July 20, 2019

Woman injured in two-car traffic accident

An accident Monday morning on Vermont Route 2A sent a woman to the hospital with undisclosed injuries.

Police said Doris Farnsworth, 81, of Essex was making a left turn at the intersection of Route 2A and Marshall Avenue at 10:49 a.m. when her vehicle was struck by a northbound vehicle operated by Melissa Jenkins, 38, of Waterbury.

Neither operator sustained injuries, but a female passenger in Farnsworth’s vehicle was extricated and transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care, according police. The female was not wearing a seatbelt. The nature of her injuries was not known.

The accident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to the contact the Williston Police Department at 878-6611.

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Waste district plans landfill in Williston

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Chittenden Solid Waste District's plan to build a regional landfill in Williston has moved from a vague idea to a project in motion.

CSWD released a tentative timeline last month that targets a July 2008 opening date for the landfill, which has been on the organization’s radar for several years. At its Jan. 26 meeting, the CSWD board of commissioners reviewed two feasibility studies that private consultants completed on the landfill proposal, according to Tom Moreau, general manager for CSWD.

Both studies, he said, suggested a landfill was a viable addition that would save millions of dollars in costs currently associated with moving waste through the county’s two transfer stations, both of which are located in Williston, to private landfills. The new landfill in Williston would need to meet the solid waste disposable requirements of the 18 municipalities that are members of CSWD.

“The feasibility studies basically showed that the landfill was economically feasible,” Moreau said. “We’re just now starting the more formal process of planning it.”

Previously, the landfill had existed only as an abstract concept planned for the unspecified distant future. However, the release of the timeline and feasibility studies indicates a shift toward making the landfill a priority for CSWD.

Moreau said the waste district would formulate its requirements for the landfill in the coming months and then hire a design engineer for the project. He said CSWD aims to start the design process in April.

CSWD is seeking public comment on the landfill proposal, Moreau said. The waste district’s Web site, www.cswd.net, includes links to the timeline, the two feasibility studies and a place for the public to post comments.

Moreau said all plans for the project are in a preliminary stage. He said CSWD must consider a variety of possible models for the landfill, and there are numerous obstacles the project will encounter between now and the start of construction. The project will need to receive state and local permits.

“That timeline is very tentative,” Moreau said. “Do I expect it could get done any faster? Probably not. Could it go slower? Certainly.”

One critical aspect of the plan that has not been settled yet is the property where the landfill would be located. CSWD’s plan is to develop most of the landfill on a 76-acre parcel off Redmond Road near CSWD’s Williston transfer station. However, Hinesburg Sand and Gravel owns the land and currently operates a sand pit there.

After Hinesburg Sand and Gravel declined to sell the property to CSWD, the state had the land condemned for the landfill project. A December 2003 jury trial set the price CSWD would be required to pay for the property at $8.8 million.

“We’re not satisfied with that figure,” Moreau said. “From our perspective, it is too high.”

CSWD asked Judge Matthew Katz, the presiding Vermont Supreme Court judge, to reconsider his motions pertaining to the case in March 2004. CSWD and Hinesburg Sand and Gravel still await a judgment from Katz.

Ultimately, the court’s ruling could prompt appeals from either side, delaying acquisition of the land and moving back the timeline for the landfill.

A message left at Hinesburg Sand and Gravel seeking comment Tuesday was not immediately returned.

However, even with the $8.8 million price tag, Moreau said the feasibility studies suggest the landfill is worth pursuing. In addition to the land purchase, Moreau said, the construction of the landfill would cost somewhere between $20 million and $30 million. CSWD plans to seek approval from voters for a bond to fund the construction in either March or November 2006, according to Moreau.

Moreau said the landfill’s footprint would cover 55 acres — most of it on the Hinesburg Sand and Gravel land, but some on adjacent lands CSWD has already purchased. He said the project would require ancillary buildings and other considerations like roads, buffers and stormwater ponds.

Moreau said the landfill would not be built all at once, but in phases that span years. As one section fills up with waste, it would be closed and a new section would be built.

“It’s a controlled way of doing this,” Moreau said.

Under the landfill scenario, Williston would continue to benefit financially from the activity in town, Moreau said. He said the town currently receives $1.75 per ton of waste that runs through the transfer station. If the landfill were built, the town would receive $3.50 per ton that is deposited there, Moreau said.

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Voters facing tax hike

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Town voters will decide next week whether to approve municipal and school budgets that would raise the combined residential property tax rate by 14 cents in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

Williston residential property owners would pay an estimated property tax rate of $1.73 if each budget were passed. The tax rate increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $280.

The tax rate is an estimate and often shifts a few cents between Town Meeting Day and July, when the Selectboard officially sets the rate.

The sharp rate increase comes a year after Act 68, a new education funding law that replaced the controversial Act 60, helped slash the residential property tax rate in Williston by 26 cents. At the time, local officials said the decrease would be a one-time event and warned that the tax rate would begin to climb again this year, though hopefully at a slower pace than it did under Act 60.

The projected tax rate is still 12 cents below Williston’s tax rate during the final year of Act 60. The proposed increase amounts to an 8.1 percent hike in the tax rate over last year. By comparison, the rate increase between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 fiscal years, when Act 60 still reigned, was 10.3 percent.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden County, and Rep. Mary Peterson, D–Williston, each said this week that various ideas to alter Act 68 and further reduce the reliance on the property tax continue to float around the state Legislature. However, Lyons said, there is an inclination to see how Act 68 works for a few years before making any more major changes.

The increases in the respective operating budgets for Champlain Valley Union High School, the Williston School District and the town of Williston ranged from modest to above average, but the costs of the bonds for two large construction projects fattened the capital budgets.

In particular, Williston’s share of the $19 million renovation project at CVU contributed about 3 cents to the increase in the tax rate, and debt service on Williston’s $6.3 million public safety facilities bond, which was approved by voters in November, added about another 2 cents.

Overall, the education property tax rate increased 10 cents from 2004-05 to $1.61. According to the Williston School District, 5 cents of the education rate increase can be directly attributed to a 3 percent decrease in the town’s common level of appraisal.

The CLA measures the percentage of the actual fair market value of property, based on sales, that is reflected in a municipality’s grand list. As the CLA falls, the state factors that into its funding formula. The end result is a property tax rate increase that corresponds to the rise in property values.

Driven by the construction project, CVU’s proposed budget represents an 11 percent increase over a year ago, while the proposed Williston School District budget marks a 6 percent increase.

The major addition to the local school district’s budget is $65,000 for the hiring of a full-time enrichment teacher at Allen Brook School. A part-time enrichment teacher was removed from the staff at Allen Brook two years ago as part of cuts after voters rejected two proposed budgets.

On the municipal side, the proposed budget marks a 15.5 percent increase over the current budget — more than double the increase in the budget a year ago.

Town Manager Rick McGuire pointed out the municipal tax rate of 12 cents remains one of the lowest in the state, largely because of revenue from the town’s local sales and rooms and meals taxes. Without that revenue — roughly $2.7 million annually — the estimated municipal tax rate would be 39 cents, McGuire said.

In addition to the debt costs of the public safety facility construction, the Selectboard voted to contribute $147,300 to help continue bus service in Williston, adding more than a penny to the tax rate.

Williston’s non-residential property tax rate would be $1.70 under the proposed budgets, meaning, unlike last year, residential property owners would pay a higher tax rate than non-residential owners during the upcoming fiscal year. Last year’s non-residential property tax rate in Williston was $1.64.

The non-residential tax is not tied to local school spending, though it is tied to the CLA. Residential and non-residential properties share the same municipal rate.

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Town meeting plagued by low turnout, fading interest

Some claim that Australian ballot dealt death blow

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Mike Coates summed up the feelings of tradition-loving Vermonters as Williston debated the fate of its town meeting in 2000.

The town was considering moving voting on the municipal budget from town meeting to an Australian ballot. Opponents predicted it would sound the death knell for town meeting, a 200-plus-year tradition. Supporters said it would improve the democratic process by allowing more people to vote.

Coates said he had walked up to the statue of Thomas Chittenden, Williston’s founder and the state’s first governor, at the Statehouse in Montpelier the previous week and asked Chittenden how he felt about the proposed switch.

“I swear I saw a tear in his eye,” Coates said.

The remark drew laughs and was reported by media outlets as a defining comment in a year other towns were considering a switch to Australian ballot.

Still, by a 233-150 margin, Williston voters opted to vote on the municipal budget with Australian balloting. Later that month, by a similar margin, voters also moved the school budget off the town meeting agenda.

Five years later, town meetings in Williston continue to muddle along with often-tiny turnouts. This year’s agenda, like those the past two years, will include mainly informational items and likely draw only a couple hundred Williston voters.

Even two Selectboard members have opted not to attend this time. It seems those who predicted that Australian balloting would hurt the tradition were right.

Last year, for example, only 195 of the town’s 6,072 registered voters showed up, a 3 percent turnout. Meanwhile, 34 percent of registered voters cast Australian ballots.

“That’s the result of it,” Coates said Monday. “Pretty soon, town meeting as we know it is not going to be worth going to.”

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs also has regrets.

“We really lost something when somebody could no longer stand up in town meeting and ask, ‘Why do we need to spend X amount of money on this?’ and then the budget could be changed,” said Fehrs, who along with Ginny Lyons, the board’s chairwoman, don’t plan on attending this year’s town meeting. Both have family obligations.

Not everyone misses the old-fashioned town meeting. Fred Nye, who made the motion to approve Australian balloting in 2000, said the current system is a better gauge of voter sentiment.

Nye said raising your hand to vote against a popular item during a public meeting was intimidating.

For example, Nye said someone voting against the school budget would have to worry about being accused of not caring about children. That problem is solved with Australian ballots.

“You get a truer picture of how people really feel,” Nye said. “I would be uncomfortable standing up and saying I’m against the school budget.”

He also noted that because more people vote by Australian ballot then ever attended town meeting, the result is more democratic.

“The issue was that 200 or 300 people were deciding things for 5,000 to 6,000 people,” Nye said. “Does that sound fair?”

George Gerecke, who supported the switch to Australian balloting, noted a logistical concern: The town had simply run out of room to put everyone during town meeting. Williston Central School, the venue in recent years, only seats a few hundred people.

“Once we got up to (a population of) 6,000 or 7,000 people, we didn’t have a big enough place,” Gerecke said. “People were being disenfranchised.”

Pure democracy in action

A new book, “All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community” by University of Vermont professor Frank Bryan and Woodbury College faculty member Susan Clark, asserts that Australian balloting dooms town meetings.

“In a way, the Australian ballot is worse than deadly, because is doesn’t kill town meeting quickly,” the authors write. “And the execution is dishonest. We are told that it will save town meeting, while the reality is that it poisons it and lets it die slowly, sparing the executioner the moment of death and the acceptance of responsibility.”

The book is a passionate defense of traditional town meeting as pure democracy. While conceding that more people participate through Australian balloting, the authors argue that town meeting produces a higher-quality democratic process and proves that people can govern themselves without the intervention of politicians.

“What is gloriously unique about New England (and especially Vermont) is that this principle of face-to-face rulemaking for exclusive membership groups (like the church) became face-to-face rulemaking for a civil society — a community bound by geography,” the authors say. “And these laws were made face-to-face, in assemblies of the whole.”

A neighborly tradition

Some longtime residents say they miss the sense of community that the old version of town meeting fostered.

Longtime residents remember when town meetings used to include more socializing. They were a chance to meet neighbors and catch up on local gossip, as well as settle important issues facing the town.

“I enjoyed it back then,” said Arlene Degree, who served as assistant town clerk and town clerk for 37 years before stepping down in 1999. “People were different. You don’t get to know people now as well as you used to. People are too busy.”

Degree remembers when Williston held its town meetings during the day and included a communal meal. Over the years, the meeting was moved to evenings. Then, as the meeting grew longer and longer. school and town meetings were held on different days. Finallly, the town moved to Australian balloting.

Gerecke said he, too, misses the colorful characters and social interaction that went with the old town meetings. “It would be nice to go back, but we can’t,” he said.

Spotty attendance

The number of citizens who attended Williston’s town meetings stayed steady throughout her decades as town clerk, Degree said. But she noted Williston’s population boomed during the period, meaning a smaller and smaller percentage of voters were attending.

Since Williston moved to Australian balloting, attendance has risen and fallen dramatically depending on whether there was a controversial item on the agenda.

In 2001, for example, just 201 residents attended town meeting. But the following year, when the agenda included a vote on the 1 percent local sales tax, more than 1,000 people crammed into the school, forcing town officials to seat people in the gymnasium and set up a closed-circuit television system so they could view the proceedings.

The past two years, with mostly routine items on the agenda, attendance has failed to break 200.

The conventional wisdom is that people are too busy these days to attend an hours-long town meeting. That sentiment bothers Coates.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t buy that,” he said. “I hear people say ‘I can’t get a babysitter.’ That’s bull—-. If you make the effort you can be there. People have put on a uniform and gone to fight for our right to vote.”

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Town employees may start paying health care contributions

Other towns already require premium payments

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard showed signs last month of moving toward making Williston’s municipal employees pay a portion of their health insurance costs, though convincing the local police union to first accept a change may prove challenging.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs raised the issue of health care contributions at the end of the board’s meeting on Jan. 10, prompting a brief but lively debate. Fehrs suggested the board consider having non-union municipal employees — a pool that includes everyone but police officers — pay some percentage of their health insurance premiums in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

Currently, the town covers 100 percent of health insurance premiums for its employees, both union and non-union. Fehrs said making employees contribute to their health care costs would produce significant savings to the town, even if employees were only to pay a small percentage of the premiums.

An Observer survey of comparable Chittenden County municipalities reveals that several other communities already require employees to contribute to their health plans. For instance, Essex, Milton, South Burlington and Colchester each have policies that require munipal employees to pay a portion — albeit typically a small share — of their health insurance costs. Shelburne employees will begin making health insurance contributions on July 1.

Other board members and Town Manager Rick McGuire argued vigorously against including a new health insurance package in the proposed 2005-06 budget, which was finalized Monday night. They said it would be a rash decision and unfairly abrupt for municipal employees.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons said the change required more study and debate than time allowed before the budget was presented to voters. She said employees should be aware of the research and should be kept informed throughout the process.

“There needs to be some serious analysis done on this first,” Lyons said.

Selectboard member Terry Macaig suggested that having non-union municipal employees pay a portion of their health insurance while union employees did not pay anything would be unfair and would essentially encourage the non-union employees to unionize and bargain collectively.

The town currently has a three-year contract with the Williston Police Officers Association, a chapter of the Teamsters Local 597, that does not require officers to pay premiums for their health insurance.

Fehrs said Williston should have already moved to amend the employees’ health contributions policy, noting the rising cost of health care has led to increased costs for employees in the private sector.

“In my opinion, the time has come and gone to address this,” Fehrs said. Replied McGuire: “I would say the time is almost here.”

McGuire appeared to be referring to the upcoming police union contract negotiations, which will begin in March. The Selectboard seemed to support the strategy of attempting to develop a contribution plan first with the police union and then with the non-union employees.

However, McGuire said last week that the Jan. 10 discussion was just an exchange of views and the board did not adopt a plan on how to proceed with the matter of employee health contributions.

“The board hasn’t made that decision yet and, if they do, it won’t be made publicly,” McGuire said, noting the board discusses collective bargaining strategies in executive session.

McGuire said the board would likely form its strategy for the police contract negotiations in March after board elections have been held. The elections will produce at least one new board representative and possibly two.


A hard bargain

Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, a member of the Williston police union, said the union expects health insurance contributions to be a central aspect of contract negotiations, as they have been in previous talks.

“The police union has realized for years that we’re not just negotiating for ourselves, but, on matters of retirement and insurance, we are negotiating on behalf of the other town employees,” Chamberlain said. “The town has made it very apparent that it does not want other departments to unionize. And it would not want non-union members to contribute to health care if union members didn’t first.”

Chamberlain said the police union would not rule out contributions to health insurance premiums, but would likely take a fairly rigid stance in the talks.

“We have to maintain an open mind,” Chamberlain said. “We can’t approach any negotiation in the state of mind that we’re going to rule anything out. However, there would have to be a substantial incentive for us to change that, like an increase in pay.”

In fact, Chamberlain said, the union plans to seek a new health benefit in its next contract. He said the union hopes to secure a plan that would allow officers who retire in Williston to retain their health insurance with the town until their federal benefits kick in.

Chamberlain said the item would be rarely used because of the town’s high turnover rate for officers.

The municipalities that already require employees to contribute to health care have found varying ways of approaching the issue. Some have employees pay a percentage of the health insurance premium, while others require employees to contribute a percentage of their base salary.

In South Burlington, employees covered under the family plan contribute 2.5 percent of their salary, an employee under the two-person plan contributes 2 percent of salary and an employee covered under the single-person plan contributes 1 percent of salary. South Burlington City Manager Charles Hafter said the contributions amount to approximately 10 percent of premiums.

In Milton, non-union management and union public works and administrative personnel pay 6 percent of their health insurance premium. Milton police officers, who are also unionized, contribute 7.5 percent of the premium with a 1.75 percent cap of base wages. They will begin contributing 9 percent, with a 2 percent cap of base wages, on July 1.

McGuire said the town would work with non-union municipal employees before having them begin to contribute to health insurance. He noted the town worked with employees a few years ago before shifting them to a less expensive health insurance plan. The new policy provided a medical savings account to offset the costs to employees of the cheaper health plan, but still saved the town more than $20,000, according to McGuire.

McGuire said one benefit of having employees contribute to their health insurance would be to make the costs more apparent to them.

“It would increase their awareness of the costs associated with this benefit,” McGuire said. “They play a big role in the cost in terms of their utilization, so they can have an impact.”

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Tax penalty reduction on meeting agenda

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Williston voters who attend Town Meeting on Feb. 28 will consider a proposal to sharply reduce the late penalty on tax payments.

Currently, taxpayers who do not make a payment by the final due date of the year are charged a penalty of 8 percent of the taxes still owed for the year. Under the new proposal, the penalty would be reduced to 1 percent.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the town currently receives about $45,000 in revenues from late penalties. The proposal would cut the amount to approximately $5,000. If approved, the new penalty would be implemented in the 2006-07 fiscal year.

McGuire, who also serves as the town’s collector of delinquent taxes, proposed the change for the Town Meeting Day agenda, saying the 8 percent late fee was extreme and especially burdensome for financially strapped residents.

McGuire said state law had required the 8 percent penalty for years before the Vermont Legislature changed the law last year to give municipalities more control over the late fee they charge. According to McGuire, the 8 percent fee had originally been designed to serve as a commission to pay the municipalities’ collectors of delinquent taxes.

However, Williston, like many other towns, no longer pay a commission to the collector, who is often a town employee. In fact, McGuire said he is prohibited from receiving a commission in his post as town manager.

McGuire said taxpayers’ reactions when learning of the 8 percent late fee over the years have often ranged from shock to anger. He said the proposed reduction in the late payment is particularly designed to aid people who do not have the money to make their payment by the deadline — instead of those who merely forgot or procrastinated too long.

“There is a group who knows about the tax deadlines and remembers them but they are not in a financial position to make them,” McGuire said. “Then, you add the 8 percent on top of that and you really start to dig a deeper and deeper hole for them.”

The owner of a $200,000 residence would have had a total property tax bill of $3,180 in the current fiscal year. The final payment was due earlier this month. If the owner of a $200,000 home had made the prescribed payments on the first two installments of the year, but then missed the third, he or she would have been charged an $84.80 penalty on top of the $1,060 payment.

For those people who missed all or part of their property tax payments on the first two installments, the penalty can be particularly steep, because the 8 percent is applied to the entire amount still owed for the year.

In addition, the town charges 1 percent interest for the first three months it has not received the full payment and 1.5 percent interest after that.

The proposed due dates for the tax payments for the 2005-06 fiscal year are Aug. 10, Nov. 10 and Feb. 10. Approving the due dates will also be on the Town Meeting agenda.

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Ski matriarch dies at age 76

The Associated Press

RICHMOND — Virginia Cochran, whose name has been entwined with Vermont's skiing heritage for more than four decades, has died at the age of 76.

Cochran, known as Ginny, started the Cochran Ski Area in Richmond with her husband, Mickey, in 1961 and over the years taught more than 10,000 children to ski. She also helped her own four children and 10 grandchildren become top skiers — with some joining the U.S. Ski Team and one winning an Olympic gold medal.

Cochran died Saturday at Vermont Respite House in Williston of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Mickey Cochran died in 1998.

The Cochran Ski Area began as a family affair when the couple moved to a former dairy farm along the Winooski River. They soon constructed a rope tow for their children: son Bob and daughters Marilyn, Barbara Ann and Lindy.

Barbara Ann went on to earn the 1972 Olympic gold medal in slalom at Sapporo, Japan. In 1969, Marilyn was the first American to win a World Cup in the giant slalom.

“From the start, neighbors wanted to ski their hill,” said David Healy, a friend of the Cochrans, “so Ginny opened her back door and welcomed them in. Her kitchen became the lodge.”

The ski area was a modest business offering affordable access to the sport. “They ran a small mom-and-pop operation,” Healy said, “and it's the nation's first nonprofit ski area.”

In the winter nowadays, 800 schoolchildren come to ski at Cochran's each week, he said. Many of them are from area schools’ ski and ride programs, including one from Williston.

Ginny Cochran, who hailed from Hartland Four Corners, met Mickey on a ski trip to Stowe while both were UVM students in the late 1940s. They married in 1949 and moved to Windsor, where Mickey taught high school science.

“They skied with their kids at Mount Ascutney,” Healy said, “but they came back to Burlington in 1958. He worked as an engineer at General Electric.”

With the purchase of about 190 acres in Richmond, however, the Cochran clan didn't have to stray far from home to indulge their love of the slopes.

“The kids were already racing at Smugglers' Notch,” Healy said. “Mickey recognized they needed to practice during the week. His goal was to give them a place to train after school.”

As the ski area grew in popularity, the Cochrans added to the property. They bought another 140 acres in 1965. The facility includes eight trails, four lifts and a T-bar. Other lodges were built, allowing the family to reclaim its kitchen; the most recent one went up in 1984.


Observer staff contributed to this report.

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Selectboard candidates both vow to be voice of independence

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Andy Mikell and Kermit LaClair can each claim deep roots in Williston. Mikell grew up in town and moved back in 1987 following graduation from law school, while LaClair has lived in Williston for more than 40 years. Both have witnessed dramatic changes in their hometown, and both are largely pleased with the evolution.

Now they hope to participate directly in Williston’s governance the next three years. Mikell and LaClair are running against each other for an open Selectboard seat on the March 1 ballot.

Mikell, a lawyer, previously served five years on the Williston School Board. A self-described “a middle-of-the-road” Democrat, Mikell was appointed to the Selectboard in October to fill an interim post vacated when Mike Kanfer resigned.

LaClair, the Williston School District’s buildings and grounds supervisor, is the acting town constable, which requires him to serve court papers occasionally. LaClair said he is a Republican.

Mikell said he decided to seek the interim spot on the Selectboard partly because he wanted to better understand town issues. He said his short time on the board has already given him a new perspective.

An example, Mikell said, is the topic of sewer and subdivision regulations. He referred to the board’s recent discussions of proposed changes to the rules as “exciting,” because they could promote affordable housing and guide future development.

From the outset of his interim stint on the Selectboard, Mikell has demonstrated a willingness to speak forcefully on topics — sometimes against the tide of the rest of the board.

For instance, Mikell made a vigorous argument in January against a proposal to remove $27,000 from the municipal budget for the demolition of the Workers in Wood building in the village. Mikell said town residents had already decided years ago that the building should be razed, and he said the board was trying to “artificially” reduce the budget to make it more appealing to voters. Mikell was on the losing end of a 4-1 vote, with the majority deciding to keep the building. LaClair believes the building should be used instead of demolished.

“Because all of this stuff is new to me, I tend to ask a lot of questions and maybe look at the issues a little differently,” Mikell said. “There were a lot of 4-1 and 3-2 votes on the School Board when I was there. That might make me a bit of a wild card, but mostly I think I’m just doing a different analysis of some things.”

LaClair promises to be similarly opinionated. He said he believes the current Selectboard has largely done a good job of overseeing the town’s services and keeping spending subdued, but he said he has disagreed with several of the board’s decisions in recent years.

For instance, LaClair said he was prompted to run for the Selectboard in part because of the board’s approval — before Mikell was appointed — of interim regulations for the town’s Agricultural-Rural District. LaClair, who lives on farmland off Vermont Route 2A in the district, worries that the existing regulations and proposed permanent rules will severely limit the ability of landowners to build on their property.

“We’re getting out of control on the controls,” LaClair said. “We shouldn’t take away people’s rights.”

LaClair also said the Selectboard made a mistake last month when it voted 5-0 to approve providing $147,300 in funding to help the Chittenden Country Transportation Authority continue a bus line that travels through town. Mikell was among the board members who voted for the funding.

LaClair said too few Williston residents use the bus lines to justify the cost.

LaClair said he wants to add some diversity to the Selectboard. He said he is not referring to political diversity, though, if elected, he would be the only Republican on the board. He said he instead means a diversity of work experience.

He said he spent years constructing roads and buildings in the U.S. Air Force. LaClair said that experience would benefit the board and give it a different perspective as it considers development issues.

Both candidates pointed to the continuing discussion and study of the Circumferential Highway, a portion of which would run through Williston, as a topic of critical importance to the town.

Mikell said he believes the Selectboard should stay attuned to the Circ’s environmental impact study review process and contribute to the public discussion of the project when appropriate. He said he has an open mind about what the ultimate solution should be.

LaClair, meanwhile, simply believes the Circ should be built as soon as possible. In fact, he said the Circ should have been built 20 years ago. He said an alternative proposal recently floated by a coalition of environmental groups that would include installing a series of roundabouts along Route 2A is not a practical solution.

[Read more…]

Right-of-way issues stall construction of bike paths

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Reluctant homeowners have thrown up an obstacle to bike path construction in Williston, according to a project manager working for the town.

David Spitz told the Selectboard on Feb. 7 that securing easements from some residents to accommodate new proposed paths in Williston has been nettlesome, particularly for routes planned alongside North Williston Road and Mountain View Road.

Voters approved a $2.6 million bond in March to fund the construction of four new bike paths. The town is currently targeting three of them. They are U.S. Route 2 from Brownell Road to Helena Drive, Mountain View Road from North Williston Road to Old Stage Road and North Williston Road from U.S. Route 2 to Mountain View Road.

Spitz was hired in the spring to shepherd the projects through the permit, easement and construction processes.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said public rights-of-way on Mountain View and North Williston are each significantly narrower than the right-of-way on U.S. Route 2. As a result, the town needs cooperation from property owners in some locations along those roads to build the envisioned 10-foot wide paths.

Spitz said Boyden and the committee that helped formulate plans for the paths were averse to narrowing them to 8 feet in places where property issues arose. Spitz said the bike paths in Stowe and Burlington are each 8 feet wide, but are now regarded as too narrow to accommodate a mix of recreational users. Boyden said bike paths less than 10 feet also pose maintenance issues.

The town could condemn the portion of property owners’ lands it needs for the paths or purchase the easements, but Boyden said both options are ones the town would prefer to avoid.

Boyden said the town might construct some stretches of the paths where it can receive the necessary easements.

Sewer expansion

Town Manager Rick McGuire reported the town negotiated an agreement to contribute $9,000 more to the wastewater treatment plant expansion project in Essex Junction.

The expansion was expected to be completed in the fall, but McGuire informed the Selectboard last month that the new capacity system had failed its operational tests. NECCO, a Waitsfield-based contractor, told the town the project would require an additional $30,000 investment to be finished.

NECCO and the engineering firm Dubois & King will share the additional $21,000 in costs. NECCO submitted a low bid of $717,777 last year and was selected for the expansion project.

McGuire said there were sufficient funds in the town’s budget for the project to include the additional $9,000.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said he did not believe Williston should have been required to shoulder any of the burden.

“I’m unhappy with that,” Fehrs said.

McGuire said last month the goal is to have the new sewer capacity of 200,000 gallons per day on line by July 1. The modifications to the expansion have already been completed, and testing is underway. The next step would be state certification, which takes about a month.

Bridge report

The Selectboard received an inspection report from the Vermont Agency of Transportation on the Industrial Avenue bridge.

The report characterizes the bridge as being in satisfactory to fair condition. It cites concerns with a crack that has formed on an abutment and says the guardrail approaches do not meet the current standards.

In a memo, Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town would address the guardrail approaches in the spring and continue to monitor the abutment concerns.

Boyden said the bridge, which was built in 1964, has received significant maintenance over the past 10 years and belongs in the state’s bridge replacement program.

“This is a long and expensive process and I will get it started soon,” Boyden wrote.

Green buildings

Gary Hawley, a member of the Williston Conservation Commission, spoke to the Selectboard about adopting a policy on energy efficiency in new public buildings.

Hawley said the increased expenses of building “green” facilities would be more than offset by the reduced costs of operating the buildings.

Board members demonstrated interest in fashioning a policy and decided Hawley should work with Town Manager Rick McGuire and Town Planner Lee Nellis to draft a proposal.

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Officer injured in struggle

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A Williston police officer was injured last week when a Burlington man turned combative while in custody.

Williston Officer Jon Marcoux suffered sprains to his right wrist, elbow and shoulder when he struggled with Roy Porta, 22, on Feb. 3 at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Marcoux and Officer Randall Tucker had transported Porta to the hospital for examination.

Marcoux was treated and released from the hospital. He said Friday the injuries were not serious and would not restrict him in his duties.

Porta made a phone call to Williston’s emergency dispatch line at 3:20 p.m. on Feb. 3 from All Cycle on Avenue B, according to Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden. Porta claimed people were outside the facility with guns and he thought he had heard shots, Glidden said.

Marcoux and Tucker reported to the scene and found no evidence of anyone who was armed. The officers arrested Porta on a charge of making a false report and took him to Fletcher Allen for evaluation, Glidden said. Porta first resisted officers when they attempted to place him in the back of a police cruiser.

While at Fletcher Allen, Porta again resisted when officers attempted to move him within the hospital, Marcoux said. Initially, he refused to cooperate and then he pushed officers and tried to escape, Marcoux said. Porta was in handcuffs.

Marcoux said he was injured when he and Tucker pulled Porta to the floor in order to control him.

Police charged Porta with two counts of disorderly conduct, one count of making a false report, one count of assaulting a police officer and one count of resisting arrest. He was cited to appear March 7 in Vermont District Court.

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