Helen Riehle

2015 City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Helen Riehle

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Thursday February 19, 2015

Helen Riehle
3 Year Term

Education:BS Education, University of Vermont

Occupation: Executive Director: Champlain Valley Area Health

Years as SB resident: 24 years.
Family have been residents for over 50 years

1. What skills uniquely qualify you for the position of city councilor?

Eighteen years of service to the community as a Vermont legislator and three years as a city councilor give me considerable experience working with diverse individuals and groups and “getting to yes.” I calmly approach issues with thoughtfulness, humor, an interest in hearing and understanding all points of view and an expectation that consensus can be achieved. I am respectful of differing opinions and am comfortable making difficult decisions in a public setting when consensus is not possible. These are not necessarily unique qualities and skills but are important to an effectively working council.

2.What do you feel is the single most pressing concern for the city, and what solutions/actions would you propose?

There are at least three balls in the air, all of which are pressing:  education funding, development pressures and opportunities such as City Center, and understanding what the community see as needs they are willing to pay for.  Surrounding all these pressures are the cost factors of each, their short and long term implications, how they are interconnected to each other AND the financial health of South Burlington.  The solution is for the council to understand how each decision affects every other decision, proceed carefully and achieve results that are good for the entire community.   

3. What do you believe is the right balance and rate of residential and business/commercial/retail growth? What is the councilor’s role in determining and achieving this balance?

The real question that drives the right balance is “will the city look and feel like a community” as we move forward with development?  It isn’t simply adopting a ratio.  The right balance creates a sufficient tax base from all sectors that supports educational and city services that our residents and businesses both require and expect.  We need to know what best practice metrics are right for demands created by growth on public safety-police and fire services, public works-plowing roads and sidewalks, recreational requirements, and the impact on education.  Although education is a school board responsibility it affects overall tax rate and bonding capacity.  They must work in tandem. The city council’s role is to gather those data, understand the various drivers on our city budget, staffing, and the grand list, then apply to generate guidelines that will achieve the best balance for our city and our tax payers.

4. What are your thoughts on the city’s plans for City Center (Form Based Code, TIF District financial obligations, wastewater allocations, infrastructure). What is your position on the Saxon Partner’s proposal to purchase Marcotte Central School for Phase 1 of its development plan to build City Center Commons?

Creating a city center for South Burlington has been a 30-year dream.  Our TIF District designation has jumpstarted concrete plans and IZ committees provided insightful foundational recommendations. In particular FBC and Affordable Housing informed planning and design concepts.  The IZ engagement of hundreds of citizens inspired continued participation in visioning for City Center public facilities, Garden Street, and Dumont Park.  Wisely reallocated wastewater reserves guaranteed TIF development needs could be met and reflected strong commitment.  Next is crafting a financing plan that identifies early project(s) for a June bond vote, guaranteeing residents’ approval of every financial decision along the way.  The Marcotte School decision is solely in the school board’s court.  The intense visioning effort underway will provide important guidance for their final decision.  This first offer is encouraging but I believe much negotiation will be required to reach a final agreement given the projected costs of replacing Marcotte School.

5. South Burlington has a unique relationship with Burlington International Airport, the City of Burlington, and VTANG. Recurring topics of taxes, finance, traffic, land use, expansion, F-35’s, noise, and a changing neighborhood continue to pose concerns. The Chamberlin/BTV neighborhood planning committee will work to provide recommendations for a collaborative long-term vision for the neighborhood and its relationship to BIA, which is owned by the City of Burlington. What is the council’s role in the outcome if consensus can’t be reached between competing interests?

Our role is always to do what is best for our city and our neighborhoods and our residents. The Chamberlin/BTV Neighborhood Planning Committee offers a unique opportunity to find common ground, shared goals and a clear understanding of each side’s perspectives. I am optimistic that the planning process will be positive, healing, establish improved, critical communication and result in concrete recommendations that can be embraced by all. It can also create a process for ongoing communication to identify and resolve continuing and future problems as they arise. Ultimately how the property that was once South Burlington housing stock is repurposed will be subject to city development rules and regulations over which the city council has final jurisdiction.

6. Closing Statement

In closing I wish to thank the city voters for giving me the opportunity to serve you as a councilor these past three years.  It has been a privilege and honor and I look forward to another term.  I have learned a great deal and hope to apply that knowledge to make decisions that will advance City Center, strengthen our financial situation and make South Burlington a great place for families and businesses.  I encourage all to vote March 3 and continue to be crucial voices in all our future decisions.

Mark your calendar to vote Tuesday, March 3, 2015