Roy sees Selectboard in caretaker role
By Greg Elias
When Christopher Roy first ran for Selectboard in 1998, the town was embroiled in a divisive debate over growth.
The rapid rise of retail stores and large-scale subdivisions had inflamed residents and prompted legal battles between the town and developers. Roy was one of two candidates who advocated cooperation over confrontation with developers in the four-person scramble for two open seats on the Selectboard.
The candidates with growth-control platforms won. Roy finished last in an election billed as a referendum on growth.
Now, a decade later, Roy is trying again, this time for a two-year term on the Selectboard. Roy will run against Joel Klein, a television producer who moved here from Los Angeles last summer.
If elected, he looks forward to serving a town that seems to have settled into its identity as a bedroom community with a bustling retail sector. He sees the Selectboard these days as a caretaker rather than a groundbreaker.
"Right now, fortunately, there are no issues that are as important to the entire town as we saw 10 years ago, when there was a real debate about Taft Corners," he said. "I think now the die is cast" on rules governing growth, "so the board's job is continuing to keep a tab on things as opposed to there being one overarching issue."
Roy talked about his life and outlined his positions on issues facing Williston during a lengthy interview last week. Dressed in a red checkered shirt and blue jeans, Roy smoothly fielded questions in a manner befitting someone who has argued cases in court for nearly two decades.
Roy was born and raised in Barre. His parents worked in the granite industry.
After graduating from Spaulding High School, Roy attended Harvard College, where he graduated with a degree in government. He later received his law degree from Cornell University.
He now lives in the Brennan Woods subdivision with his wife, Lisa, and three sons, ages 1, 9 and 11.
Roy is an attorney who works in Burlington with the state's biggest law firm, Downs Rachlin Martin. He specializes in commercial litigation, often representing landowners and corporations in land-use disputes.
Roy has written a regular opinion column, "Right to the Point," for the Williston Observer (the newspaper has discontinued Roy's column pending the election) and chairs the Vermont Republican Party's local committee in Williston.
Roy also has considerable experience on non-partisan groups. He currently serves on the Williston Recreation Committee and is a former member of the Burlington Planning Commission.
He has in the past served on the Vermont Environmental Board and the governing board for Whitney Hill Homestead, a senior housing development in Williston.
His column was a conservative take on state and national issues. In an interview and in written responses to questions, his views on municipal issues remained conservative, albeit without the partisan edge.
On fiscal matters, Roy said raising property taxes should be a "last resort" should Williston continue to face falling revenue from the local sales tax. He said the town should first look for savings in existing programs and services.
He said the real money is in school spending, which accounts for the large majority of property taxes paid by residents. He said high property taxes are rooted in the rules governing how the state pays for education.
"You can nibble around the margins with municipal taxes, the municipal budget," Roy said. "But real change is going to have to come from the way they do educational financing."
As for growth, Roy feels that Williston's direction has been settled. The battles over development in the 1990s and early part of this decade ended with all the new retail and residential development happening anyway, he said. The legal skirmishes just changed the pace.
"Instead of having gradual development, we had it in fits and starts," he said, pointing to Taft Corners Park and Brennan Woods as two examples.
Roy said after his bruising candidacy of 1998, he decided he would never again run for an elected office. But he feels Williston is different now.
"I had vowed not to get involved again," he said. "But it was an open seat, so I'm like OK I'm not going around punching incumbents in the nose any more. I've had my fill of that.
"There aren't any passionate fights where it's going to become personal. I've had a breather for 10 years. I'm in a different place, the town's in a different place and I think I can help out here."
Name: Christopher D. Roy
Address: 726 Hanon Drive
Number of years living in Williston: 15
Employer name and job description: Attorney, Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC (www.drm.com). Commercial litigation partner in Vermont's largest law firm, including municipal, tax, zoning and land use matters.
Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: Currently finance chairman of the Vermont Lake Champlain Quadricentennial Commission (www.celebratechamplain.com), member of the Williston Recreation Committee, coach for Williston Little League Baseball, coach for Chittenden South Buccaneers Youth Football and member of the Vermont Advisory Committee, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Formerly a member of the Vermont Environmental Board (State Act 250 Board), a board member of Williston Elder Housing Inc. (Whitney Hill Homestead), board member of Family Connection Center of Vermont Inc. and a member of the Burlington Planning Commission.
What is the most important issue facing the town of Williston? How should the town address this issue?
The need to balance growth with tax burdens. Williston is a vibrant community. We should welcome growth if it is well-planned and consistent with our town's vision. We must ensure that growth and the increased demand for services do not outpace taxpayers' ability to pay.
The Selectboard must be vigilant in developing frugal budgets. The town must always look for ways to operate more efficiently. The Selectboard should work with the School Board and be taxpayer advocates in Montpelier. The municipal tax rate is about one-seventh of the educational tax rate, so real relief is more likely to be found in the area of educational financing, which results in a great deal of the property tax revenues generated in Williston going elsewhere.
The town may face a financial squeeze over the next few years, with falling sales tax revenue and a potential recession reducing available funding for municipal services. If there is a budget crunch, would you cut services, raise property taxes, or do both?
Budget growth must be consistent with population growth and inflation. If the resulting tax increase would outpace inflation, the Selectboard should look for ways to reduce the budget through greater efficiencies, bargaining hard on contracts and prioritizing between the town's needs and wants.
The local option tax is a partial fix for the massive transfer of education tax revenues out of Williston. A fairer way to fund our government requires a reduction in the tax revenues expropriated from Williston. We bear the burden of the development creating these revenues – we should retain a greater percentage of the resulting funds. The Selectboard and School Board should work together as taxpayer advocates in Montpelier to reform our dysfunctional and unsustainable method for financing education.
Some residents oppose a proposed landfill in Williston. The landfill would produce revenue for the town but those living nearby fear pollution and falling property values. Do you support or oppose constructing a landfill in Williston? Why?
The proposed landfill off Redmond Road is premised upon analysis that is 15 to 20 years old. Much has changed during that time. It is imperative that the Chittenden Solid Waste District – a public entity, not a for-profit corporation – do the right thing and reevaluate whether this is the best location in the county, and whether and to what extent we even need a regional landfill.
Due to legal agreements and payments received over the years, we are not able to unilaterally reject a landfill in the proposed location. Regrettably, the town's agreement with CSWD did not include any outside termination date. The lesson learned is for the Selectboard not to commit the town to open-ended commitments which have the potential to affect human health.
Williston has struggled over the past 20 years to balance commercial and residential growth with a desire to maintain the town's small-town character. Is Williston growing at the right pace? Should the town tighten or loosen existing controls on growth?
There is no perfect pace for growth. A vibrant community should grow if growth is well-planned and responsible. Growth should be concentrated to utilize existing infrastructure and minimize sprawl into less developed areas.
The town has usually planned its growth well. Taft Corners has been the focus of development, while preserving the historic nature of the village center and the rural residential nature of other areas. The town must reevaluate its comprehensive plan periodically, and should be forward-looking in its update of zoning bylaws. Pursuit of a downtown district designation for Taft Corners is one such a responsible effort.
Responsible controls on growth must result from a transparent, public process. The town should avoid concealed methods of restraining growth. I strongly support the Circ.
Census figures show most people who work in Williston don't live here while most Willistonians commute to other towns. The situation is caused largely by a lack of jobs in town that pay people enough to afford Williston's relatively high cost of housing. How can the town address this disconnect between employment and housing, which leads to traffic congestion and pollution?
Given the small size of Vermont's communities, there is little that the Selectboard can do on its own on this issue. Nonetheless, Williston should always look for opportunities to attract employers that pay good wages, and to create incentives for good companies to remain and expand in Williston.
The recent loss of Williston-based jobs at Qimonda was, to some extent, a function of a lengthy and convoluted zoning process necessary to allow expansion of a good employer in Williston. After much effort, the company opted to relocate to South Burlington before consolidating its operations in another state altogether.
There are many impediments to good employers locating in Vermont. The town should do everything reasonable and in its power not to be one of those impediments.