February 21, 2020

New fire, police stations on schedule

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

As residents and emergency officials debate the merits of an upcoming vote to expand Williston emergency services, the new fire and rescue station is moving quickly toward completion.

Construction of Williston’s new station will be largely complete by the end of April, according to Dan Heath, job site superintendent with Bread Loaf Corp.

“It’s going to be a sharp-looking building,” Heath said at the end of a 30-minute tour with a reporter on Monday.

The 23,000-square-foot building is located at the corner of U.S. Route 2 and Talcott Rd. A new 13,000-square-foot police station also is being constructed adjacent to Town Hall on U.S. Route 2.

The combined $8 million project costs homeowners roughly $50 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value. For a $300,000 house, that’s $150 a year.

The late arrival of cold weather this winter enabled crews to get more exterior work done on the fire station earlier than expected, Heath said, allowing his crew to focus on interior work through winter. By spring, Heath said some landscaping and sidewalk work will still need to be done outside.

“About the time that happens, inside here we’ll be right down the punch list wrapping little odds and ends up,” Heath said.

The east side of the new fire and emergency medical services station includes two large truck garage bays, a smaller back garage, a gear room and training areas above the bays. The far side of that area has a partial certification of occupancy to allow some fire vehicles to be stored there during the winter.

The west side of the building includes four offices, two conference/work rooms, a fitness center, five dorm rooms, two locker rooms, three bathrooms, storage rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a laundry room and a common living room.

Heath’s counterpart in charge of the new police station construction is on vacation this week. Heath, who’s in charge in the meantime, said the police station is likely to be ready within a few weeks after the fire and rescue station.

“He’s got a little more exterior site work to do, but it’s a lot smaller site so it should go quick,” Heath said.

The police station includes a secured garage called a “sallyport,” an evidence garage, a 40-person training room, two interview rooms, two conference rooms, a fitness center, six offices, storage areas, locker rooms and detective work space.

Construction costs are on budget, according to both Tom Barden, overall project manager, and Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire.

[Read more…]

Williston fire coverage not guaranteed, chief says

March 6 vote: More career or volunteer?

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Editor’s note: This week the Observer looks at fire services in Williston. Last week we looked at the town’s Emergency Medical Services.

Once the call came in on the evening of Dec. 13 that a Chapman Lane house was on fire, by national standards the Williston Fire Department took a long time to get there.

Chief Ken Morton said he arrived at the Moon house within five minutes. Within 10 minutes, Morton said three others had arrived – two of whom were not qualified to enter a burning building, if it had been needed. Within 15 minutes, three more firefighters were at the scene.

“All engines should be there within eight minutes,” said Carl Peterson, assistant director of the National Fire Protection Association Fire Protection Division , referring to ideal response time. “The first one should be there within four minutes, carrying four people.”

If the call had come in earlier – when a full-time staff was on – or had Williston had full-time staff working nights, a crew of four could have been there faster, Morton said.

Volunteer staff “can live anywhere from a mile and a quarter to six miles from the firehouse,” Morton said. Clearing a car of snow and driving into the station “can chew up (to) the first seven minutes of the call.”

Because there is no guarantee that enough trained people will show up at the scene of a fire in Williston on nights and weekends, and because the number of calls has grown, Morton said, Williston needs to consider relying more heavily on career firefighters.

On March 6, Williston voters will decide if they approve of adding six full-time firefighters/emergency medical technicians to the town payroll to cover nights and weekends. The proposal includes the creation of a town-run ambulance, staffed by the same firefighters/EMTs. Approval of Article 9 would mean at least three full-time staff covering fire and emergency medical calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A five-year $621,000 federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant would pay all of the salaries for the first two years, and part of the salaries in years three to five. The remainder of the initiative would be paid for by ambulance service revenue and property taxes. In the initiative’s most expensive year, town officials estimate it will cost homeowners $20 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value.

Few structure fires, calls increasing

Between 2001 and 2005 – Williston’s peak call year to date – fire calls in town increased 142 percent. Emergency medical calls in that time increased 49 percent.

Of the 773 fire calls in 2005 reported in the department’s federal SAFER grant application, more than 50 percent were false alarms and service/good intent calls (for example, someone sees a car on the side of the road and calls it in). One-third of calls were for hazardous conditions like a downed electrical wire or icy roads. Fires included 12 structural fires, 10 vehicle fires, and nine vegetation fires.

Safety in numbers

Williston currently employs four full-time firefighter/EMTs in addition to Chief Morton. Those staff members cover fire and first-response emergency medical calls Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the time Morton says the majority of calls are made.

On nights and weekends, fire calls are covered by a network of about 20 on-call volunteers. Though they are paid for each call made, they are “volunteer” because they are not required to respond to any given call in the same way as full-time staff.

Of Williston’s 12 structure fires in 2005, the department assembled the minimum number of firefighters in compliance with National Fire Protection Association standards only six times, according to the department’s application for a federal grant.

“The numbers have been down,” on-call firefighter Earl Davies said. “A lot of times we go out of the station with only two or three (people) on an engine which shouldn’t (happen). There should be at least four.”

Those four people represent what is called the “two-in, two-out” standard, as outlined by the National Fire Protection Association and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For their own safety, firefighters should only enter a burning building in pairs, and only when there is at least one pair outside the building to monitor them and if necessary initiate rescue and call for backup. The two-in, two-out requirement is waived under OSHA standards when a life is in jeopardy. State and local government employees are not governed by those OSHA standards, though they are the common sense standards in firefighting circles.

If the March 6 proposal passes, three full-time firefighters/EMTs would be on staff nights and weekends, Morton said, still requiring at least one on-call firefighter for each shift.

On-call firefighter Geoff Elder, who said he responds to about 70 percent of all fire calls days and nights, concurred with Davies’ assessment that fewer on-call firefighters seem to be responding to calls. Volunteer firefighters have other significant commitments like jobs and families.

“You don’t know what the call is until you get there,” Elder said. For a faulty alarm system, he acknowledged you don’t need many people responding. He added, however, that “if it’s something more serious and you only have three or four people, you’re starting off behind.”

Mixed qualifications

The State of Vermont has no minimum qualifications for a volunteer firefighter, according to Vermont Fire Academy Chief of Training Jim Litevich. Many volunteers, though, do try to get all the training they can, he said.

Williston’s four full-time firefighters are certified at both the Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 levels, the latter a more advanced training than the basic Firefighter 1 curriculum.

Williston’s on-call staff training is mixed, according to Morton. Fifty percent (11) do not hold current certifications – their certifications have lapsed or they became volunteers under an older training curriculum. The other 50 percent are certified at either the Firefighter 1 (5 volunteers) or Firefighter 2 (4 volunteers) level. Two new recruits will complete Firefighter 1 certification this spring.

“The reason for recertification is to keep them fresh and up to speed in case they haven’t used some of those skills,” Litevich said. Lapsed certifications do not mean incompetence, he said; they can still do the job.

“If they’ve taken a course and passed it, they still have a lot of that knowledge base,” he said.

Morton said he highly values the work on-call firefighters do, which is why they’ll continue to be integral to fire call response staffing. On the lapsed certifications, he noted that it’s already hard to get volunteers who can commit the number of hours required to not only get certified, but maintain that certification, and train on the department’s wide range of equipment.

“If I squeezed on call (staff) and forced them to get certification, we’d lose more of them,” he said.

[Read more…]

Town Hall land could host affordable housing

Homes may fill need for entry-level workers

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Affordable housing advocates want to build homes behind Williston Town Hall that can be purchased by people now priced out of the market.

The Burlington-based Champlain Housing Trust and the Williston Interfaith Affordable Housing Task Force seek to construct as many as 20 units on the town-owned property. The groups hope the town will donate land for the project.

Members of the groups spoke with the Selectboard last week about the proposal for the 8-acre parcel called the Lyon property. The Champlain Housing Trust seeks grants to fund a study of the site, but the town must be the grant applicant.

The groups “have concluded that the town-owned Lyon property may offer a suitable location to create new and permanently affordable homes that could be sold to town employees, as a priority, and to others who live, work or have grown up in Williston but cannot afford to purchase a home here,” wrote Liz Curry, project developer for the Champlain Housing Trust, in a letter to the town.

Ruth Painter, a member of the Williston Interfaith Affordable Housing Task Force, said the goal is to build single-family homes priced between $160,000 and $180,000. That would be roughly half what the average Williston home sold for in 2006.

“We want to have houses in town that will be affordable for people with entry-level jobs,” Painter said. “We don’t just want to have a town for people who are wealthy.”

The proposal would have to navigate an extensive planning and approval process, so it is too soon to determine the precise number and price of the homes, Curry said in an interview.

The prices would in part depend on how many homes can be built at the site, as determined by the study. Curry said the project would include both market-rate and lower-priced homes.

Painter said some of the homes could be reserved for town employees, particularly firefighters, police officers and teachers earning entry-level salaries. That would create a “win-win” situation for the town, she said, providing nearby homes for municipal workers and potentially reducing employee turnover.

Starter homes are in increasingly short supply in Williston. Though prices recently leveled off, home values have seen annual double-digit percentage increases over the past several years.

Jan Lawson, a veteran real estate agent who works for RE/MAX North Professionals, said recent Multiple Listing Service data indicate homes in Williston sold for an average of $353,000 in 2006. The Web site www.housingdata.org shows the median sale price for single-family homes in town was $306,000 in 2005, still out of reach for many.

“There’s an awful lot of people who have lived in Williston for a long time who wouldn’t be able to afford the house they live in now,” Lawson said.

The Williston Interfaith Affordable Housing Task Force grew out of a small group formed at Williston Federation Church a few years ago. During monthly discussions, group members learned that none of their children could afford a home in Williston, Painter said.

The group set out to change that. Group member George Gerecke sent out letters to each property owner with more than 10 acres asking them to donate, or offer at a reduced price, land where affordable homes could be built.

There were some responses, but nothing concrete came of the effort. Then the group looked at town-owned land and found the Lyon property.

Over the years, the town has considered several proposals for the land, including an agricultural museum. Most recently, residents suggested a community center be built at the location.

A group has been formed to study that proposal. Town Manager Rick McGuire said the study is still in its early stages and the group has yet to determine if a community center should be built, let alone its location.

But even if a community center is built at the site, he said it would not preclude affordable housing.

“This use is not inconsistent with what the housing group has proposed,” McGuire said. “They might even complement each other.”

He said no matter what happens, a study will be helpful because it will allow the town to find out how much of the land can be developed.

Curry said Williston residents will have ample opportunity to learn more about and comment on the affordable housing proposal. If the project is deemed feasible, it would be subject to the town’s development review process.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held Monday, March 12 at Williston Town Hall. The hearing begins at 8 p.m.

[Read more…]

Woman charged with embezzlement from Roadside Marine

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

A former employee of Roadside Marine in Williston was arrested on Tuesday afternoon after allegedly embezzling more than $27,000 from the company.

Sara Slattery, 26, of Essex, was arrested by Williston Police as she was returning from her lunch break at Lang Associates in Burlington, where she had been working as a receptionist for the past week.

Police say Slattery was recently “let go” from her bookkeeping position at Roadside Marine because she wasn’t showing up for work. The company’s owner, Tony Brisson, was subsequently “reviewing his books” police say, when he discovered that a $5,000 check had been made out to Slattery.

Brisson did not return a phone call from the Observer seeking comment.

Police say Brisson notified them six weeks ago about the check, and asked that they investigate. Officer Randall Tucker said police “had to wait for an inquest subpoena” before they could review her bank records, which took about three weeks.

Police received the records Tuesday, and Tucker said they discovered Slattery had written more than $27,000 in checks to herself in less than 6 months.

“In August alone, she wrote over $16,500 in checks,” Tucker said.

Police determined that Slattery was working at Lang Associates, and called her to ask her to come into the station for questioning. Tucker said she agreed to come to the station at 1 p.m., but didn’t show up. She called at 1:40 p.m., and told police she was “busy at work but had called her former boss and they had agreed to work things out.”

Police called Brisson, who denied having spoken with Slattery. Police went to Lang Associates and waited for Slattery to return from lunch. She was arrested in the parking lot and brought to the Williston Police station for processing, Tucker said.

Tom Heney, Vice President of Operations for Lang, said Slattery was hired as a receptionist and had “been with us about a week.” Heney said she “disappeared at the lunch hour,” and he didn’t know why she had been arrested. “We don’t have any formal comment,” he said.

Slattery, who police said “has a previous history of fraud,” was taken to the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility on $5,000 bail after being charged with embezzlement and uttering a forged instrument. The latter charge stemmed from Slattery writing checks and signing Brisson’s name without authorization, according to Tucker.

Slattery was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday to face the charges.

[Read more…]

Residents show support for local ambulance service

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

A young girl’s seizure, a man’s bloodied leg through a glass table, and a woman’s broken shinbone piercing through her skin were all recent Williston emergencies.

The three Williston residents involved in these incidents spoke at the public hearing on the town budget last week. They said that their emergencies would have been better handled if the town had its own ambulance service, one of the items that could come before voters in March.

Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton hopes voters this year will authorize the purchase of two ambulances and the hiring of six more full time firefighter/emergency medical technicians to staff an ambulance service for the town. The town has commissioned a study on the cost and feasibility of the ambulance service. Morton said the study will be complete Jan. 22. The Selectboard will then decide whether to put funding for the ambulance service and staff in the town budget, or have residents vote on it as a separate ballot item at town meeting.

Currently Williston uses St. Michael’s Rescue for ambulance service. Morton said having a town ambulance service could cut the response time from an average of 11-14 minutes to within 3-4 minutes. The increased demand for ambulance services in Williston has made the need for a town ambulance service a matter of some urgency, according to Morton.

The residents who showed up to speak echoed Morton’s sentiment.

“My sense is that we as a community have an opportunity to upgrade what is already a fine service,” said Katherine Stamper, a resident since 1992. Stamper said she once had to call 911 for her daughter’s friend who had a seizure. She said that while the first responder service was excellent, the ambulance response time could have been better.

Fourteen-year Williston resident Danny Bulger agreed. Bulger said a month ago his wife fell in his driveway and suffered a compound fracture in her leg, with the bone breaking the skin. He called 911, he said, but had to wait too long for an ambulance to arrive.

“Seeing your wife lying in the driveway out in the cold, with a compound fracture for half an hour is very frustrating,” Bulger said.

Ted Marcy, a physician at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said he had to call an ambulance after he accidentally put his foot through a glass table.

“In certain situations first responders have limited abilities to act on things,” Marcy said. “I would encourage the Selectboard to put this proposal to a vote.”

At the hearing, Morton also read a letter from Joseph Haddock, medical director of the Thomas Chittenden Health Center in Williston.

“The physicians of the Thomas Chittenden Health Center strongly support the development of a Williston ambulance service,” the letter read. “Whether patients are at home, work, shopping, or at our facility, the response time would be much better than the present situation where they are dependent on local first response crews or rescue squads from neighboring towns.”

If approved, the cost of the additional six full-time firefighter/EMTs needed to staff the ambulance would be covered for the first five years by a $621,000 federal grant the department won in November. The ambulances (a new one and a used one for backup) would likely cost about $250,000, which could be bonded by the town.

The Selectboard will meet again Jan. 11, at 7 p.m., to discuss the budget.

[Read more…]

Sales tax change prompts worries

Levy funds much of municipal budget

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Rules designed to simplify the state sales tax have complicated Williston’s municipal budget process.

The rules, which went into effect Jan. 1, make Vermont part of a nationwide drive to adopt uniform sales tax collections.

The state will now tax some items – beer and computer software, for example – that were formerly exempt. And clothing, which was formerly taxed only if the purchase was more than $110, is now exempt.

But the biggest change involves so-called “sourcing” rules. Sales tax on items delivered or shipped is now charged based on the purchase’s destination.

So if a consumer buys a refrigerator in Williston but has it delivered to South Burlington, the purchase is exempt from Williston’s 1 percent local option tax. On the other hand, if the same refrigerator is bought in South Burlington but delivered here, the 1 percent tax is tacked on to the price. The changes do not affect in-store sales when the customer takes purchased items home.

No one – particularly Williston town staff trying to formulate the 2007-08 municipal budget – know for sure how much the changes are going to affect sales tax revenue. The answer is particularly important in Williston because the town depends heavily on the local option tax. In the current fiscal year, sales tax revenue will fund an estimated 38 percent of the $6.9 million municipal budget, according to Susan Lamb, the town’s finance director.

“We don’t have any clue about what the financial impact might be,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

That uncertainty was echoed by Michael Wasser, policy analyst with the Vermont Tax Department.

“Quite frankly, it’s almost impossible to predict,” he said. “We won’t really know until we get some experience on how it will all balance out.”

Wasser said it will take about a year to accurately gauge how the new system will affect the state as a whole and the four municipalities – Williston, Burlington, Manchester and Stratton – that have local option taxes. Sales tax revenue varies greatly from quarter to quarter.

Williston voters approved the 1 percent local option tax in 2002. The levy has been a boon for Williston homeowners, allowing the town to reduce its municipal property tax rate to a fraction of its former level.

But some Williston businesses warned at the time that the tax would put them at a competitive disadvantage with companies in nearby towns, none of which then levied the local option tax. ( Burlington later enacted its local option tax.)

One of the opponents was Doug Griswold, owner of S.T. Griswold and Co., which sells ready mix and pre-cast concrete as well as landscaping and home improvement products on Industrial Avenue in Williston. But he said on Monday that the tax ended up having little impact on his business.

Griswold feels the new rules will make the sales tax fairer but create accounting headaches because businesses must now track where products are delivered.

Wasser said the state is setting up tools on its Web site to help businesses calculate sales taxes. When a company ships or delivers goods, it can type in a zip code to find out whether a local option tax applies and how much the sales tax will be on a given purchase.

Griswold said his business collected roughly $70,000 in local option sales taxes in each of the past two years. Under the new rules, Williston will lose most of that revenue because about 90 percent of Griswold’s sales are to customers who had their purchases delivered outside of Williston.

“If all the businesses in town had the same numbers, it could have a big impact,” Griswold said.

McGuire said the big question will be how many Williston purchases are shipped or delivered out of town versus the number of out-of-town purchases made by Williston residents.

The town has tentatively decided to use exactly the same sales tax projections in 2007-08 budget that it used for the current fiscal year.

Using those projections represents a hedge because the town will likely collect more tax than estimated in the current fiscal year, McGuire said. The town also keeps a budget reserve in case revenue falls short of projections.

The changes in Vermont are part of a nationwide effort to standardize sales taxes called the Streamlined Sale Tax Project. The goal is to pave the way for federal legislation requiring Internet sales to be taxed, thus capturing revenue that has largely eluded states and municipalities.

Supporters of the proposal also say the change would eliminate a competitive disadvantage faced by brick-and-mortar sellers.

Congressional opposition to the law has focused on impediments to interstate commerce posed by the lack of standardized sales tax rules.

Vermont residents are legally obligated to report and pay sales tax on Internet purchases when filing their state income tax returns. But few residents fully report the tax and it is impractical to audit enough returns to ensure compliance, the Tax Department’s Web site states.

[Read more…]

Bird-control rule creates new landfill flap

Opponents cite aircraft safety concerns

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A rule that forbids new landfills near airports does not apply to the proposed landfill in Williston, a federal agency has concluded.

The Federal Aviation Administration decided the regulation was not applicable, wrote Brian Searles, director of Burlington International Airport, in a letter to the town of Williston last month.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District has proposed a landfill on Redmond Road that would accept trash from within and perhaps outside of the county. The proposal has generated widespread opposition among nearby residents, who have formed a group called the Williston Neighborhood Coalition.

Though Burlington International is only about three miles from the proposed landfill, the airport does not meet all the criteria needed to be subject to the rule, the FAA said. The regulation generally applies to landfills within six miles of an airport and is designed to prevent the seagulls that flock to landfills from colliding with airplanes.

For the regulation to apply, an airport must be “primarily” served by aircraft with fewer than 60 seats. The FAA, in a 2000 letter to the waste district, said that 63 percent of the commercial flights at Burlington International use aircraft with more than 60 seats.

But the Williston Neighborhood Coalition disagrees with those numbers and the conclusion that the six-mile rule is not applicable, said Craig Abrahams, a member of the group.

“We totally dispute that,” he said. “And we will be conducting an investigation of each and every airline that flies out of the airport.”

Abrahams said things have changed dramatically in the past six years, with airlines moving to smaller planes. He said a recent check on five different days of Web sites for airlines serving the local airport showed that 76 percent of flights had 60 or fewer seats.

He said the FAA, the airport and the city of Burlington have stonewalled requests for updated information on flight seating capacity.

Searles said that allegation is “just untrue.”

“The issue isn’t as simple as it is being portrayed,” he said. “The types of aircraft are continually changing.”

The airport tracks passengers but not aircraft capacity, Searles said. To get an accurate accounting of airline seating, he said the FAA needs to calculate data compiled over an extended period of time.

The FAA is in the process of doing that, Searles said, promising to publicly release the new information when it is available.

FAA representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tom Moreau, CSWD general manager, said the waste district has long been aware of concerns regarding the landfill’s proximity to the airport.

“You don’t go into a project like this without crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i,’” he said.

In addition to its original inquiry in 2000, CSWD recently sought an updated opinion on the applicability of the six-mile rule.

With any landfill, “seagulls are going to be an issue,” Moreau said. But he is confident the waste district can limit or even eliminate birds by employing measures used by other landfills. Tactics include flares, noisemakers and even falcons.

Abrahams is skeptical that the landfill can really control seagulls. He said the birds soon adapt and return to feast on garbage.

Concerns about bird-aircraft collisions are especially acute in Williston because both passenger planes and fighter jets from the Vermont National Guard base often fly low over homes on their approach to the airport, Abrahams said.

Searles said he expects updated data on aircraft seating to be released in the near future. No matter what the new numbers show, he said the airport will continue to monitor the landfill proposal to ensure all necessary safety measures are in place.

“We’re very concerned about safety,” he said. “But we don’t have jurisdiction over the safety rules.”

[Read more…]

CVU budget approval expected today

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board of Directors is expected to approve on Jan. 18 a $19.7 million proposed budget for 2007-2008.

Members of the board postponed their meeting Monday night due to poor weather; the meeting was rescheduled for Jan. 18.

The $19.7 million proposed budget, which will go before voters on Town Meeting Day March 6, is a nearly 5 percent increase over the current budget. School salaries and benefits comprise nearly $13 million; the next biggest chunk of the budget ($1.2 million) accounts for a share of salaries and expenses to run the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Taxpayers in each town served by CVU collectively pay a percentage of the high school’s budget based on enrollment. Williston is projected to have nearly 35 percent of next year’s CVU enrollment, representing about $5.7 million of the proposed budget. Other towns served by CVU include Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, and St. George.

CVU Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said she expects most of the 11-member board will support the proposed budget. The bulk of the increase is from projected salary and benefit increases for existing staff. Jensen said she expects one or two people will object to the final proposed budget because of three staff additions.

The part-time teaching positions – one each in science, business, and family and consumer sciences – are the additions over which there has been board disagreement, Jensen said. The first two are 50-percent-time positions; the latter a 40-percent time position; they total $98,000 for next year’s budget.

“We like the idea but we’re uncomfortable adding staff with a flat student population,” Jensen said the board told school administrators. The board told administrators they could support adding the positions if other costs were reduced.

Last month CVU Principal Sean McMannon said adding the positions would help reduce class sizes in tenth grade science and meet student demand in more areas. The addition of the part-time business teacher would allow ninth graders to take business electives and it would create another upper level business course.

“Students who are really interested in business courses, they run through our business curriculum pretty quickly,” McMannon said.

The part-time family and consumer science position would give ninth graders another elective course option and could help meet what McMannon called “high demand” in grades 10-12 food courses.

McMannon said new book orders, supplies, and technology equipment costs were reduced to accommodate the new positions, as was the fuel budget. Those reductions equal about $40,000, he said.

Other, less contentious, additions to the budget included three special education positions, part of the costs to be born by the State of Vermont. A proposed technology integration teacher/trainer position was not added. A new reading development program specialist was added; that person will work with students struggling with reading who are not eligible for special education services.

“It comes back to the question of (the federal) ‘no child left behind’ (program) and the expectation that every child is going to meet standards,” Jensen said, explaining why the board supported the addition. “We don’t feel it’s acceptable to have kids graduate who can’t read at grade level.”

Jensen acknowledged the board had expressed concern about the fact that CVU enrollment is projected to peak next year. In 2010-2011 school year, the high school is likely to have 1,254 students, about 100 fewer than current enrollment.

“We can support (staff increases) this year, but clearly we need to think long-term,” Jensen said.

McMannon said 14 CVU staff members have 25 or more years of experience and nine staff members have more than 30 years experience. Staff increases now likely will be offset by staff retirements or reduced schedules when enrollment begins to decline, he said.

Also on the March 6 ballot, voters likely will be asked to approve CVU to spend about $145,000 to replace a roof and a heating system in an area known as the “annex.” That money would come from an anticipated fund balance. In a separate ballot article, voters also will be asked to approve the purchase of two new buses; the first payment installment is included in the total CVU budget

[Read more…]

Dual suicide thwarted

Police persistence breaks up‘suicide pact’

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Williston Police Sgt. Brian Claffy saved the lives of a Chittenden County couple on Monday night after both were found unconscious in an attempted suicide in Williston, according to police.

Police received a call about a “swordfight in progress” at a local storage facility on Williston Road at about 11 p.m. Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain (acting as a spokesperson since Claffy was not on duty prior to press time), said Claffy, along with officers from state and other local police departments, headed to the address given by a cell phone caller, but on arrival could find no indication of a swordfight or any other activity.

Chamberlain said that “on an inkling,” Claffy and other officers decided to check other Williston storage facilities “just to be sure.” Claffy headed for Extra Space Storage at the corner of Industrial Ave. and Williston Road, where he saw some tire tracks that did not appear to be fresh, but “decided to enter the facility and look around.”

Chamberlain noted that storage companies give access codes to police departments so they can get onto the grounds in case of emergencies. But, he said, the access code didn’t work in this case. Instead of giving up, Claffy managed to push his way through the entry gates anyway, Chamberlain said.

Claffy followed the tracks, and heard music coming from one of the units. He called for assistance, and banged on the overhead door repeatedly, but no one answered. Claffy and other Williston officers finally rolled up the door, and found a car with the engine running and the car windows open. Inside were a man and woman, unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning.

They quickly shut off the car, and dragged the man and woman outside. An ambulance took the couple to Fletcher Allen Health Care, where police say they were treated for carbon monoxide exposure. Chamberlain was unsure when they would be released from the hospital, noting that the woman might undergo psychiatric evaluation. Had it not been for Claffy’s persistence, “they would’ve died,” Chamberlain said.

The couple, a 40-year-old man from Milton and 34-year-old woman from Winooski, had entered into a “suicide pact,” according to Chamberlain. He said the caller turned out to be the woman, who had “a change of heart” and secretly placed the call to police after leaving the storage unit to go outside. She then returned to the car after making the call. She gave the wrong address, however, causing the subsequent confusion.

“There were so many opportunities for (Claffy) to say it was a bogus call,” Chamberlain said. “Were it not for him, two people would have died.”

Police aren’t sure why the woman reentered the unit after placing the call, or why she said it was a swordfight. Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick speculated that, “she was scrambling for what to say and wanted officers to respond. She felt she had to get back in the car, which is odd.”

Dimmick praised the efforts of officers handling the call, most notably Claffy.

“Sgt. Claffy’s great police instincts and never-quit attitude saved two lives on this night, and again showed why he is a credit to the Town of Williston and our department.”

According to the Williston Police Department’s Web site, Sgt. Claffy is one of two uniform supervisors in the Uniform Patrol Services division of the Williston Police Department. He joined the department in 1998, and previously served eight years with the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in California; Long Island, N.Y.; and Burlington.

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With smoke clear, reality sets in

Two families recover from fire losses

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Five weeks have passed since two Williston families lost nearly everything they owned to fire.

“I think that now that the holidays are over and we’re trying to get back into a normal life it’s kind of sinking in with all of us,” Lynne Moon said last week. “We’re trying to catch up at work and at school and trying to keep things moving forward on the rebuilding. I think we’re all feeling just a little overwhelmed right now.”

Moon, her husband Stephen, and their daughters Hayley, an eighth grader, and Aubrey, a high school senior, lost their home on Dec. 13 in a fire officials say was caused by a kitchen electrical problem. Judy Benoit, 65, her son Shawn, 30, and his girlfriend Molly McHugh also lost their home – an apartment above the garage of the Moons’ farmhouse.

“There’s still so much to figure out,” Judy Benoit said last week. “Every day we talk about something and I realize ‘oh my gosh, that’s gone too.’”

Both families say the Christmas holiday was better than might otherwise have been expected.

Staff at the Hampton Inn where her family is staying, Benoit said, “made it so, so much easier for me, and they cared.” The Hampton Inn donated a Christmas dinner for twelve to the Benoits, and staff members gave them numerous gift certificates. “I’ll spend the rest of my life thanking these people.”

The Moons found four stockings filled with gifts for each of them at the home of the family for whom they were pet sitting. A Champlain Valley Union High School senior showed up Christmas morning with “large amounts” of wrapped packages that he’d gotten donated from local stores.

“We were all floored by the kindness and generosity of people at Christmastime,” Moon said. “There were a lot of gifts that appeared anonymously. What we thought was going to be a horrible Christmas turned out to be a wonderful Christmas.”

One precious gift was Autumn, the third Moon family cat to reappear after the fire. The family lost the fourth cat and a dog. The Benoits also lost their dog to the fire.

Both families are still dealing with many logistics. Judy Benoit is looking for a permanent place to live, as is her son and his girlfriend who resumed classes at Champlain College last week. The Moons, who are renting a house in Colchester, are dealing with banks and builders and insurance agents, Lynne Moon said. They’re also finalizing a carpool schedule to get Hayley to and from Williston Central School daily.

And then there are emotions to address.

“There’s good and bad days,” Hayley said. “Having more time to think about it just makes it worse. If I keep busy it’s good.”

Responses from friends vary, Hayley said.

“Some of them still aren’t really sure how to act or go about it,” she said. “Others just act like nothing happened most of the time; (they) keep it normal.”

Lynne Moon said sometimes the family drives through their Chapman Lane neighborhood because “it feels good.”

“We miss our neighborhood,” she said, tears beginning to well in her eyes. “We can’t wait to be home.”

Moon said they hope to pour the foundation of a new house on their now-empty lot as soon as the weather allows. She said they may organize construction parties in the spring.

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