October 24, 2014

Traffic study finds few speeders in Brennan Woods subdivision

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Town still plans measures to slow vehicles

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A recent traffic study suggests vehicle speeds might not be out of control in the Brennan Woods neighborhood, countering the claims of some residents. However, the study will not impact town plans to install traffic calming measures in the neighborhood.

The study, which took place earlier this month, showed the vast majority of vehicles traveled at speeds between 23 mph and 30 mph on the Brennan Woods’ roads. Of the 542 vehicles tracked on five different roads, a total of just 28 were measured at a speed of at least 30 mph. Two vehicles on Hanon Drive were measured at 38 mph — the highest speed recorded.

Hanon Drive had the highest average speed in the development — 25.96 mph. Brennan Woods Drive, which attracts the most traffic, had an average speed of 25.04 mph.

“I’m surprised they were that low,” said Neil Boyden, Williston’s public works director.

Boyden said the vehicles were measured with a radar gun in an unmarked car. He said the method of measurement should have produced an accurate view of the nature of traffic on the roads.

However, the study took place during non-peak traffic hours — a requirement when developing speed limits, according to Boyden — and “the speeds would more than likely have been higher during peak hours,” he said.

Boyden said the speed study was not a comprehensive measurement of speeds, but it is “the best tool we have.”

Scott Hubbard, president of the Brennan Woods Homeowners Association, said he was not aware of the study, but noted that the neighborhood’s traffic problems stem from a small minority of drivers.

“I will say that (in my opinion) many people do abide by the speed limit when driving through the neighborhood,” Hubbard said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that the few people that do drive very fast are causing problems by putting children at risk.”

Boyden said the result of the speed study would not affect plans to implement the traffic calming planned for Brennan Woods, noting the neighborhood still would benefit from calming measures.

Boyden said the recorded speeds appear to support a 25 mph speed limit. He said other factors will be considered when the town develops a speed limit, including the number of curb cuts, the number of pedestrians and the proximity of driveways.

Snyder Companies, the developer of Brennan Woods, still owns the roads. Town officials have said they will not accept the roads as municipally owned until Snyder has completed a checklist of improvements that the town does not want to fund. Once the town owns the road, it can enforce a speed limit and implement its larger traffic calming steps.

Boyden said he met with Snyder officials last week and much of the checklist has been completed. He expects the town to assume control of the neighborhood’s roads this summer.

Two Brennan Woods residents have told the Selectboard in recent months about excessive vehicle speeds in their neighborhood. In May, Fred Reiner said the combination of excessive speeds and a high volume of children meant a tragedy was “not a question of if but when.” This month, Stephen Casale, with his two children in tow, spoke to the Selectboard to highlight “the tremendous problem” of speeding at Brennan Woods.

Also, in a letter to Boyden this month, Hubbard noted, “We have many homeowners that are very concerned about this topic and ask often.”

Hubbard’s letter was a notice to the town that the neighborhood homeowners association formally accepted the traffic calming measures the town has planned for Brennan Woods. The measures include a four-way stop at the intersection of Brennan Woods Drive and Hanon Drive, and three speed tables, which are longer, flatter versions of speed bumps.

Boyden said the town would move to install the stop signs at Brennan Woods Drive and Hanon Drive as early as this week. Because the cost is minimal, he said the town is willing to set up the signs before assuming ownership of the road. On the other hand, the speed tables will cost approximately $10,000, according to Boyden. He said the tables could be in place this fall.

Hubbard said the traffic calming measures “will at the very least raise awareness.”

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Town

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Williston may offer more choices for older residents

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Twelve senior men and women lean over and reach for their toes with steady, sure arms. They move spryly and eagerly, smiling and cracking jokes as they bend. The mood is light and serene and tight-knit.

“You can see the difference of how much farther everyone is going on their stretches than they used to,” Del Borah says, as lowered heads nodded in agreement. “The progress is amazing.”

Borah and his workout partners were attending one of the sessions of the senior drop-in program that meets twice a week at Williston Federated Church. The program, which is sponsored by the town and the church, is the first municipal senior program in Williston to gain a steady audience, according to Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan.

The program’s participants and organizers hope it will serve as a first step toward expanded offerings for seniors in town, including, in the long run, the development of a municipal senior center.

“We’ve been trying to do something for seniors since I came here,” Finnegan says. “It’s mostly been hit or miss. But this has really been popular. We’re excited about it.”

The drop-in program has been running since September at the church’s Fellowship Hall. Exercise and socializing have been the central elements of the program from the outset.

The YMCA provided an exercise instructor for the program for free from September to January. The seniors have paid a small fee to help support the program since then.

The program meets Tuesdays and Thursdays and is open to senior Williston residents. Finnegan says each session typically draws between 12 and 20 participants. The overall list of participants includes approximately 40 names. The program largely draws participants from three Williston senior housing developments: Williston Woods, Taft Farm and Whitney Hill.

Participants say the exercise is critical to their health and provides an obvious benefit to their daily lives, making them feel more vigorous and capable.

For example, program participant Sharon Miles says she would not do the exercise on her own at home. The drop-in program gives her an incentive to get physically fit. Borah says the program helps prevent the seniors from submitting to a sedentary life.

“Besides,” Caroline Ford adds. “You get to see all these good friends.”

Indeed, the close companionship among the program participants was obvious at a recent session. Good-natured ribbing and understated signs of support were both prevalent.

The participants say they are eager to increase the drop-in program’s hours and activities. They would like to see the program venture into outings, like bus tours and luncheons on Lake Champlain, and a diverse variety of activities, like painting and Tai Chi.

Finnegan hopes the program develops into a place that can attract speakers on senior issues. The key, he said, is that the seniors participating will run the program. They will choose the type of activities that are featured, he said. He said it is similar to the way the town provides teenagers with a voice in determining municipal offerings for their peer group.

“I’d really like this group to set the direction for seniors’ programs here,” Finnegan says.

The participants said they were pleased to see the town developing a senior program, particularly in light of the extensive municipal offerings for youth.

“It’s important for us to have the town support its seniors, as well as all its young people,” Borah says.

Finnegan says a full-fledged senior center would provide a further boost for the town’s aging population. Senior centers are credited with helping seniors stay active, while serving to cure the creeping loneliness that can accompany advancing years.

Finnegan says he has toured the Charlotte Senior Center and seen the impact it had on the senior population there.

“If we could develop something here like that, that would be phenomenal,” he says.

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Town

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Income down in several categories

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A municipality’s future revenue can often prove difficult to forecast. In contrast to expenditures, revenues are not easily controlled by town officials. The current fiscal year, which ends July 1, offers some examples.

Such categories as document-recording revenue, planning fees and police traffic fines are not producing as much money as expected, while income from passport licenses and police false alarm is well over budget. Each represents the kind of unpredictable behavior that is difficult for municipal officials to grasp when compiling a budget.

“All revenues are fairly hard to predict,” said Finance Manager Susan Lamb. “They are just not as consistent as expenditures unfortunately.”

Whereas town officials can typically limit spending to keep within budget, revenue is largely outside of their control.

Document-recording revenue is one obvious example. Through April, revenue in the town clerk’s office for the recording of documents had fallen below budget by more than $40,000. Lamb said in a May 19 memo that she expected that source of revenue to ultimately be $25,000 below budget for the fiscal year.

Lamb said the town had set its budget based on the past two years of “extraordinary volume” of citizens recording documents at Williston Town Hall. She speculates the variation can be traced to the change in interest rates. For the previous two years, low interest rates led to a number of people refinancing homes or buying new ones. Both mean heavy document copying at the town clerk’s office.

“We had two years in a row of astounding amounts when interest rates first fell,” Lamb said. “Everyone was refinancing.”

But interest rates have since risen, Lamb said, and house purchases and refinancing have cooled in Williston.

Another prominent underperforming revenue source this year has been traffic fines issued by Williston police. According to Lamb, the average monthly revenue has decreased from $4,500 in 2003, to $3,300 in 2004 to $1,650 in 2005. For the fiscal year, police court fines were short of budget by over $40,000 through April.

The largest reason for the decreasing traffic revenue is staffing issues in the department, according to Williston Chief Ozzie Glidden. The department has been unable to keep a full roster of officers and has had to spend a large amount of time training new officers over the past year. Consequently, Williston’s officers are carrying much higher caseloads than their peers in other communities, like Essex Junction and South Burlington, and have little time for setting speed traps.

“Traffic enforcement is an issue, but officers’ investigations take precedence over guys going out and running radar,” Glidden said.

Overall, Lamb projects that departmental revenues will be under budget by approximately $70,000 at the end of the fiscal year. However, taxpayers will not need to worry about paying higher property taxes to make up the shortfall because the town’s local option taxes serve as a sort of safety net. Revenue from sales and rooms and meals taxes are running about $400,000 over budget.

The town has consistently underestimated revenue from option taxes since Williston voters approved the 1 percent sales tax in July 2002.

“Every year we predict sales tax revenues and every year it’s more than we expected,” Lamb said.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the local option taxes have proven volatile “on the upside” in their short history so far, but the town will still be careful not to overestimate the revenue. He notes a downturn in the economy could significantly reduce income from local option taxes.

“For the most part, you generally want to be conservative in the estimations you make for the budget, especially for large revenue sources, because they can cause huge problems if they go under,” McGuire said.

The Selectboard might choose to use the increased funds from the local option taxes to lower the municipal property tax rate from the 12 cents that was projected in March. In the past, the board has used the excess revenue and its subsequent swelling of the town’s reserves to lower the tax rate. The board is scheduled to set the property tax rate for the 2005-06 fiscal year on June 27.

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Town gives green light to traffic control device on Route 2A

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Signal light planned at Zephyr Road

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A promising collection of bids means the town should be able to move forward with plans to install a traffic light where Vermont Route 2A intersects with Paul Street and Zephyr Road.

The town received three bids on the project, including a low bid for about $199,000 from East Coast Signals, which is based in Deerfield, N.H. The company is operating in the state this summer on the Shelburne Road widening project and on the Winooski redevelopment project.

“I’m pretty tickled with that bid,” Public Works Director Neil Boyden said.

Boyden said a $199,000 price tag would compare favorably to the $165,000 cost of the last traffic signal erected in town at the intersection of Marshall Avenue and Harvest Lane two years ago. He said the Zephyr Lane signal will be complicated because of the heavy traffic flow on Vermont Route 2A and the intersection’s proximity to the signal at Taft Corners.

Most of the roadwork necessary to install a light was taken care of years ago when the Towne Place Suites was constructed on Zephyr Lane.

Pat Colbrun, an engineer with Lamoureux and Dickinson Consulting Engineers, will review the bids this week to make sure they meet the town’s qualifications. Boyden said he hopes to award a bid Friday.

Traffic signals have lengthy lead times, according to Boyden, and this project might not be completed until 2006. The town received its state permit for the project on May 9. It applied for the permit in 2003.

Williston residents had submitted a petition to the town urging the installation of a signal at the intersection. Many of those signing the petition had addresses at the Eagle Crest or Falcon Manor senior housing developments. Both are located near the intersection.

Boyden said the property owners at nearby Blair Park could shoulder between a half and two-thirds of the project cost. The property owners have permits with stipulations that would require them to contribute to the installation of the signal, Boyden said.

Once a bid is awarded, the town can formulate a specific dollar amount each property owner would be required to pay, Boyden said. A traffic study determined the amount of traffic generated by each property owner in Blair Park during peak hours. Fees will be assessed based on the study.

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Town employee leaving ever-changing position to attend college

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

When Lara Dumond was hired to work in the Williston planning office, her job title was Conservation Commission Liaison. In the interest of brevity and clarity, that was later cut down to Conservation Coordinator.

The placard on her office door, meanwhile, reads Planning Assistant. And, when Dumond vacates her position next month to attend law school, her replacement in the planning office will bear yet another title: Environmental Planner.

The changing names of Dumond’s position reflect the shifting nature of the position during her year and a half in Williston. The scope of Dumond’s work expanded steadily during her stint, and the post will grow from a 30-hour-a-week job to a 40-hour-a-week position on July 1.

As Dumond said, the hours will change in description only. She has been working a full schedule since she arrived.

“There was always lots of work,” she said.

The direction of the work changed with a combination of the needs of the department and the abilities of the staff. Town Planner Lee Nellis said the planning and zoning department enjoys the flexibility to adapt, and Dumond’s versatility — Nellis calls her “phenomenally productive” — meant she handled a variety of responsibilities.

“It’s a small world here in Williston,” Nellis said. “We don’t find ourselves handicapped by job descriptions. We just do what we can do to do the job.”

When former Zoning Administrator Scott Gustin stepped down, Dumond began to work increasingly on zoning and development review questions, helping with what she said are the “overwhelming number of building permits, site plans and development applications.”

Then, after the town hired D.K. Johnston as Gustin’s replacement, Dumond ceded Historic Preservation responsibilities — one of her original core duties — because Johnston had a background in the field. It also allowed Dumond to focus more on writing grants. “Lara is a great grant writer and she brought in tons of money,” Nellis said.

Nellis said Dumond’s work in her position will color the responsibilities of her replacement, but he expects the position to continue to evolve based on the skills of the new hire. For instance, he or she will spend more time on stormwater regulations than Dumond did.

Dumond, who will attend the University of Utah in the fall, said she feels “like the current challenge for the town is coming to terms with the fact that it is no longer a small town and (needs to) make an investment in its municipal facilities and staffing capacity to handle the volume of development.”

She said the lack of “warm bodies” hurts the planning staff in enforcement of conditions of permits and with handling the volume of permits.

Dumond, who worked extensively on land conservation, also said she believes the town should work to preserve the town’s rural character by creating better incentives for large landowners attempting to make a living farming their land.

Dumond said her brother, a former UVM student, joked when she took the job in Williston that “I didn’t know they do planning in Williston.” However, Dumond said she felt from her first interviews that the town has “a solid vision for managing the inevitable growth of the town.”

“Williston is an interesting place and has a lot of challenging planning issues,” Dumond said. “It’s been an exciting place to work.”

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Temporary classrooms may become semi-permanent fixtures

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School district seeks to extend 3-year permit

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The temporary classrooms built three years ago to ease a space crunch in Williston schools will apparently remain in place for a few more years.

School officials said in 2002 that the so-called modular classrooms appended to Allen Brook School would be a stopgap measure until a permanent building expansion could be completed. But now, with enrollment leveling off and plans for the building expansion on hold, the district will seek to extend the permit for their use through the 2007-08 school year.

"Right now, I think we’re probably going to keep them until then," said Williston School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby. "They have been an effective way to do things while we think our plans out."

School officials say they have little choice but to keep the modular classrooms, which are doublewide trailers adapted for educational use. They accommodate roughly 80 students, and school officials assert that the main buildings at Allen Brook and Williston Central School are at capacity.

"The modulars seem to be meeting a need, and we clearly need space," said School Board member Karla Karstens. "Plus, we can keep renewing them until we decide if and when to build."

The district has in recent years been caught between uncertain enrollment trends and waning voter support for school spending.

Until the last two school years, enrollment in the Williston School District had risen by an average of 37 students a year. In the 2003-04 school year, however, enrollment declined by two students. In the current school year, a tally done in October showed enrollment down by five students.

"The growth hasn’t occurred as fast as everyone expected three or four years ago," said Bob Mason, chief operations manager for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which serves as central administration for Williston and other area school districts. "That has allowed the board to be more deliberate."

Meanwhile, passage of the annual school budget is no longer the sure thing it was in the past. Voters rejected the budget in 2003, and this year’s spending plan passed by just 11 votes.

The situation has made the School Board reluctant to propose a pricey expansion project. One of the most discussed plans in recent years called for doubling the size of Allen Brook School at an estimated cost of $6 million.

A School Board-appointed committee has met to discuss building expansion plans over the past few months. Karstens, who serves on the committee, said the group will revisit previous plans for expanding Allen Brook, but she wonders if such a big project is still needed.

Mason said it is uncertain if the district will keep the modular classrooms in place until or beyond when they are paid off in 2008. But he acknowledged that because of the specialized nature of the structures, it could be difficult to sell them.

The school district had originally considered leasing the structures. But after discovering that leasing would cost more than budgeted, the district opted to buy them outright. Voters approved $345,000 funding for the structures and additional staff in 2002.

The town’s Development Review Board approved a site plan for the modular classrooms in July 2002. Among the numerous conditions attached to the approval was a requirement that the structures be removed after three years. Mason said he recently inquired about extending that sunset clause for another three years.

The modular classrooms stirred controversy when they were first proposed. Some parents did not want their children housed in them, amid concerns about studies that showed materials inside newly built trailers could emit toxic vapors and worries that exhaust fumes from nearby buses could pollute the air inside the units.

The School District initially tried to save money by not using a consultant to draw up plans. That caused delays as the Development Review Board rejected the initial design, saying the plans failed to meet safety codes.

By the time the plans were approved, it was too late to finish the project before the school year started. Some students were forced to attend classes in the school’s gymnasium for a few weeks.

The district has been paying a portion of the $670,000 total cost for the units each year. Mason said the board could opt to sell them at any point.

But with any school expansion project certain to take years to be completed — and no groundswell of opposition among students and staff to being housed in the modular classrooms — it appears the modular classrooms will stay in place for the immediate future.

"Parents, students and staff seem to like them," Sundby said. "So as long as we are not outgrowing our space, let’s take our time in planning. We don’t want to overbuild."

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State uses

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Contractor will get $5,000-a-day bonus for completing the work early

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Traffic snarls in and around Williston are already bad and likely to grow worse when a paving project starts this summer on Interstate 89.

But the state Agency of Transportation is trying to limit tie-ups by employing a seldom-used contract provision that includes both penalties and incentives to get the work done quickly.

The project scheduled to start next month includes repaving the pothole-pocked southbound lanes of I-89 from South Burlington to Bolton and making improvements to both the Shelburne Road and Williston exits. The work is expected to start next month.

Penalties for completing work late are routine on major construction projects. But for the first time in recent years, the state will also award a bonus if the paving is done early. The amount is substantial whether the project is finished late or early: $5,000 a day, up to a total of $75,000.

“This way we have both a carrot and a hammer ready,” said Mike Hedges, paving program manager with the state Agency of Transportation. “These are already very busy portions of the project. We’d like them to be done in a timely manner.”

The incentive/penalty clause sets a 30-day deadline to complete work between exits 12 and 13. That portion of the project includes paving the interstate itself, lengthening deceleration lanes and adding a left-turn lane on the southbound Williston off-ramp.

The clause does not apply to paving work south of exit 12 in Williston. That part of the project must be completed by Oct. 15. The contractor will pay a $3,500-a-day penalty if it does not meet that deadline, but there is no bonus for completing it earlier.

Two contractors have submitted bids for the work. According to Hedges, Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp. bid $4,583,007 for the project; Pike Industries Inc. bid $4,879,724. As of Tuesday afternoon, state officials were still reviewing the two bids and had yet to officially award the contract to Whitcomb Construction, the apparent low bidder.

Jay Perkins, regional manager with Pike Industries, said the state rarely hands out bonuses for completing paving projects early.

“Usually, it’s 100 percent the stick,” he said. “Only very infrequently do you get the carrot.”

Perkins said bonuses are a good idea. He thinks they help both contractors and the general public, reducing traffic headaches for motorists and allowing contractors to better marshal manpower and work more quickly.

For example, Perkins said, a contracting company may bring in an additional 10 trucks at a cost of $2,000 a day if it can earn a bonus equal or greater than that amount for each day the project is done early. With a contract that has only late penalties, he said, the contractor tends to try to keep costs as low as possible.

“I think they should utilize (bonuses) more often,” Perkins said. “The inconvenience to the traveling public should have a dollar value put on it.”

Hedges said the state last used an incentive clause for paving work in 1999. Three years earlier, the state employed an incentive for the paving job on the same stretch of Interstate 89 that is being redone this summer.

That pavement’s lifespan was far shorter than the expected 15-20 years. But Hedges said a new type of pavement — not the contractor or the contract — was the reason for its premature failure.

The repaving project as originally planned did not include work on the Williston exit. But at the urging of town officials and residents, the state decided to add the Williston off-ramp work to the project.

Many people have expressed safety concerns about the ramp. Vehicles sometimes back up at the interchange and spill out on to the traveled portion of I-89, creating a traffic hazard as cars whiz by the halted traffic at 65 mph.

The penalties and incentives to get the repaving done quickly are just one of the steps the state is taking to reduce traffic tie-ups while the project is underway.

No lane closures are permitted between South Burlington and Williston during rush hours, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The requirement is somewhat less stringent on less-traveled portions of the project, with both lanes required to remain open only from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

As with other paving projects, the state is also trying to ensure the contractor does a high-quality job. There are also incentives and/or penalties that address the quality and consistency of the asphalt as well as the smoothness of the finished job.

Hedges said the state would continue to use both bonuses and penalties on projects where there is heavy traffic and a potential for traffic tie-ups. With traffic volume increasing each year throughout the state, he said the use of incentives is only likely to increase in the future.

“With the incentives, we hope to stay out of people’s way,” Hedges said. “We want to get in, get out and stay out.”

Andrew Bassette of Richmond suggested officials install a second Williston off-ramp to give shoppers, which make up the majority of motorists, a chance to exit sooner. Having an exit at South Brownell Road, for example, would lessen the amount of cars getting off at exit 12, he said.

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Selectboard sets municipal tax rate at expected level

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard approved a municipal property tax rate of 11.7 cents for the upcoming 2005-06 fiscal year at its meeting Monday night.

The rate marks a slight decrease over the 12-cent rate town officials had estimated for the year based on the municipal budget approved in March. The municipal property tax rate in the current year is 8 cents.

The increase in the municipal rate can largely be attributed to the voters’ approval in November of a $6.8 million bond to fund new public safety facilities and the inclusion of $147,300 in the municipal budget to fund CCTA bus service in Williston — an unprecedented commitment from the town for CCTA.

The owner of a $250,000 property in Williston will pay $292.50 in municipal property taxes in the new fiscal year, which starts Friday.

Without the revenue provided by the municipal reserves and the local sales and rooms and meals taxes, the municipal rate would have been 38.7 cents, according to a memo by Town Finance Director Susan Lamb. The local taxes reduced the rate by 24 cents alone. For a $250,000 property, the savings amounts to $600.

In past years, the Selectboard has used excess revenues from the local sales and rooms and meals taxes to lower the municipal property tax rate further in June. However, this year the Selectboard had committed $500,000 from the municipal reserves to the public safety facilities project.

Lamb said the reserves at the end of the new fiscal year should total $828,000. The reserves will total about $1,668,000 at the end of the current fiscal year. Town policy requires reserves equaling between 10 and 20 percent of the municipal budget. Under the current plans for the new fiscal year, reserves will equal about 14 percent of the budget.

Lamb said the state has set the education tax rate for Williston, but the town had not received it in the mail by Tuesday afternoon. She said the state would not inform the town of the rate over the phone or via fax.

The projected education tax rate for residential properties was $1.61 in March when voters approved the Williston School District budget. The non-residential rate was $1.58.

If the estimate is correct, the combined property tax rate for homeowners in Williston will be about $1.73 per $100 in valuation. The rate means the owner of a $250,000 house will pay $4,325 in property taxes in the coming fiscal year.

 

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Project

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Town undervalued Maple Tree Place by 145 percent

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Maple Tree Place development sold for approximately 145 percent more than its tax valuation, possibly indicating the town missed out on several hundred thousand dollars in revenue.

Town assessor Bill Hinman expressed astonishment at the $103.3 million purchase price in the sale of Maple Tree Place from Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi to Inland Western Retail Real Estate Trust of Illinois. The purchase was closed on May 20.

“That number is definitely a surprise,” Hinman said. “I’m very surprised it was that high. That’s much higher than I’d anticipated.”

Theresa Knight of the property valuation and review division of the Vermont Department of Taxes said she believed the sale price was the largest for a non-utility commercial property in state history.

The appraisal of the property was updated this spring at $42.2 million. Experts in property valuations said it is too early to tell whether the chasm between the sale price and the town’s appraisal was the result of a major undervaluation or if other factors were involved.

“We are supposed to be showing in our crystal ball that this is what the property would be selling for on April 1 each year,” said Todd LeBlanc, the town assessor in South Burlington. “That’s the goal, but this is by no means an exact science and there are many things that can go into a sale.”

It is difficult to measure the property tax revenues the town might have missed out on if the property was actually undervalued by such a large margin. For instance, the sale price was based on the current Maple Tree Place, while property taxes this year were paid on last year’s appraisal of approximately $36 million, which did not include construction at the site over the past year.

However, a reasonable estimate of the difference in property taxes for the current fiscal year, which concludes July 1, exceeds $700,000.

LeBlanc, Hinman and Knight cited a host of reasons why the sale price would be significantly higher than an accurate appraisal, though Hinman conceded they might not entirely explain such a stark difference.

Among the possible factors that could lead to an inflated sale price e are the structure of the financing of the purchase and the leasing agreements within the development, LeBlanc said. Hinman said sometimes a sale that involves special contingencies beyond a simple real estate transfer bears little relation to the market price.

Rick Fox, a spokesman for Inland Real Estate, was unaware of the details of the transaction. Fox indicated he would investigate the possibility of contingencies, but he did not respond by the Observer’s deadline.

Hinman said he will begin to work with Inland Western in the next month to investigate the specifics of the purchase agreement. He is confident the deal will indicate the town’s appraisal was not such a small fraction of the property’s true value.

“I know what these properties were worth,” Hinman said. “There is no way that we missed Maple Tree Place by that much.”

Hinman said the sale price for Maple Tree Place will not immediately increase the appraisal for the property.

“That’s a sticky point,” Hinman said. “Eventually, it will, but it probably won’t between now and the next appraisal, because you can’t appraise based on the sale price.”

As a comparison, Hinman said homes in Brennan Woods have been selling for $100,000 more than their appraised value from two years ago, but the town cannot reappraise Brennan Woods because the market in the neighborhood has grown so fast.

“I cannot go out and selectively prosecute somebody and raise their (appraisal) unless I find something substantial that I missed,” Hinman said.

Knight agreed it is difficult to tell what kind of impact the sale would have on the appraisal of Maple Tree Place, but she said it would definitely not affect the property’s value over the next year. She said the grand list values are based on values prior to April 1, so the sale cannot be considered.

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Postal workers complain about lack of information in anthrax scare

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Investigation determined white powder was flour

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Several local U.S. Postal Service employees are unhappy they were not fully informed about the potential threat posed by envelopes containing a suspicious white powder that recently passed through two postal facilities, according to a union representative.

Donna Buchanan, the secretary of the American Postal Workers Local 570 union, said employees at the Williston Post Office and at the processing and distribution center in Essex Junction believe they should have been updated more closely about the four suspicious envelopes mailed to the Resolution Inc. offices in Williston and South Burlington.

The envelopes contained a white powder that the sender claimed was anthrax. Tests later revealed the powder to be flour.

The envelopes passed through both the Essex Junction distribution center and the Williston Post Office, though one envelope was discovered at the Williston facility and was not delivered to Resolution. The envelopes were discovered between June 14 and June 21. They were addressed to the A&E television network, one of Resolution’s clients.

Patricia Quarato, a U.S. Postal Inspector who worked on the case, said officials knew early on that they were likely dealing with a hoax.

Quarato said the envelopes initially passed through a sophisticated biological detection system in Boston before being forwarded to Vermont. The test would have indicated the presence of anthrax.

Also, the contents of two envelopes discovered at Resolution’s South Burlington office on June 14 — the first envelopes discovered — were tested both in the field and at a lab and were determined to be flour and not anthrax.

Quarato promptly informed management at both the Williston and South Burlington post offices that other envelopes containing white powder could be coming through their facilities.

Some Williston employees, however, were upset that they were not then notified about the danger.

Local and district U.S. Postal Service officials could not be reached for comment on the policy for informing employees of an anthrax threat.

The Williston employees who were likely to encounter envelopes mailed to Resolution in the future were apprised of the situation soon after the June 14 incident and instructed to be on the alert, Quarato said.

Those employees were also given protective gloves to wear. On June 20, the employees intercepted an envelope bound for Resolution with white powder inside.

Buchanan said postal employees at the Essex Junction plant believe they should have been told about the situation and informed that the threat appeared to be a hoax.

Quarato said she decided not to tell Essex Junction employees immediately based on what she knew about the threat.

“I would never have put anyone’s safety in jeopardy,” Quarato said. “They would have been the first to know if it was a viable threat.”

Employees were evacuated at the Resolution office at E-Commerce Park in Williston on June 21 when an employee opened an envelope containing white powder and a letter claiming the powder was anthrax.

Buchanan said Essex postal employees did not learn specifics about the incident until they returned home and watched a television news broadcast report.

“I’d like to have the confidence to know that if anthrax does go through this building I’m going to find out about it before I get home,” said Buchanan, who works at the Essex Junction facility.

Tom Anderson of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Burlington said authorities have identified the man who sent the letters to Resolution. Officials are considering charges, according to Anderson, pending further investigation into the man’s background.

Anderson said the suspect sent a fifth envelope with flour inside to Maxim magazine in New York. Anderson was not sure of the man’s motivations.

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