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2: Sour economy takes its toll

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Seems like almost everyone was tightening their belts in 2009 as Vermont felt the impact of the national economic slide that many began calling the “Great Recession.”

As 2009 dawned, state lawmakers were scrambling to pare back the current year’s state budget by $47 million to make up for projected shortfalls in tax revenues. This was in addition to the $20 millions already cut from the 2008-2009 spending plan.

The impact was felt almost immediately as transportation officials doled out state highway funds to town in January, but local officials found the checks were 15 percent smaller than they had anticipated. In Addison County those involved in law enforcement and social services decried the announced closing of the Middlebury branch of the Probation and Parole office, saying it would result in less supervision of lawbreakers.

The Middlebury office of the state department of health was also slated for closing.

In mid-January Middlebury College announced that it had instituted a hiring freeze and would reduce its workforce — through attrition — by 100 jobs. College officials said the recession had taken a 19 percent bite out of its endowment, which finances 25 percent of the institution’s annual spending. In May, college officials announced further belt-tightening, saying it would consolidate departments, offices and functions to reduce its employee count.

As more than 500 Middlebury College students collected their diplomas in late May they were reading reports that said 22 percent of employers were planning to hire fewer new grads than last year.

In late April, Middlebury manufacturer Monahan Filaments announced it was going to lay off 54 employees by June — more than half of its local work force. Officials blamed the sluggish economy and falling orders for the slump that would leave 40 or more workers at its Case Street plant — 100 fewer than only a year before. Five months later, seeing no rebound in orders, Monahan pulled the plug on the plant, saying it would close in November, leaving the final 69 full-time employees without jobs.

Late in February, National Bank of Middlebury President Ken Perine said that Vermont banks appear to be weathering the national economic storm well, but that the economy in the Green Mountain State will take a while to turn around.

In Vergennes, Goodrich laid off 11 non-technical workers in May, but company officials said overall the outlook at their facility was good and that its employee-count remained at 800, which was 100 more than it had been a few years earlier.

By October, Middlebury College officials offered a very slight glimmer of hope as they said the 15.9 percent hit the endowment had taken in the year that ended July 1 was not as bad as expected.

One result of the declining economy is that the volume of trash taken to the Addison County Solid Waste District transfer station fell. Officials said that in 2008 and 2009 construction and demolition debris coming to the transfer station had declined by 30 percent. While that may be good news for some, it meant that the district had to lay off two workers, and as it prepared its 2010 budget it instituted an increase in tipping fees.

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