November 1, 2014

Williston lawmakers look forward to a productive session

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By Mal Boright
Correspondent

Williston’s three members of the state Legislature are pleased with their recently announced committee assignments and are ready for what they foresee as a busy session.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, and Representatives Mary Peterson, D-Williston, and Jim McCullough, D-Williston, spoke with the Observer in separate interviews over the weekend.

Lyons , starting her third term, again chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and also serves on the Health and Welfare Committee. She had sought both assignments.

“Energy is a huge issue,” Lyons said, citing energy planning and development of renewable energy sources. Also immediately on the Natural Resources Committee table, she said, are snowmobile issues and funding of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department.

Lyons sees energy planning as very important, even though the state’s energy sources “are not yet in crisis.” But, she pointed out, within the next seven to eight years there will be new negotiations for power with Hydro Quebec, and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will be nearing the end of its predicted lifespan.

She said there could be legislation coming forward on wind turbine power generation.

“A lot of work needs to be done to protect the environment,” Lyons said. “We have six or seven generation sites identified. Now we need to step back and consider how much renewable energy we need.”

Lyons equated development of energy sources with the purchase of financial securities.

“Diversity lessens the risk,” she said, emphasizing the need for “cheaper, less expensive sources” of power.

Lyons said her personal priorities this session include legislation to prohibit smoking in all the state’s restaurants and bars and passage of a mercury management bill to bring Vermont in line with other New England states.

The Health and Welfare Committee, said Lyons, “is working hard on prescription drug importation. My concern is that we don’t throw out our local pharmacists in the process.”

She added that while the committee has not yet finished taking testimony, the numbers of people who would purchase their prescriptions from Canada and elsewhere under the proposed legislation “so far does not seem sufficient to throw the locals out of business.”

McCullough, in his second term in the House, landed a slot on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He served on the Transportation Committee his first term.

“I felt fortunate to get it,” he said of the appointment, adding that it was a “dual first choice” along with the Health and Welfare Committee.

The 150 Vermont House members generally receive appointments to one standing committee, while the 30 senators are named to two committees.

McCullough said the committee priorities are still being set as “we are still feeling our way around.”

“I hope the committee will develop a good energy policy for the future,” noting possible future changes in the purchases of power from Hydro Quebec and the Vermont Yankee situation.

As for other priorities, McCullough said he would like to see a bill providing quality and affordable health care come to a vote.

For at least the first couple of weeks under the golden dome, McCullough has seen “a whole different building than two years ago. I don’t think there has been a line drawn in the sand as in the past.”

Democrats this past election took control of the House and added to their majority in the Senate. House Speaker Gaye Symington (D-Jericho) gave Republicans a couple of committee chairmanships.

“You notice the difference in the hall,” said McCullough of the atmosphere of bipartisanship. “But ask me again a month from now.”

Peterson also got her first choice in committee assignments, a return to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

“I’m a tax wonk,” she said.

She said her priorities on the committee are “a need to step back and see how the tax system is functioning.”

Included would be a look at the structure of tax credits, particularly corporate tax credits. The program has come under fire recently with charges that some business took tax credits while adding few jobs.

Peterson said the committee has work to do on the Act 68 education finance law “which still has some problems.”

Two major issues she sees are with the state’s Medicaid costs where “there are no revenue sources to keep up with the increases in costs,” and the state’s transportation fund, “that is in some trouble, too.”

An overall priority for Peterson is to extend the life of the local option tax, which is set to expire in 2008. Since Williston instituted the tax, municipal property taxes have dropped substantially.

“I want to extend this tax option to all towns indefinitely,” Peterson said, noting that towns now need legislative approval to add local sales and other taxes.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” she predicted, adding that Gov. Jim Douglas and some fellow lawmakers are skeptical about continuing the local sales tax.

[Read more...]

State may offer taxpayers a break

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By Tom Gresham

Observer staff

School officials say the impending hike in the school property tax rate has a number of causes beyond the budget hike.

The current projected budget, which increases spending by 5.9 percent, would produce an estimated 11-cent jump in the school property tax rate, according to School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby. She said a firmer fix on the tax rate was expected at tonight’s 5 p.m. board meeting.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Brian O’Regan said a major factor in the tax rate increase is the town’s common level of appraisal, which the state uses to measure the gap between actual and appraised propery values. The number falls as property values rise, thus increasing the tax rate.

In addition, taxpayers are beginning to pay back bonds on the Champlain Valley Union High School construction project. Finally, school district revenue is down by about $300,000.

O’Regan said the revenue reductions can be traced to less federal grant funding and less tuition from St. George, which is sending a decreasing number of students to Williston schools.

Changes in the state education tax rate, however, could offset much of the pending local tax increase. Gov. Jim Douglas recently announced that the statewide school property tax rate would be reduced by 3 cents. He has since said he will ask legislators for a further reduction in the rate.

[Read more...]

School Board passes 6% budget increase

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The school property tax rate would climb an estimated 10 cents for Williston residents under a plan the School Board approved last Thursday.

The board put its imprimatur on a proposed budget of $13,752,795 for the 2005-06 fiscal year — a boost of 5.97 percent over the current year. The proposed budget features two high-profile items that were considered “maybe’s” — the addition of a full-time enrichment teacher and increased funds to replace old computer equipment.

Accounting for both the local school budget and the Champlain Valley Union High School budget, Williston’s school property tax rate for residential properties would rise from $1.51 to $1.61 under the proposals. The owner of a $200,000 residence would see a $200 addition on his or her tax bill.

For non-residential properties, the school property tax rate would be $1.58 — an increase of 2 cents over a year ago. The non-residential rate is not tied to local school spending.

Both tax rates are contingent on state education funding. A bill being debated in the legislature could reduce the statewide education property tax rate and lower local taxes.

Williston School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby pointed to the decrease in Williston’s common level of appraisal from 98.79 percent to 95.59 percent as a major factor in the tax rate’s rise. In an e-mail, Sundby said about 7 cents of the rate increase was due to the drop in the CLA.

The CLA measures a percentage of the actual fair market value of property, based on property sales, that is reflected in a municipality’s grand list. As the CLA falls, the property tax rate increases to cover the corresponding increases in property values.

Champlain Valley Union High School ’s 11 percent budget increase also played a role in the tax rate hike. Debt service on the high school’s $19 million construction project accounted for a portion of the budget increase.

Williston taxpayers pay a portion of CVUs operating expenses based on the percentage of the town’s students enrolled at the school.

The Williston School Board was able to meet its goal of including the proposed enrichment and computer additions, which were not initially part of the proposed budget, while keeping the budget increase under 6 percent. The board declined to include both items last year for fear of hurting voter support for the budget.

Board members said the $65,000 enrichment addition was particularly important to serve the district’s students.

“It was so clear that if we could do it, we had to do it,” said School Board member Elizabeth Skarie.

Currently, one enrichment teacher serves the district’s approximately 1,215 students. A part-time enrichment teacher position had been removed from the payroll two years ago when voters rejected two proposed budgets.

Amy Cole, the interim principal for the Williston School District, said the board’s decision to fund the enrichment position was being enthusiastically received by the district’s teachers.

“The staff is just elated about it,” Cole said.

In order to clear room for the enrichment and technology items, the board approved multiple cuts to the budget, including $12,000 in supplies. The cut will reduce spending for supplies from $90 per student to $80 per student.

Cole and Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said each had polled various teachers on the supply cuts and found the teachers approved of the cuts in return for the inclusion of the enrichment teacher.

The board also approved the reduction of $29,000 in operating costs from the budget — $14,000 for new carpeting and $15,000 for a storage facility. The latter will be funded with capital reserves.

In addition, the school district cut $25,000 from a food services budget line item that had been substantially increased over the current year. Cole said school district administrators found the increase to be unnecessary and adjusted accordingly.

“This does not mean a decrease in service or an increase in lunch fees,” Cole said.

Voters will decide whether to approve the Williston school budget and the CVU school budget on separate March 1 ballot items.

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Proposed spending could produce 11-cent tax hike

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Williston School Board will decide tonight whether it can afford to add new enrichment and technology costs to the school budget without causing an unpalatable tax hike.

School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby said Monday that the board appears united in its belief that the enrichment and technology additions are needed, but board members are uncertain about whether there is room to fit them into the proposed budget.

In its present form, the proposed school budget for the 2005-06 school year represents a 5.9 percent increase over the current year’s spending. The budget so far does not include the proposed additions in enrichment and technology. Sundby said early projections on the budget indicate an accompanying increase in Williston’s school property tax rate of approximately 11 cents.

Last year’s school property tax rate was $1.51 for residential properties and $1.56 for non-residential properties. An 11-cent increase in the tax rate would mean an increase of $220 on the tax bill of the owner of a $200,000 residence.

Williston voters will consider whether to approve the school budget on March 1. Sundby said the board must finalize its proposed budget at tonight’s meeting.

The enrichment proposal, which consists of the addition of a full-time teacher, would cost approximately $66,000. The technology addition, which largely would fund the purchase of new computer equipment, would cost approximately $23,000.

Last winter, the School Board considered adding both items to the budget. However, the board rejected both amid concerns that more spending would endanger the budget’s chances of passing muster with voters.

Neither item was included in the budget proposed to the School Board by school district administrators and staff from the Chittenden South Supervisory Union in December because they represented significant additions. Instead, they were included as possible additions for the board to consider.

Sundby said the board hopes to keep any proposed budget increase below 6 percent. (The current budget reflected a 7.5 percent increase over the budget in 2003-04.) Therefore, she said the board asked CSSU staff to look for further cuts in the budget to offset the additions of the increased enrichment and technology funding.

“I think the board feels we should add these (enrichment and technology) items,” Sundby said. “But we feel like we need to find some things to cut to reduce the financial impact of them. Our direction to staff was ‘Let’s see where we can pare something back.’ We’d prefer not to just add these things.”

Brian O’Regan, the CSSU superintendent, said the board has already shown a willingness to eliminate two items from the budget totaling $29,000 in order to clear space for the enrichment and technology additions.

One item is $14,000 for new carpet at Williston Central School. O’Regan said the board elected to wait until a facilities committee that is studying the possible expansion and renovation of Williston’s schools has moved further along. O’Regan said the carpeted area could be affected by possible future renovations.

Also, the board committed to remove $15,000 from the budget to pay for a new storage building. Instead, the building will be funded with a withdrawal from the district’s capital budget reserves.

The district currently stores some items for free in a facility on the Mahan Farm property. However, the facility will be removed as part of the construction of a new fire station, prompting the need for more storage space for the school district.

The School Board heard a report from an enrichment task force last week on the current state of the district’s enrichment program. The group recommended adding a full-time enrichment teacher at Allen Brook School.

Currently, the district only has one enrichment teacher — Richard Allen — who shuttles between Williston Central and Allen Brook. Two years ago, in the face of voter rejections of two budget proposals, the School Board eliminated a part-time enrichment teacher.

Sundby said the School Board probably would have increased the part-time teacher’s hours to full-time two years ago in a different financial climate. She said that’s why she wants to add a full-time enrichment teacher instead of a part-timer.

“I’m very comfortable with two full-time people for two buildings,” Sundby said. “That’s what the need is.”

O’Regan said the proposed technology addition would fund an increased investment in new computer hardware. Sundby said the School Board had put off the funding long enough.

“We’ve got equipment in some cases that is 10 to 12 years old,” Sundby said. “They really don’t have any life anymore. There are parts not working and they’re just not functional. We’ve basically squeezed the technology budget the last three years it’s come forward.”

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Proposed ambulance service stalled for now but not scrapped

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Although the Selectboard decided last week to shelve funding for a new municipal ambulance service, the proposal figures to receive keen attention from the board in the coming months.

Fire Chief Ken Morton, who heads both the fire and rescue departments, said he had hoped the Selectboard would push to institute the proposal this year, but understood the desire to take more time to study the plan. Morton said he was pleased the plan was simply on the table and would be considered for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

The ambulance proposal, which was devised by Morton and others in the fire and rescue departments, aims to significantly reduce fire and rescue response times in Williston through the addition of two ambulances and nine full-time fire and rescue employees. The fire and rescue workers would respond to both fire and rescue calls with support, depending on the circumstances, from on-call personnel.

Part of the funding for the service would come from charging patients transported in the ambulances.

Peter Soons, chief of St. Michael’s Rescue, which currently provides the bulk of Williston’s ambulance service, said the proposal has merit, and he knows the town will eventually have to start its own ambulance service to accommodate its continuing growth. However, Soons argues Williston should consider maintaining its ties with St. Michael’s Rescue for the time being.

“We still provide a good service at a good cost,” Soons said.

Soons said the proposal to purchase ambulances and hire full-time emergency personnel in Williston will not significantly improve rescue services. He said the ambulance proposal appears to be geared toward funding the Williston Fire Department’s move to full-time firefighters.

Morton denied the claim, saying the ability to deliver an ambulance to the scene of an emergency significantly faster will provide big benefits.

“This is not an attack on St. Michael’s Rescue,” Morton said. “We just think we can enhance our service and do a better job with rescue calls. We can better our response times and handle our patients more efficiently.”

Soons said a misperception of St. Michael’s Rescue is that it is based a long distance from Williston because it is in Colchester.

“We are right on the South Burlington line,” Soons said.

Soons said that the response times from St. Michael’s Rescue vary depending on the location of the emergency, but the department does not record its response times to Williston. Morton said he tracked response times for the ambulance study by writing them down from time to time, compiling informed estimates.

Under the current service, a Williston first-response unit arrives at an emergency in a little more than four minutes, according to the ambulance study. A transporting St. Michael’s Rescue ambulance arrives in about 12 minutes, the study says.

The new proposal would bring an ambulance to the scene around the same time the first-response crew arrives.

In addition, fire responses would drop from more than 12 minutes to less than five minutes in the overnight hours when there currently are no personnel on duty at the fire station.

Soons said the critical factor in emergency medical events is the response time for first responders, not necessarily that of the ambulance. He said first responder personnel can open an obstructed airway, administer CPR or apply a defibrillator. Therefore, he said, the response times for St. Michael’s Rescue ambulances are more than adequate in tandem with Williston’s first-response service.

However, Jim Hendry, Williston’s full-time firefighter and emergency medical technician, said there are numerous ways a faster response time from the ambulance is important.

Hendry said when the ambulance and first-response units arrive close to each other and originate from the same department, it allows for much smoother treatment of the patient. The ambulance staff and first-response personnel are familiar with each other and operate under the same guidelines.

There also does not need to be a formal transfer of care. In fact, the first-responder can ride in the ambulance, continuing to administer treatment, and then relay pertinent information to staff at the hospital.

Hendry said there are also instances when treatment might be delayed because of the wait for an ambulance. For instance, he said a first-responder would not start an IV in the field if the temperature were frigid, but would wait until the patient was in a warm ambulance.

“Any time you have a delay in transport, you have a delay in getting a patient to the hospital to get definitive medical care,” Hendry said. “That’s important.”

[Read more...]

Nonprofit gives cars a new lease on life

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By Roger L. Noyes
Correspondent

Mechanic Jerry Blow knows that cars, like people, deserve another chance.

Patches of flaking paint, a worn-out clutch, broken door hinges — to Blow, defects like these are not enough to signal the end of the road, but a new beginning.

That’s why he and two of his customers recently joined forces to start a not-for-profit that rehabs donated cars and sells them at cost to Vermonters in financial need.

Called New Beginnings Garage, the Williston-based organization began operations in late November. It is modeled after a similar outfit in Burlington, known as Good News Garage.

For the cost of parts and labor at a rate of $40 per hour, Vermonters within 200 percent of the federal poverty line who do not own a vehicle may be eligible to buy one of the reduced-price autos fixed up by New Beginnings.

“People need this in Vermont. You are going to find people that are working poor who might not have credit to buy a car, but don’t qualify for help through state agencies,” said Blow. “This is for people that are kind of in limbo.”

Car prices are based on income. And so, if repair costs to a vehicle are minimal — say $100 — then the overall price might be marked up, commensurate with the buyer’s income, based on a sliding scale. If repairs are too costly, then the car will be auctioned off and the proceeds return to New Beginnings’ coffers.

Blow said he began tinkering with the idea of starting the not-for-profit about five years ago when he opened his current shop, B&M Sales and Service, on Dorset Lane in Williston.

Eventually, he mentioned the idea to two of his customers, Rich Potvin and Sondra Cohoon, who both said they wanted to get involved.

“Just in talking about it, they jumped right on it,” said Blow.

Cohoon first met Blow almost 10 years ago when her Ford Taurus broke down. Back then, she had asked to borrow Blow’s tools to fix the car because she didn’t have enough money at the time to pay someone else for repairs.

Though Cohoon has some car repair training — she took an auto mechanics class at her Texas high school about 20 years ago — her main role in New Beginnings is handling the organizational side of business. Cohoon’s official title is director of financial affairs.

“The upgrading of cars over the years has outstripped my knowledge of how to fix them,” she said. “I mainly work with the organization of (New Beginnings), trying to keep it in line before it gets out of line.”

Potvin got involved in New Beginnings in much the same way that Cohoon did.

“We were sitting here after I picked up my vehicle one day. Jerry had told me it wasn’t worth fixing any more,” said Potvin. “Then he started talking to me about doing a nonprofit.”

A native Vermonter, Potvin is currently pursuing a degree in business management at Johnson State College and said he has an interest in the field of not-for-profit administration.

As of late last month, New Beginnings had not yet sold any cars, but Blow anticipated that average sale prices would range from $600 to $800. He said he based those figures on the average sale price of an automobile at Good News Garage, which uses a similar pricing model.

“Some cars might cost a couple hundred dollars to fix,” he said. “Some we might get that don’t take much work and we can get it right out the door.”

Any revenue earned from the sale of vehicles would circulate back into the business for operating expenses. None of the three business partners is being paid for the work they do.

The three have even spent a little of their own money — over $1,000 — just to get the business started. Expenses have included not-for-profit filing fees, office equipment and rent for the garage. Under the terms of their license, the New Beginnings facility must be kept separate from Jerry’s regular business, B&M Sales and Service.

“We all collectively put up the money to start paying the bills,” said Blow.

New Beginnings is located in garage space connected to B&M, which makes it easy for Blow to use his own tools for the volunteer work.

So far they’ve gotten about a dozen calls from people interested in buying cars. Before making any sales, however, Blow said he and his associates must meet with officials from Reach Up, a state program under the Vermont Agency of Human Services that he expects will play a role in clearing prospective buyers for eligibility. A meeting had been scheduled for earlier this week.

“Most of the people who have called, you tell them they have to go through a program,” he said. “I’ve just been taking down their information.”

Blow added that customers who receive cars from New Beginnings are also eligible for discounted repairs from B&M.

New Beginnings already received a couple donations before Christmas. The lane behind Blow’s shop was already lined with contributions, including a 1992 Honda Accord and a 1991 Jeep Cherokee.

Inside, the week before Christmas, Blow was working on a gray 1989 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

“They all need work,” he said of the donations. “It’s mainly cosmetics.”

When asked what kind of car New Beginnings is looking for, Blow said: “The main thing is we want people to donate something that is still serviceable.”

For information on New Beginnings, call 879-7400.

[Read more...]

Municipal budget rises 15.5%

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard approved a municipal budget on Monday that doubles last year’s spending hike.

Driven by debt repayments and a new commitment to public transportation, the combined operating and capital budget represents a 15.5 percent increase over current spending. Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved a 7.3 percent increase in the municipal budget.

The Selectboard’s proposal carries an estimated municipal property tax rate of 12 cents — 4 cents higher than the current year’s rate. The owner of a $200,000 residence would pay $80 more in municipal taxes under the proposal, though Town Manager Rick McGuire noted the property tax rate was an estimate and will likely change before it is finalized in late June.

Voters will decided whether to approve the municipal budget, which totals $5,791,750, on March 1.

The two major reasons for the sharp spike in spending were payments on the $6.3 million public safety facilities bond voters passed in November and the Selectboard’s decision to contribute $147,300 to help continue bus service in Williston.

The board had reached tentative agreement on a budget at its Jan. 10 meeting, and the proposal it passed Monday was nearly identical. However, the Selectboard did delete $27,000 from the budget for the demolition of the Workers in Wood building in the village and included $6,000 in rent revenues for the building.

The board decided by a vote of 4-1 to postpone the proposed demolition of the building until the 2006-07 fiscal year, allowing residents to propose uses for the building. Andy Mikell was the lone board member to vote for keeping the demolition funding in the budget.

McGuire said he had already moved toward renting the building for the upcoming year based on the board’s discussion of the issue earlier this month. He also noted there were groups beginning to formulate long-term plans for the building. One proposal, he said, was to transform it into a teen center.

Mikell said he believed town residents had previously decided to demolish the building and to expand the town green. Mikell, a former Williston School Board member, said he believed the School Board had signed off on the expansion of the municipal library with the idea that the Workers in Wood building would eventually be cleared away to regain space on the town green.

Mikell also said the money should be kept in the budget rather than removed to “artificially” lower the property tax rate to about 12 cents and produce a spending plan more pleasing to voters. He noted the budget increase could be larger next year and the funds for demolition would still need to be raised.

Selectboard member Mary Peterson argued that removing the demolition funds was not an artificial lowering of the tax rate but a judicious one. Peterson said the budget should be looked at on a year-to-year basis and noted the proposed budget was uncomfortably high for her. She said she also did not see a need to rush the demolition.

“It wouldn’t be prudent to take it down without giving time for people to have further input,” said Peterson, who asserted she had no opinion on whether the building should be razed or not.

When the board reached its tentative agreement on the budget on Jan. 10, town staff had projected a tax rate of 12.5 cents. However, the removal of the Workers in Wood item lowered the rate, as did the discovery that the estimated grand list — the total value of all property in town — had increased.

McGuire said the grand list change means each penny on the tax rate will generate more money than previously believed, allowing for a smaller property tax rate.

[Read more...]

Local election will feature contested races and new faces

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A mix of first-time candidates and political veterans will seek elected offices in Williston this March.

Three open Selectboard seats drew four candidates by Monday’s filing deadline. Two openings on the Williston School Board attracted three hopefuls.

In all, 20 elected positions are on the ballot in Williston. All of the lower-profile positions such as lister, library trustee and town grand juror are either uncontested or have no declared candidates.

Nor did a challenger emerge for the town clerk position. Deb Beckett is seeking re-election to a three-year term despite the fact that she has been deployed to the Middle East along with hundreds of other Vermont National Guard members. Beckett’s deployment is scheduled to last through the end of the year, so assistant town clerks Kathy Boyden and Kathy Smardon would fill in, as they have been doing since Beckett left town in November.

Still, voters will have more choices than in the 2004 municipal election, which had no contested races, and in 2003, which had only one contest.

Openings on the Williston Selectboard and the Williston School Board drew a handful of candidates. One seat on each board will be contested.

Andy Mikell will run against Kermit LaClair for a three-year seat on the Selectboard. Mikell was appointed to the board last year after Mike Kanfer abruptly stepped down.

LaClair has for years been the Williston town constable. He supervises building and grounds maintenance for the Williston School District.

“I think the board has done a good job,” LaClair said. “There’s been lots of pressure on them. But it’s time for some new members.”

The other contest involves two political newcomers vying for a Williston School Board seat. Christopher Geffken is running against Andy Bishop for a two-year term.

Geffken, who has four children attending Williston schools, is an engineer at IDX Corp. in South Burlington, according to his wife, Sherri Arnold. Geffken could not be reached for comment.

Andy Bishop is director of technology for a California-based metal manufacturing company. He has two children, ages 6 and 4.

Bishop said he is satisfied with the overall quality of Williston schools. If elected, he hopes to “continue with the good work the board has done in the past.”

Unless there is a write-in campaign, the other two Selectboard openings will be uncontested, as will be the second School Board seat.

Ginny Lyons, who has served on the Selectboard since the early 1990s, will seek a one-year term.

Lyons, also a state senator representing Chittenden County, said she felt compelled to run because she didn’t want the board to lose continuity amid the turnover of seats. She hinted that the term might be her last.

Ted Kenney, who is finishing a term on the Williston School Board, is running uncontested for a two-year Selectboard seat.

“I feel like I can probably contribute more on the Selectboard than the School Board,” said Kenney, an attorney with a Burlington law firm. “The town is facing a lot of issues. I just think with my background it’s a better fit.”

Darlene Worth is running uncontested for a three-year term on the Williston School Board.

Worth recently retired after 33 years with the South Burlington School District, where she was curriculum director. She is now program coordinator with the Champlain Valley Educator Development Center.

Worth said she is looking forward to contributing to the community after living in Williston for 12 years.

“It’s now time to give back a little,” she said. “It’s been a busy 33 years, and I didn’t have a lot of time to volunteer with the community.”

Perhaps as notable as the new candidates are the incumbents who will not seek re-election.

Mary Peterson, who has served on the Selectboard since 1998 and also represents Williston in the Vermont House, is stepping down.

“It’s time,” she said. “I want to concentrate on what I’m doing in Montpelier. Heaven knows there’s a lot going on down there.”

On the School Board, Kenney created an opening with his decision to switch to the Selectboard. And Elizabeth Skarie, who is finishing a three-year term, will not seek re-election. She could not be reached for comment.

Candidates had until Monday at 5 p.m. to file a petition signed by 30 registered Williston voters.

The election will be held March 1. Early voting ballots are available starting Feb. 9 at Williston Town Hall.

 

Candidate roll call


Here are the candidates running for municipal and school offices on the March 1 ballot:

Town clerk, three-year term

Deb Beckett (I)

Town treasurer, three-year term

Deb Beckett (I)

Champlain Water District, three-year term

Donald E. Phillips (I)

Selectboard, three-year term

Andy Mikell

Kermit LaClair

Selectboard, two-year term

Ted Kenney

Selectboard, one-year term

Ginny Lyons (I)

Williston School Board, three-year term

Darlene Worth

Williston School Board, two-year term

Andy Bishop

Christopher Geffken

CVU School Board, three-year term

Sarita Austin (I)

Lister, three-year term

Linda Ladd (I)

Cemetery Commission, five-year term

Larry Keefe

Cemetery Commission, three-year term

David Isham

Constable, one-year term

Kermit LaClair (I)

Trustee of public funds, three-year term

No candidate

Trustee of public funds, two-year term

No candidate

Trustee of public funds, one-year term

No candidate

Old Brick Church trustee, five-year term

Jack Price (I)

Library trustee, five-year term

Ann Hazelrigg (I)

Town agent, one-year term

No candidate

Town grand juror, one-year term

No candidate

 (I) – donates incumbent

[Read more...]

Lawmakers give preliminary approval to property tax cuts

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By Ross Sneyd
The Associated Press

MONTPELIER — Statewide property tax rates and the accompanying education income tax rate would decline next year under a bill that won preliminary approval in the House last week.

The House voted unanimously by voice vote to advance the bill to final consideration.

The bill calls for the base residential property tax rate for education to fall by 8 cents to $1.02 per $100 of property valuation. Few property owners actually pay that rate because it is adjusted upward for towns that spend more than the basic block grant on their schools.

The nonresidential rate, which applies to businesses and second homeowners, would go down 8 cents, also, and would be $1.51.

The base education income tax rate, which is how people earning less than $88,000 pay for schools, would decline from 2 percent to 1.85 percent. Like the residential property tax, the income tax rate also is adjusted based on local education spending.

Rep. Richard Hube, R-Londonderry, urged the Legislature to do more to ease property tax burdens further. “Unfortunately, though we are voting here to reduce rates, many Vermonters' tax rates will increase even if education budgets are level-funded,” he said.

That's because of the soaring property values across the state, which drive up tax collections. “This makes year-to-year financial planning extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many homeowners and businesses,” Hube said.

There are a number of discussions already going on in the Statehouse about how to deal with that phenomenon, known as the common level of appraisal.

It has become a problem because the state attempts to even out its distribution of education aid by applying a formula intended to tax properties at their current fair market value. Because values are rising so rapidly, that has had the effect of driving up taxes, in some cases dramatically.

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Lake Iroquois playground to be revamped with updated equipment

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A new playground set should be installed at Lake Iroquois in time for the opening of the beach next year.

The playground will be suitable for children ages 2 to 12. The previous equipment was restricted to kids ages 6 and older.

Neil Boyden, Williston’s Public Works Director and Richmond’s representative on the Lake Iroquois Beach Committee, said the equipment change was simply meant to include more children.

“We’re getting a lot younger clientele there than 6 years old and we decided we needed to get the equipment to serve them,” Boyden said.

The new equipment will cost approximately $6,200 and be funded through a grant from the Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation Department, according to Boyden. The project is expected to go out to design bid this month. The new structure will only take a day or two to install, Boyden said.

The Williston Public Works Department attempted to sell the old playground, which was installed in 1991, but advertisements in the Observer seeking a “best offer” did not produce a buyer. Boyden said the size of the playground might have been an issue.

“It’s probably too big for a residence,” Boyden said.

Boyden said the beach association considered dismantling the playground and depositing it in a landfill, but “we thought it would be too bad to waste it.”

Instead, the playground equipment will be donated to Recycle North in Burlington. Boyden believes the organization will be able to find someone interested in the set.

“It’s not obsolete or anything,” Boyden said. “There’s no issue with it. It just did not provide the service we really needed to provide there.”

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