisken :

    This piece could be channeling Noel Perrin or Elliot Merrick. Nice writing about the tough life in Vermont.

  2. Bill Olenick :

    Good piece indeed,
    The Apache Indians had a form of torcher called ,”Death by 1000 cuts” and what you,Mr.Miller and many others in VT are experiencing, is Death by 1000 government workers.
    As long as the good people of Vermont keep electing self righteous leadership, who can not see past the ends of their collective noses, it will only get worse.

  3. Bradford Little :

    Very well said! There needs to a balance between idealism and reality, between want and ability to afford, between individualism and the good of the group. If Vermont were attractive to business, or , retirees by the multitudes, or had vast natural resources, or , enticed large numbers of vacationers ( as it once did) or if private agriculture was still the “backbone of America”…..we would not be having this discussion.

    Property tax is the worst abomination…..it taxes inanimate non income producing stuff regardless of the income of the owner and it is income that determines anyone’s ability to pay for anything. Moving away from that would not be painless, but progress is seldom free from pain!

  4. If our children, or someone’s children, were actually receiving a decent education and their way being paved into a future full of opportunity and possibility as a result, some of this would be easier to bear. When I look at the pay and benefits our unionized and collectivized teachers receive, and the mountain of money that “OUR” Legislature
    itself chews through and the generous benefits legislators have voted for themselves, I want to tell Peter to take Old Betsy down off the wall before Bird Season this year and oil her up! There’s varmits in the garden! We need to pull all these weeds and better tend our gardens.

    d morrisseau 802 645 9727 W Pawlet
    dmorso1[at]netzero.net

  5. Meg Streeter :

    This is very moving and well said. I’ve long admired Peter Miller’s books and the way his photos capture the uniqueness of people, especially old timers. I am stunned to know that the man who creates such beauty is not living comfortably and warmly at age 80. His comments reflect the many issues we Vermonters face if we continue on our current course..

  6. Jeffrey Marshall :

    There is almost nothing the state of Vermont can do about the high cost of food, oil, propane, or electricity. This is Vermont. It’s cold, we’re at the long end of just about every pipeline. We have no economic clout and we never will. I dislike the property tax too, but I’ll gladly pay my share so that starving artists like Mr. Miller, whom I greatly admire, don’t have to pay so much.

    • Patricia Crocker :

      Mr. Marshall, I believe what Mr. Miller is saying here is that he doesn’t want your money. He just wants to keep more of his own money, and he wants you to keep more of your money, and everyone to keep more of their money. The best way to pay for roads, schools, police, etc is to have a healthy economy, where people have jobs and are working and paying fair taxes. When you start overtaxing businesses and the wealthy, they leave. It’s already happening. Mr. Miller captured the way so many people are feeling. I can certainly relate. My family is in the process of researching other places to live. I pray that we don’t have to leave VT. I am hoping that a change in the legislature this coming year sets the state back on a path of responsible governance. Taxes and cost of living are out of control here.

      • Peg Coutermarsh :

        Very well said. It hurts deeply to see your words of so much truth. My husband and I are native Vermonters and as soon as our property sells we will take our skills and money and permanently leave the state we grew up in, got schooled in and buried our loved ones. We have fallen out of love with irresponsible government and a runaway legislature. Do you remember the bumper sticker: “Endangered Species, Working Vermonter.”

      • Ann Stanton :

        Ms. Crocker and others, I am a native New Mexican and have paid big taxes first in NY state and now in VT to live elsewhere. There’s a reason the taxes are low there and in Texas; primarily, there are no social services to speak of. Money is made by drug-running (Breaking Bad is not all fiction).
        Business doesn’t stay away from VT bcs of high taxes but bcs there is a tiny population here (no market and big transportation costs). Rich people don’t leave bcs of high taxes. Let’s see real data instead of anecdotes and emotions.
        I agree with Mr. Miller that things are bad and they are going to get worse, bcs we are one of the “oldest” states in the nation and as we retire, there won’t be as many taxpayers. Not sure what the solution is — lower costs, for sure.
        We pay a high cost for the beauty and what shreds of community we have been able to gather about us (compared to other states). I wish there were an easy solution or even a solution, but I’m afraid there is not.

        • Patricia Crocker :

          Ms. Stanton, with all due respect, when IBM and Dealer.com are telling the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that they are having a hard time staying in this state, you know there is something wrong. “We could move our operations to California quickly…” They were not happy about the prospect of the impact of Single Payer Healthcare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t32jcxtTpV0 I have siblings living in very nice and beautiful states, paying much less in taxes, lower cost of living. VT now has a huge Heroin Problem, so I guess those drugs that you speak of in Texas have made their way north. VT is beautiful, but so is Utah, and is more affordable. When it comes to living the way Mr. Miller describes and being more comfortable, there’s no contest.

          • Patricia Crocker :

            This is utter nonsense. Many business leaders have been explicit in naming high taxes for staying away. That is the primary reason why IBM built its 300mm “Fab 2000″ in Fishkill NY, rather than expand the existing site here in Vermont, which was the plant that was on the cutting edge of technological innovation in the semiconductor industry. Despite this obvious advantage, we lost out to FishKill NY mostly because the taxes are too high here. IBM went from 8,500 workers to the shell it is today. Instead of the downsizing and road to obsolescence that the Vermont plant is on, it could have been greatly expanded. IBM is one example, I could name many others. Do businesses stay away from Vermont because of the small market, sure, but to suggest that taxes are not also a major factor is absolute nonsense. In fact, for IT companies, our tiny population and lack of a market is not a problem at all. In a digital age, companies can access a global market from any place in the world. Our low population and scenic landscape is actually a major draw for such companies. What is not a draw is when we have major political leaders here in Vermont proposing a tax on “cloud computing” as a way of funding their spending addiction. Cloud computing is on the cutting edge of IT innovation and announcing publicly that you plan to tax it is kind of like putting a sign on the border of the state that says to IT innovators: “abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

  7. Kim Fried :

    Thank you for writing exactly how so many Vermonters are now feeling about the state that they love so very much. Your’re warnings are not being heard at all in Montpelier and a “return to values that made this state” is not even understood in our State House by the majority of Senators and Representatives that only follow the politics of their party and consider you, me and many, many other Vermont citizens a nuisance. Destroying the ridgelines with industrial wind turbines and driving away the citizens that love Vermont the most does not bode well for the future of this state. I’m sorry Peter that I can’t offer any positive signs of future change but it isn’t that many haven’t tried. Unfortunately the Airstream is looking more and more attactive to many Vermont lovers.

  8. John Donovan :

    Amen bro! My brother living in Colorado owns property that is valued similar to ours and pays one-tenth the property taxes we do.

  9. Sandy Gregg :

    This should be required reading by every elected official in Vermont starting with our governor. Thank you for this observation… You are not alone.

  10. Janice Prindle :

    Bless you, Mr. Miller, for your lifetime of fine work and your moving words here. I can honestly say I know exactly what you’re struggling with, if that’s any comfort. It’s my struggle too. And after all you’ve done for Vermont, I too find it appalling that you should find your life and your work so compromised by poverty.

    Don’t blame this on teachers, Mr. Morisseau! They are not rolling in dough as you suggest, and their hard-earned salaries are not the reason for the high taxes. (Which teachers pay as well.) Schools are like every other employer, they too have fuel costs, and above all insurance, health insurance. In other words, the cost of education is also a function of our national economy, where currently health care is still considered a “for profit” enterprise — even if the ACA put some reins on that enterprise– and where the interests of the fuel companies, rather than consumers, drive our energy policy.

    Just for one example, for those of us who have used propane in order to supplement and reduce our more costly fuel oil consumption, changes in propane prices this winter soared to the price of oil — because of a “shortage,” we were told by the fuel dealers, who blamed the Midwest farmers. In fact, the real culprit was that the fuel companies (who get propane as a byproduct of their oil processing) created the shortage in the U.S. by exporting more of it, taking advantage of a “win win” situation: higher prices abroad, creating higher prices at home. They had, of course, successfully lobbied against export quotas which would have prevented this kind of manipulation.

    Mr. Miller’s problem, and all of our problems, are really part of a pattern of growing income inequality in the U.S. Our federal government has shifted the burden of taxation to the working and middle classes rather than the wealthy and the corporations, over the past 30+ years. These corporations and the one percent do not reinvest their wealth in the economy, creating jobs and paying good wages — they have shipped jobs overseas, turned good jobs at home into part-time, low wage jobs without benefits, and have invested their profits in buying up other companies overseas. The corporations control the policy of the government agencies that supposedly regulate them — Halliburton and Koch Industries control our energy policy for example, and Monsanto our food industry, which makes unhealthy processed food cheaper than real food, further hurting Vermont farmers and our local economy. This transformation of our government into a plutocracy has been legitimized and hastened by Citizens United. This impacts on all of us every day.

    It all seems so overwhelming. But I have to believe that in a place like Vermont, it’s not hopeless. We have the ears of our congressional delegation, and more people are beginning to catch on that their economic struggles are not “their fault” or their bad luck, but part of a bigger picture that needs to repainted. We need to speak up and speak out, and I thank you for doing that.

    • Paul Donovan :

      Thank you, Ms. Prindle; teachers are not to blame, any more than “new Vermonters”, “welfare” recipients, or state employees. Census figures show that those who are moving to Vermont are young and well-educated. Labor statistics show that state employees have lower salaries on the whole than private sector employees, even when including their benefits. Villifying those “usual suspects” serves only to maintain the status quo, while alienating those who should be our allies.

    • Tom Haviland :

      “Mr. Miller’s problem, and all of our problems, are really part of a pattern of growing income inequality in the U.S.”

      This is exactly it. Our wages are not increasing, but our costs, and the state’s costs, are. Those at the top hoover up new wealth like the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ on a coke binge.

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-02/top-1-got-93-of-income-growth-as-rich-poor-gap-widened.html

      • Patricia Crocker :

        Envy, one of the “seven deadly sins”, is just as bad as greed. I remember when people used to admire people who achieved the American dream and this caused them to aspire to success. This country was founded on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. I’m tired of the “eat the rich” and entitlement mentality that seems to be so pervasive nowadays. The people who stoke the flames, like Bernie Sanders, are the very same people who empower the crony capitalists. How do you think Bernie Sanders became a millionaire? And he’s always thumping his chest and crying about the evil wealthy people. Then he turns around and takes campaign funds from Dean Foods, who pay our farmers subprime prices for their milk. Then he gives the Farmers subsidies. How noble and empathetic is that?

  11. Candy Moot :

    Great truth here. And for me, usually an optimist, the future looks bleak. Vermont was also ranked one of the 5th worst states to retire in (from a financial perspective). And if wealthy people (the top 5% of the tax payers) still pay 90% of the income taxes in this state, they can easily cross the Connecticut River or move to Florida for six months and a day. We’re not wealthy, but we are retired and that’s our plan. People aren’t stupid, and money usually goes where it’s treated the best.

  12. This is not only one of the most effective commentaries I have read in years, it is also beautifully written and reads like an elegy. Many thanks Peter for your aesthetic contributions to Vermont which celebrate and enrich our communities, your innate understanding of Vermonters, your art, and your good humor. I, too, moved here in 1947.
    Bill Schubart

  13. James Leopold :

    Peter,
    Thank you for your eloquent commentary on life and taxes in Vermont.

    And thank you for your wonderful photos of our beautiful state and it’s people.

  14. virgiinia burgess :

    I had JUST posted similar sad comments on facebook and read this subsequently. I am heartsick at the thought of leaving my physical and spiritual home! Choices are limited and becoming more so. Thanks Peter!

  15. John Grady :

    http://vtdigger.org/2014/03/26/vermont-13th-expensive-state-renters-report-says/

    http://www.modularhomeplace.com/modular-prices.html

    Vermont could address multiple problems by giving tax breaks to the construction of low cost small energy efficient 1 and 2 bedroom cottages that are used by full time residents of the state.

    They would use less energy, the property taxes wouldn’t be much on them. Add supply to the housing market and the cost of rent goes down. It also gives people the option to avoid rentals that aren’t energy efficient.

    A 800 square foot cottage at $50 a square foot is $40,000 plus the cost of a building lot and hooking up utilities, septic, drill a well if needed.
    Mr. Miller’s current home will cost $40,000 to barely heat over the next 8 years.

    The GREEN Cult running the state has a plan to drive out people and will use any method they can to drive up the cost of living. The alternative to them is the FREE Market Cult that worships the God of Growth which is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme but they believe it’s the way to heaven on earth because they are stuck in the past and in denial times have changed.
    NY Metro had growth for a few hundred years, go live there and enjoy the good life growth created.

    A lot of people seem to be in denial the tripling of the cost of gasoline and heating fuels has changed the economy in the state in the last 15 years, they are stuck in the 1990’s.

    Complaining and finger pointing isn’t going to solve anything. We have a generation of people in charge in this country stuck in the past with no vision for the future. They have no problem solving skills while having Cult like beliefs that amount to fantasies.

    Reducing waste should be the agenda for the 21st century and we have lots of it in our society.
    3 trillion miles a year on our vehicles, getting better MPG is a good idea and so is driving a real lot less.
    Average new home built is over 2500 square feet and we do nothing to discourage it and encourage smaller houses to be built.

    America is being run by spoiled people who think they can buy everything. Got a problem throw money at it.

    Henry Ford lowered the cost of cars by making his plants more efficient and it produced more prosperity in America.

    Vermont could give sales tax breaks to working class people who buy new high MPG cars and than less money would flow out of the state to oil nations. It will also build up the supply of used high MPG cars in the state after a few years as people trade them in so it trickles down to savings for the second and third owners of them.

    The GREEN Cult in charge would only do it for the electric cars they worship which cost a lot of money putting them out of reach of real working class people who might be tempted to buy a cheap high MPG econo box if they didn’t have to pay sales tax.
    Batteries and cold temperatures don’t get along so anyone who needs to commute to another town isn’t going to think a electric car is a great idea.

    The yearly car inspection could be every 2 years or done away with considering it’s hassling most vehicle owners because of a small percentage of people not taking care of their vehicles. Like sheep everyone just thinks that is the way it is and nobody complains or suggest we dump the requirement.

    We are governed by spoiled wasteful people who spend money like crazy.

    My heat and electric bill is well under $2000 a year 850 square feet. A newly built place could do better. The best way to compare energy use is too look at heat, hot water, cooking and factor in the number of people living in the house.

    Society could do better by marketing low energy consumption housing to consumers.
    People just need good honest numbers to go by so they can make choices that fit their needs.

    Educate the public about the real cost of driving, it’s a lot more than just the gasoline.
    Over decades it adds up to lots of money.

    Welcome to 2014, people are going to think twice before buying a large home in a cold place in the middle of nowhere. Living out of a C-store because that is all the town has gets expensive and it’s now expensive to drive miles to a town with a real grocery store and commuting to a job is expensive.

    The save the small town school people have probably already felt the property value pain because the cost of gasoline now makes buying in the middle of nowhere look like a bad idea. Close the school and the property values will tank some more. Should society subsidize the schools and prop up the housing values in the boonies to encourage people to live in the middle of nowhere and commute ?

    We could basically turn the places into retirement communities if there is no school in town and the property taxes reflect that fact. Save the school or rebrand the places as retirement communities by giving tax incentives to retired people ? Tear the school down and built a little retirement village.

    The topics written about daily at VT Digger are all connected. The state needs to overhaul housing policy, tax policy, school policy as a package deal to lower the cost of living and doing business in the state.

    The defenders of the status quo will come out in force to block change using fear mongering, naysaying and obstructionist methods to shut down any attempt to change a thing, it’s the way they operate.

    The only way to push back is say it’s for the children’s future or to just tell them to shut up and go play bingo {{ you people }} made a mess so {{ we }} are going to clean it up so {{ we }} have a future.

    Outfits like the AARP advocated for the elderly for decades and look at the mess many of them are looking at.

    The NEA claimed everything was for the children and now 1/3 of the young adults live at home with their parents and tons of them have college degree’s and either no job or a job a 6th grade dropout could do.

    Than we had {{ experts }} like Alan Greenspan. About time we stop listening to experts and go with common sense and maybe ask some grizzled old timer for advice who wasn’t handed the easy life on a silver platter like most of the spoiled babbling class was while being delusional about lifting themselves up by the bootstraps bought for them by their father who helped them put the boots on and than held their hand so they wouldn’t fall down most of their adult life. Now they are in charge and having tantrums because they have no clue what to do now that they are supposed to be the adults.

    Lee Iacocca wrote a book right before most of us ever heard of Barrack Obama, the title is ” Where Have all the Leaders Gone”
    They got old and are gone or retired.

    It’s about time we put the RED Cult, BLUE Cult and GREEN Cult out to pasture and restored some sanity in this country.
    Yes we need to cut spending and yes we need to raise taxes to pay for the spending we do and yes we need to stop using so much energy so all 3 Cults are right but like spoiled brats if they can’t get their own way they will kick over the Monopoly board sooner than give a inch. We need to give them all the boot.

    • Phil Bronz :

      Henry Ford also doubled the wages earned by his workers so, he reasoned, people could afford to buy his cars. Revolutionary at that time.

  16. Rickey Gard Diamond :

    Thank you, Peter Miller. This writing matches your splendid art. And thank you, Jan, for your wider perspective. Government is part of the problem, but here in Vermont at least, it can still be part of the solution. I’m struck too by the overwhelming sense at the Statehouse of everybody feeling broke–it’s a symptom not only of U.S. wealth inequality, but a worldwide inequities, and a political process more and more bought and sold behind closed doors. Peter’s call for old ideals of Vermont democracy are well placed–and frankly, I think it should start with a state bank. Why send our tax dollars to Wall Street to be part of our problem, when we can invest at least a part here? Tell your legislators you want this–and tell them it will be good for local community banks, businesses and municipalities too, all of who struggle with Wall Street global banks’ sucking their lifeblood. We bailed them out, but they’ll melt down again (unless we elect Bernie for President!). We can create a life-generating economy if we get out from under the debt-generating economy that serves only the wealthy.

  17. Anita Lefteroff :

    Is there room in the Airstream for two?

  18. larry potwin :

    My dads family had 15 kids living in vt..The kids all had chores and a lot to do on the farm..Each depended on the other to do there part..What do kids have to do today? Watch tv and play games online..
    I was lucky because he taught me to ride a pony at age 5,shoot a gun at age 7,drive a tractor at 9,cut with a chainsaw at 14,grow my own food,raise my own meat. Real vermonters can do anything and take care of themselves but no one is passing along the life style..

  19. I am amazed at the comments on my words but more so on the ideas that came forth.
    I have talked to a number of people who want a small home mostly off the grid and can’t afford one of those energy cars. Grady’s ideas make sense and then I say, maybe Vermont needs a new political party, or at least a new name and working for the Vermont Grunt. The Vermont Party, huh? Or is it a group just to pressure those folks that just raised our property tax 4%? There are other solutions.

    • Patricia Crocker :

      “A group to pressure folks raising taxes”….Green Mountain Patriots, Vermonters for Liberty…Ethan Allen Institute…. There are groups out there doing just that.

  20. “We need a return to the values that made this state free in thinking and bound by a common unity of spirit. I’m suggesting that we need to embrace the democratic principles of governance by the people — legislators need to hear our stories so they can make informed governmental decisions on funding during their sessions in Montpelier.”

    Not a chance until you get rid of the half-year legislative sessions … so you have some chance of the legislature being a representation of the population. See if this plot does not fit the decline of Vermont. http://www.markshepard.us/VermontersHouse/index.htm

  21. James Ehlers :

    I would like to suggest statewide tax reform, immediately. Right now, we are trying to float a boat with duct tape. Instead of trying to keep a sinking boat afloat we should consider building a new boat or even consider a plane instead of a boat to get to where we want to go.

    We look at the whole system and transform it to ensure it invests in our current and future needs. A system that does this will create the jobs and revenues necessary to sustain itself. I expect this will be a job for stateswomen and men, and not politicians. It was possible in generations past.

    If we fail, it is because we got hung up in the branches instead of addressing the roots. Or we let others hang us from those branches. Democracy never was intended to be a spectator sport.

  22. John Grady :

    The Vermont Grunt Party for working class people would be nice to see. People in office who actually think about how to improve the lives of the people struggling would be nice. Throw food stamps at them is the current mentality. Keeping people dependent on government isn’t the way to go.

    Small Senior duplex’s for single seniors with a shared well and septic would keep the cost of construction down. Zoning laws probably don’t allow something like that on 2 acres, but will allow a 4 bedroom 2 1/2 bath house.

    Vermont doesn’t seem to have much in the way of 55 an over developments. The obstacle is act 250 to try and build a little senior development. The act 250 law could be stretched to allow up to 25 housing units to be built for 55 an over people without having act 250 come into play. Just add a affordable and small apartments/condo’s/cottage catch to exclude developers just looking to get rich creating fancy places for rich people. The profit margin drives the building market, the higher the price of the stuff they build the more money they make so no incentive to build stuff for working class people.

    The number of small 55 an over developments exempt from act 250 could also be limited per town based on the towns population so once a few got built all the exemptions from act 250 where used up. That way no town would be over run and taken over by seniors like places in Florida and Arizona have been.

    The spoiled people running things have more important things to worry about than people, littering, tax cuts for the rich, saving the spotted owl and banning plastic pink flamingos on the front lawn are higher on the agenda.

  23. Tim Seaver :

    Great piece. It’s interesting to the the GOP emailing this around as some kind of political piece, ridiculous as that is on it’s face. Anyone who thinks the misogynistic and wholly bought Republican Party is going to save us from the cruel arms of Big Gummint is smoking some strong stuff.

    • Carl Werth :

      Well then – who will save us, Tim? As far as I can tell – the Democratic Party is not doing us any favors at the moment either. This is why I have given up supporting BOTH parties – and have tried to focus on what might REALLY do us some good. So far, I have only turned up folks who cling to the old beliefs. It is rare I find anyonbe with an open mind anymore. The people who I talk to wear their agenda like a parka in a blizzard.

    • John Doherty :

      Tim, I know it is convenient to blame the boogeyman Big Business Republicans for all of your problems but that doesn’t make sense if they are not controlling the reins of Gov’t. The minority party is trying to lower taxes, trying to retain the jobs we still have and maybe attract some new industry to the state. I identify myself with the republicans because I like an underdog. I don’t agree with everything they stand for but I disagree with most of the stuff Dems are about. i.e. Amnesty, anti-2nd amendment, welfare state etc. I believe in Freedom, Liberty, Equality of opportunity (not Equality of Outcome). Don’t take this as a personal attack but as an opinion from someone who pays attention.

  24. Maureen Gour :

    I am a native Vermonter, age 61, approaching retirement, who worries every day about whether I will be able to afford a decent place to live in my home state as I get older and am no longer able to work. It is a sad state of affairs indeed when people like Mr. Miller, who has created and shared with the rest of us his moving and often poignant portraits of Vermonters, has to live in a 60 degree home and sleep in an unheated bedroom at night. I hear similar stories from others who live here. I wish I were more hopeful that Vermont will become a more affordable place to live.

    • Patrick Cashman :

      Give it a moment and Doug Hoffer will be along to tell you that you are mistaken, your situation is hunky dory, and then everything will be fine.

  25. George Wilson :

    As the premier chronicler of Vermont for 6 decades-the beauty and the ugly-you have now issued the wake up call . This message should be required reading for everyone. This is the future unless we act. Peter, Digger, everyone who has read this-get the message out.

  26. Tim Daley :

    As a native and lifelong resident of Vermont I felt strangely comfortable with Peter’s words as I slowly have come to feel like a stranger in my own town and state. Many of his comments reflect the reality of growing old here today as we contemplate our personal future in Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom. Job opportunities are constantly being dangled before our eyes by over-thought, over-built EB-5 projects but the jobs are minimum wage (in spite of what the big boys say) and now, even the state education bus has joined the scam, promising to create training programs for all these new (minimum wage) jobs. They even participated in a report that shows false numbers about the projected wages. If my (our) future in the Northeast Kingdom is going to be minimum wage, service (or some might call servant) class jobs with little or no benefits, no career opportunities and no ability to climb any ladder of success then maybe my future is somewhere else. Thanks very much Peter for the great piece!

  27. Please see the following face book page and share it and pass it along ! If you like the page please indicate by hitting the “like” button

    https://www.facebook.com/repealandreplace6068

  28. Please like and share our web page

    https://www.facebook.com/repealandreplace6068

  29. Hunt Melville :

    I can’t wait ’til people like Tim Seaver are the only ones left in the state.

    Study the reduction in population growth for Vermont from the last three censuses. It’s clear that the population will go negative in the 2020 census. It already is in the 12 counties outside of Chittenden. No kids, no middle class, no future.

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      It is all by design. reference Agenda 21.

  30. Virginia Simmon :

    It took real courage to write what you did, Peter. And you nailed it. There are many more of us that you can imagine who share your opinion (and circumstances).

  31. Mr. Miller:

    I was waiting for a doctor or nurse to comment on this story, but they haven’t, so I will.

    You need to turn your thermostat up to AT LEAST 65 F, or you are going to succumb to hypothermia. You said you are 80 years old and feel cold most of the time. Elders are more susceptible to hypothermia than the general population.

    If you can’t do this at home, please go and stay someplace where you can be warm.

    Put a cot by your woodstove, with a pan of water on the stove, so you can breathe in warm, most air at night.

    Hope you are OK. The weather seems to have broken….

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Ellin…There are many old folks in Vermont who keep the thermostat at 55 degrees. I am one of them. My doctor ‘tells’ me about it every time I am examined. I now have developed Raynaud’s.

      Actually, I am more concerned about the water pipes than my health. People on a fixed income cannot afford oil. It is just that simple. Many of us have no alternative heat.

      • Janice Prindle :

        My thermostat stays between 50 and 58, tops. I hear you! One small step would be for Vermont to join a number of states that do not tax Social Security income. And just as we do not tax food, maybe we should not take home fuel, at least for people over 75, which would reduce the cost somewhat. This won’t change the system, but we have to start somewhere to bring relief: Small measures that can be “paid for” by raising taxes on the highest-income households, or on second homes. (Like many of us, I am now surrounded by second homes, inhabited only a few weekends of the year, so I doubt there’s much contribution to the local economy.)

  32. John Grady :

    Grandma and Grandpa are freezing to death while Child Worship runs wild. On you-tube there is a George Carlin video about Child Worship, he swears a lot so I’m not posting the link which would be offensive to some people.

    If Vermont had spent 10% less on schools over the last 15 years the money could have been used to build new energy efficient housing for every senior household with $25,000 or less of income and the places would last for years.

    Reducing school spending 10% could provide health insurance to over 30,000 people in the coming years so if the government wants to find the money to cover the uninsured cut school spending by cutting back on the staffing which is about 1 employee per 5 students.

    It’s called balancing the needs of society with the available funding. Throwing way too much at one issue while neglecting peoples health and basic needs like heat is insane.

    I guess we could warehouse Grandma and Grandpa is senior housing (barracks) with chow lines to keep them warm and feed and give them a cot and charge them 95% of their retirement income and say it’s for the children and we could GIVE their houses to single moms while we are at it and give them heating oil assistance, it’s for the children. If we are going to act insane why not go all the way ?

    It sounds like some people need to move and or find themselves a housemate to help with the bills because the government (taxpayers) sure aren’t going to help them anytime soon. The government is more concerned about littering (bottle bill) than people.

    Vermont has an obsolete housing problem, duct tape on the big old places isn’t going to help much.

    • Janice Prindle :

      I do not begrudge the schools. And it’s short-sighted. Our future as a state, a nation, a civilization is in our children, our grandchildren (for those of us who’ve gotten that far along in years). They are the ones who will need to get the money out of politics and deal with the impact of global warming threatening the distribution of resources we now take for granted (like water). It’s not child worship to want children to have a good education, good enough to see past these boogey-bears of yours, to the larger pattern of economic exploitation that exists and impacts on schools as well as working families, the elderly and all of us 99 percenters.

  33. Don Peterson :

    Some years ago I decided that the net income I might receive from Social Security might be enough to cover my property taxes in retirement. Any more than that was probably wishful thinking.

    With that as a yardstick (or just as a stick) my lifestyle centers more around not spending than it does on earning . As a result I don’t pay a surcharge on my efforts in the form of taxes for money I don’t earn.

    Red or blue, governments would do well to note this strategy, because it leaves you all out of the picture.

    Mr. Miller is right on for his time and place.
    But if he is who I think he is, his career has been made in the furthering of a mythical Vermont divorced from the creeping reality of our times.

    Reality is often disappointing. Cheer up Mr Miller, you made it to 80 before it caught up with you!

  34. Carl Werth :

    Again – this year’s Senator Bill Doyle Town Meeting Survey results:

    Do you believe Vermont is an affordable place to live?

    No 60% – Yes 26% – Not sure 14%.

    60% say NO! Wow! That says something.

  35. Gail Graham :

    Mr. Miller,
    Your article is excellent, albeit chilly because it is all so true. I

  36. Gail Graham :

    Mr. Miller,
    Your article is excellent, albeit chilly because it is all so true. I am struggling to remain on my family farm, which has been a long time goal for my retirement, but here I am. Some days I want to cry, but so far refuse to allow “them” to get me down. I am third generation on my property, which my parents and grand parents worked hard for. I am also sixth generation Vermonter, so what is happening in my native state is beyond belief. I’m sure my ancestors are “rolling over in their graves”. Good luck to you, and I hoe to purchase your latest book soon.

  37. Emer Feeney :

    I appreciated your candor, Mr. Miller. I agree with you that Vermont’s become too pricey to get by in, but unfortunately I think that is reflected in many of the best places to live in the country: the working and lower middle classes are now truly feeling the pinch everywhere, and our elders and other vulnerable populations are getting hit the hardest. Even as a city employee with benefits, I can barely pay the bills, can’t fix my car properly, have to put dental work and the like on my credit card, am still paying student loans, and will soon be putting my teen daughter through college, though I don’t know how. The anxiety keeps me up at night, too.
    I blame a government that takes our hard-earned money and siphons it to war and other interests that exist primarily to increase and protect the profits of the rich. It’s getting worse and worse. We have to organize. They are leaving us no choice. The life you are being forced into is not what you deserve, or what any of us do, not when there are some who have more than they could ever spend if they lived 100 lives

  38. John Grady :

    Carl Werth

    March 30, 2014 at 9:33 am

    ” It is rare I find anyonbe with an open mind anymore. The people who I talk to wear their agenda like a parka in a blizzard.”

    The American culture is cult like with people totally brainwashed to believe in things. I know a woman from Hungary who told me the Communists never dreamed they could brainwash their population as well as it’s be brainwashed in this country.

    Red Koolaid drinkers, Blue Koolaid drinkers, GREEN Koolaid drinkers. People who blindly believe something without question are brainwashed cult members.

    Anything thrown at them that counters their brainwashing is an abstraction to them and to even consider what they believe might be wrong isn’t ever going to happen with close minded people who are true believers no matter how many facts or how much proof is presented to them to counter their belief.

    Our society is also infested with miserable people who will cheer on anything that makes things worse and they also go out of their way to stop reforms so the status quo can continue to make things worse.

    http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmar14/50s-anomaly3-14.html

    Charles might be an old hippie living in Berkeley CA but he gets it the status quo is toast and a society stuck in a time warp is toast.

    Sonny Barger
    “Learn from the past, don’t live there.”

    Charles Darwin
    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

    Bob Dylan
    “the times they are a changing”

    Most American’s aren’t open to change, they are either stuck in the 50’s/60’s or 80’s/90’s and brainwashed to believe. Nobody is stuck in the 1970’s.

    Things are going to change, we can either do it the easy way or remain in denial and do it the hard way.

    Margaret Thatcher
    ‘The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”

    Change socialism to capitalism and the same theory applies. Clean out the taxpayer or the consumer and game over.

    The propaganda machine invents distractions to keep the population at each others throats.

  39. Carl Werth :

    John – I appreciate all that you have written here. I especially appreciate it because it is rare I find someone who actually is a free thinker. Heck – you even question authority. Imagine that. Cheers!

    • John Grady :

      Thanks Carl

      It’s not likely I made a dent but I spoke up which is better than total apathy.

      The American Culture is based on some unwritten 1950’s rule book people mindlessly follow chapter by chapter from birth to dead.

      People have nostalgia for the good old days but wouldn’t want nothing to do with working or living like lots of their parents or grandparents did.

      Green Acres is the place to be, Hillbilly living is the life for me {with power equipment}

  40. John Gilman :

    Property taxes could be abolished by replacing them with an income tax. This would base taxes on an ability to pay and take away the threat of people losing their homes to taxes.

    There are those in this state who want it to be nothing but a park for the rich though. I can only imagine what Ethan Allen would have done about that.

    • George Wilson :

      Ethan Allen would have consumed a bottle of rum, yelled at his lieutenants to get ready to move out, and marched unsteadily to Montpelier. Imagine Shumlin confronted by Allen, if Shumlin didn’t slink off before.
      Those of us with common sense can do the same rhetorically, if not literally, by getting the message out and marching to the polls and voting the bums out.

  41. Ronald Allbee :

    My family goes back to the 1770’s and my cousin still farms the farm given to us as a King’s Grant. After Vietnam and grad school I worked for the Vt. legislature and then served as Secretary (Commissioner) of Agriculture and Director of Energy for Vermont. In the 1970’s many legislators were no more than one generation removed from the land or were business people. They cared for those in need, but treated every dollar spent as though it came out of their pocket. As they say, Vermont was a small d or even though republican, was a “democratic state”…..what I mean is that Vermonter’s took government seriously, treated everyone well and didn’t care what you did or looked like as long as you did not tell them what to do! Ten years ago I left my native Vermont to help my step-daughter start her medical practice in Florida. I go back to Vermont often and truly miss the state and it’s people. I considered returning this year and again involving myself in politics…trying to do something in business development, health care, education and environment. I am appalled at what I see…A vermont that is trying to implement a single payer system (a system that makes sense at National level, but is too expensive for a small state such as Vermont to implement). A state that has been listed as the 49th most difficult and taxed state to do business in. A state where there is an increase in children under poverty. A state that is loosing jobs….IBM, Vermont Yankee, etc. A state where the young graduating from college or high school find it difficult to find employment. Unfortunately, Mr. Miller is correct in his assessment. I know that I should shrug off the costs to me to move back. I know that my heart tugs to again involve myself in helping solve Vermont’s issues. One part of me says go back and another part of me says don’t go back because Vermont is no longer what it was and you can’t make it what it was. Ron Allbee

  42. Tom Anderson :

    Dear Peter, I am haunted by your words, your feelings, your thoughts, and I am ashamed that we as local Vermonters who have enjoyed your marvelous photos & words through the years have not been able to repay you for the treasure you have given us now and for future generations. You truly are a Vermont Treasure and I propose that all who read these comments will send you a check, cash or money order in any amount they can afford so that you, our treasured State Hero, can plan a trip south next winter and have enough cash to get there and back – we need you here. I will be mailing you several checks and hope that all who read this will do the same and encourage others to do so.
    Thank you for enriching our lives. Tom Anderson

  43. Peter Miller is dead on correct in this article. Unfortunately, since it was written back in March 2014, things have continued to become much worse in Vermont. Years ago, I remember people saying that eventually, only the rich would be able to afford to live in Vermont. It seems that the middle class is being pushed out or forced to live under entitlements. Sad to see Vermont, formerly a state of hard working people, on such a tragic path.

Comments

*

Annual fundraising appeal: If we had a dollar for every comment, we could end this annual fund drive now. Donate now.
Comment policy Privacy policy
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Peter Miller: Cold weather, hard state"