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Residents Skeptical as The Village at White River Junction Requests $1 Million Loan

  • Construction is underway at The Village at White River Junction in White River Junction, Vt., on May 9, 2018. The projects aims to be completed in July. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Carly Geraci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2018 11:45:06 PM
Modified: 8/29/2018 8:49:01 AM

White River Junction — The Selectboard, officials from The Village at White River Junction and members of the public spent more than an hour on Wednesday night discussing a $1 million community development loan the soon-to-open assisted living facility is seeking to help with the project’s cash flow.

Workers’ wages and benefits, whether the money from the Vermont Community Development Program was really necessary, and concerns that the town could be on the hook for repayment were some of the major questions as The Village developer Byron Hathorn and Executive Director Sandy Conrad fielded questions.

Selectboard member Kim Souza said some residents have noted the facility’s rental fees and luxurious accoutrements — monthly rates start at $8,400 at a facility that will include a restaurant, cinema and spa — though The Village officials said their proposed rates are comparable to other assisted living facilities both locally and nationally.

Conrad said the rates were in line with long-term care costs and suggested that people, in general, need to start saving for such needs in 401(k) accounts.

“There has been much chatter about affordability,” said Souza, who runs a clothing store and lauded recent affordable housing projects in Hartford. “Socioeconomic diversity is a really big part of our community and part of our culture. When you say people should start thinking about aging and 401(k), we’re also talking about an upscale assisted living facility paying low wages to its community members. I hope that The Village at White River Junction will help facilitate 401(k)s and benefits to those employees.”

“We have that. We do have that,” Conrad said.

Under the block grant program, which involves federal money, the town would first apply for the grant from the state and, if approved, would then lend the money to the facility.

Roy Black, of Wilder, asked: “Who is responsible if The Village goes into default on the loan?”

“We are ... the owners and investors (are), ” Hathorn answered. “There are 28 different entities that own a portion of it.”

Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar confirmed that the town would not be on the hook for default repayment, noting that the funding passes through the town as a grant. Part of the potential appeal to the town is that when the loan is repaid, the town is authorized to keep 50 percent for use in its revolving loan fund.

“There would still be costs to the town because of the manpower and time, but it is reimbursable,” Pullar said.

Selectboard member Dennis Brown said he has difficulty accepting a sum like $1 million going to a private assisted living facility when there are so many other pressing needs in town.

“A quick trip down Route 5 and you find it is very rough, and I just struggle with stuff like this when I see that our highways are maybe not in the best of shape and we’re struggling to fund education and other things,” Brown said. “Then things like this pop up, where we suddenly have a million dollars to play with.”

The funds would be earmarked to assist, if necessary, the costs associated with the creation of around 60 full-time low- to moderate-income jobs, according to The Village officials.

Conrad said the jobs the loan may help support would include food service staff, maintenance and landscapers, housekeeping staff and, potentially, some director and supervisory positions, with all wages ranging from $14 to $40 per hour. At least 51 percent of the individuals benefiting from the funds must be low- or moderate-income persons at the time they are hired, which in Windsor County ranges from $15,650 per year for a low-income, single individual, to $59,600 for a low-income family of four.

Most of The Village jobs the loan could support would fall into the $14-$27 hourly range.

Hathorn said the loan would augment The Village’s working capital fund, which he said would help ensure cash flow while the facility attempts to meet its 89-bed capacity and reach stable income levels.

Quechee resident Robin Adair Logan asked why the wages for staff weren’t secured prior to this point. “When you were putting together your business model, why weren’t the salaries for staff put in?” Logan asked. “I’m a structural engineer and an architect, and it would sort of be like not putting the labor in for my workers, but just the material.”

Hathorn said the jobs have always been part of the business plan, but that the VCDP grant would essentially be an insurance policy and utilized only if and when needed.

“It is our hope that (our working capital reserve account) expectation that that will get us all the way through to stabilization,” Hathorn said. “We don’t want to borrow any more money than we need to. What you don’t want to have happen is get to within a couple months of stabilization, moving into covering all of your costs, and run out of money in that account. (Preventing) that is the benefit of this opportunity.”

The project at the corner of Gates and Currier Streets is 95 percent completed, and residents are expected to begin moving in next month, Conrad has said.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Town Hall. The Selectboard likely would vote on whether to apply for the funds during the same meeting, ahead of a Sept. 4 application deadline.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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