Home News and Features Higby and Lauzon Vie for Barre City Council

Higby and Lauzon Vie for Barre City Council

A former mayor of Barre, Thom Lauzon, and a former contender for mayor, Sue Higby, are both running for the Barre City Council Ward 1 seat. The Bridge reached out to each candidate to learn more about why they are running, and their positions on the budget and current issues. Residents will vote on March 1, 2022, Vermont’s Town Meeting Day.

Sue Higby

As the executive director of Studio Place Arts, candidate Sue Higby writes on her Facebook page: “… because I have worked in the heart of downtown Barre since 2003, I often hear about needs and observations for improvements in Barre from business owners, visitors, and shoppers. Back in 2018, for example, I worked to resolve a parking meter problem for a neighboring business on Summer Street.”

Higby ran against outgoing mayor Lucas Herring, when Lauzon vacated the seat in 2018. 

Why are you running for city council?

SH: I see enormous unrealized potential for Barre City. This is what motivated me to purchase my home in Barre 21 years ago and it is what inspired me to become involved in Studio Place Arts. … New federal funding coming to Barre, additional financial opportunities, and our city’s current search for a new city manager create an inflection point for our city. This election will in many ways determine the path for Barre for the next 50 years.

… One of my grandmothers served as an executive officer in an organization at a time when all the other officers were Caucasian males. A family tale involves these men calling an executive session in the men’s restroom. My grandmother boldly barged in to be a part of the session! I have needed to expose a comparable lack of transparency in my opponent’s misuse of a special meeting years ago, when he forcibly ejected “uninvited” members of the public and two reporters. I will work towards respectful, civil, and inclusive meetings.

How will you responsibly contain the budget?

SH: I have held leadership positions in nonprofit organizations for much of my career, both at the local and national levels. When you work in this type of business setting, you constantly have this focus: you are serving for the public good and you are using someone else’s money to do this. I am frugal by nature and I am fully aware that Barre’s tax rate is comparatively high. I will work hard to support fiscal responsibility and respect for taxpayers.

What is your number one priority issue that you believe you can address in the role of city councilor in Barre City?

SH: I will “put my shoulder to the grindstone” to work on the closely related issues of increasing needs for community services, like improvements for aging streets and pedestrian safety, in order to create more walkable and vibrant neighborhoods and downtown. … I will (also) work towards increasing the city’s grand list and decreasing the city’s tax rate. In order to respond to community needs and desires, I will expand the city’s work towards securing federal and local funds and other grant opportunities. My experience in large entrepreneurial organizations that infused a “can do” attitude among workers and volunteers will be very useful in this work.

How do you plan to prepare Barre for recreational marijuana sales?

SH: In considering this potential retail operation in Barre, it’s realistic to assume that there would need to be a voter approved sales tax in place in order to make this an economically attractive option for Barre. While a new retail tax is on the ballot on March 1, I don’t think that our voters will likely approve it right now, when the inflation rate is at an all-time 40-year high and many households are fragile. Saying this, in the future if Barre wants to be involved in recreational marijuana sales, there will need to be careful planning about siting such a business venture; community-wide meetings in order to understand and respond to potential concerns; and a clear understanding about similar operations in the region (pros and cons). This may mean that other similar business ventures nearby could potentially have already saturated the marketplace. I’ve got to admit, I’d love to see a brew pub in Barre first!

Thom Lauzon

Perhaps most widely known as a real estate developer and having served 12 years as the mayor of Barre, Thom Lauzon, a certified public accountant, is running against Higby for the Ward 1 seat on Barre’s city council. 

Why are you running for city council?

TL: I care deeply about my home town and believe my experience will be invaluable to the city over the next two years. In addition to overseeing the expenditure of approximately $2.5 million dollars in ARPA funds, our city will be competing for hundreds of millions of dollars in state housing, infrastructure, and recovery funds. This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. If we’re successful, the results will be transformative. Over the course of my service to the citizens of Barre, I’ve worked with three different administrations to successfully compete for funding that resulted in the completion of a Main Street project that had been stalled for 30 years, economic development programs, housing and flood mitigation projects. If elected, I’ll make it a priority to ensure that Barre receives an equitable share of funding opportunities. 

How will you responsibly contain the budget?

TL: By identifying and prioritizing Barre’s needs and matching expenditures with our ability to pay for them. During my service to Barre, I established a tradition of comparing our tax increase with the increase in Social Security benefits and the rate of inflation. … If our tax increase is greater than these two important benchmarks, we’re asking for a disproportionate share of taxpayers’ income. … As a small business owner and certified public accountant, I understand the necessity of spending responsibly. Lastly, I would ask the council to reestablish the citizens budget committee.

What is your number one priority issue that you believe you can address in the role of city councilor in Barre City?

TL: We shouldn’t have to choose one issue as more important and we mustn’t marginalize others. Having said that, there are times when we must focus on an issue when a crisis or a funding opportunity is presented. With our obvious housing needs and the anticipated funding opportunities, I hope that the city will be focusing on affordable workforce housing over the next two years. But that’s not an excuse to stop talking about and taking action on other issues …. It’s incredibly important that those in a position of leadership have the ability and experience to process information quickly and pivot as conditions dictate. 

How do you plan to prepare Barre for recreational marijuana sales?

TL: This question assumes the voters in Barre City choose to opt in to permit the retail sale of cannabis in the city on March 1. Assuming this occurs, the city council will have approximately six months to … approve any … local rules and ordinances. … This retail industry will be highly regulated by the state of Vermont; those engaged in the retail sale of cannabis will be thoroughly vetted prior to being issued a license. Last month, the Vermont Cannabis Control Board issued a guidance document for municipalities. I would encourage the city council to follow the guidance and consider the establishment of a local cannabis control board (much like our local liquor control board). I would also ask our planning commission to review and make any necessary changes to our local zoning ordinances. In the interest of disclosure, I am currently a member of both the Vermont Liquor and Lottery Board and the Barre City Planning Commission. 

Voting in person is on March 1, Town Meeting Day. According to the Barre City website, “Polls are open at the Barre Civic Center Auditorium from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. for in-person voting, and to drop off absentee ballots. Contact or stop by the clerk’s office in city hall to request an early absentee ballot. The office can be reached at (802) 476-0242 or email to cdawes@barrecity.org.” 

 To see a sample ballot, information about absentee ballots, and more, go to barrecity.org/annual-town-meeting-election.html.