LUDLOW, Vt. – During their Feb. 7 meeting, the Ludlow Selectboard opted not to renew the town-wide mask mandate, choosing to let it lapse after Feb. 21. The board also discussed proposed state legislation to decriminalize personal use amounts of opioids and considered a pilot micro-transit program for 2023.
The board unanimously decided not to renew Ludlow’s town-wide mask mandate, instead letting it come to an end on Feb. 21, which coincides with the start of President’s week.
Board member Justin Hyjek noted that Covid case numbers have dropped significantly in recent days. Board member Heather Tucker said that she was glad they had the mandate earlier, and now those who are conscious of the risk will probably continue to wear them. Businesses that want to continue to post a mask mandate may continue to do so. The Ludlow mask mandate has been in place since Dec. 6 of 2021.
Police Chief Jeff Billings spoke in opposition to a bill proposed by the Vermont House Judiciary Committee which would decriminalize possession of limited quantities of controlled substances, such as heroin or fentanyl, instead imposing a $50 fine. This bill was written by Ludlow’s state representative Logan Nicoll, who was on hand to discuss the proposed legislation.
H.644 is one of three bills being considered that would direct resources towards substance abuse as a matter of public health rather than criminality. It would establish a board to determine amounts that would constitute a personal supply. The other two pieces of legislation include H.309, which would decriminalize psychedelic fungi and cacti, and H.505, which would reduce many felony drug charges to misdemeanors.
Billings asked the board to take a stand against the legislation, saying that the police department would not enforce a ticket and warned, “you’re going to see a free-for-all for everything in Vermont.” He also said he was surprised that the bill was even put forward and supported by Ludlow’s representative, since no one had contacted the police department to discuss the issue.
Nicoll stated that he campaigned on the issue throughout the district before he was elected and the fact that the legislature is now supporting decriminalizing the possession of some drugs is open policy. He said that there is an effort to change how the state views and treats substance abuse disorder.
After some discussion and push back on the board on how the legislation would achieve the desired outcome of getting addicts into treatment, Nicoll said that the bill would be going through many changes as it works through the legislative system and admitted that the bill would require substantial improvements in the healthcare system. He urged the board to follow the discussion through the Judiciary Committee’s YouTube channel.
Nicolls said he would like to talk about ways to move this forward with the chief’s support. He said that he wants to see addicts in treatment where they belong and that “putting those people in prison is not working for us.”
The board ended the discussion saying they will continue to watch the issue and decide when they would chime in.
Lucy Gibson presented a Micro-transit Feasibility Study to the board, and proposed a pilot program for the winter of 2022/2023, which would provide an after-hours bus service from approximately 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. for a total of 39 days per year, during winter season on Fridays, Saturdays, and two vacation weeks during Christmas, and Presidents week in February.
The study was prepared for the Mount Ascutney Regional Commission by a steering committee that included Municipal Manager Scott Murphy, two Okemo transportation executives, the Okemo Valley Chamber, and other transit officials, and included input from stakeholders around the area.
The pilot program would provide one 14-person bus that would service the Ludlow village and immediate surrounding area for patrons who needed a ride from their dinner and bar destinations, back to their accommodations. The bus would be free to riders. Initial costs for the town would come to just over $40,000, or $1000 per day.
The board spoke about a few challenges, including buses not being allowed to stop along Main Street and the need to shorten the time frame, since bars are not open in town until 2 a.m. They also suggested that they might be able to outsource the pilot to an existing bus service.
After discussion, the board agreed to await a more detailed report for the pilot program before approval to move ahead.
In his Municipal Manager’s report, Murphy discussed the increased traffic through Ludlow saying the town is in a difficult spot right now, and just trying to get to the end of the season. He said he will be working with Okemo on a long list of concerns to discuss with them. He acknowledged that the number of people traveling through town was stressing services and that a number of Vail ski towns were having similar problems.
The next Ludlow Select Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 7 at 6 p.m. in the Heald Auditorium at Ludlow Town Office.