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Barre City Passes Community Investment Ordinance, Becoming 3rd VT City to Prioritize Good, Local Jobs

Liz Medina
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BARRE CITY, VT: This week, Barre City Council officially adopted the Community Investment Ordinance, ensuring that taxpayer money is invested in good jobs for large projects costing $200,000 or more.

Like the Responsible Contractor Ordinances passed first in Montpelier and then Burlington over the last few years, Barre’s ordinance would require contractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits, including healthcare – an essential benefit for a workforce that performs hard, manual labor and is regularly exposed to hazards on the job.

Walter Smith, a union carpenter who testified in favor of the ordinance, regularly commutes over four hours away to Maine to work on construction projects in order to receive healthcare benefits. He hopes the ordinance will mean he can spend more of his time and money in Barre.

“I would not be able to see and, frankly, keep doing my job if I didn’t find work that offered me health insurance,” said Smith. “I needed to get my eyes checked, prescription glasses, regular doctor visits – all of that stuff. And, I’m one of the lucky ones who have only needed routine care. But, even that was getting too expensive to pay for completely on my own as an independent contractor. That’s why I went union and go as far as I do for work.”

When contractors don’t offer healthcare to their workers, it’s not just the individual workers who suffer. It’s the entire community. The cost is shifted from the contractor to the wider community. This puts severe financial stress on public and non-profit hospitals and increases healthcare costs, leading to higher insurance costs, which causes more employers to drop coverage, which deepens our healthcare crisis. 

“We need to stop this race to the bottom, which contributes to more poverty and inequality,” commented Ward 2 City Councilor Teddy Waszazak, who sponsored and voted in favor of the ordinance. “Instead, Barre City is choosing to race to the top, rewarding contractors who want to uplift the community. Providing good benefits, good wages, and valuing the skills, hopes, and economic security of the folks who do the hard work is now the price of doing business in Barre City, and I couldn’t be more proud of us for getting this done.” 

The Community Investment Ordinance also incentivizes hiring local residents, women, minorities, people with disabilities, and veterans via a two-percent discount for scoring purposes during bidding. It’s the first of its kind in Vermont and could become a model for other cities looking to create good jobs for everyone in their communities.

Mayor Jake Hemmerick added, “This is a historic achievement for Barre City. This week, we adopted standards that put our people first and invest in our future. We expect workers to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and that is what the Community Investment Ordinance is all about.”