September 20, 2014

Commission grants rare rezoning approval

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a rezoning request despite misgivings that it would create commercial sprawl in the rural area south of Interstate 89.

The commission unanimously recommended approval of the request by developer Bill Dunn. He wants to construct a building as large as 75,000 square feet on the land for Qimonda, a high-tech company that has outgrown its current facility. The parcel to be rezoned is adjacent to Hillside East, the business park Dunn owns on Hurricane Lane where Qimonda is now located.

Approvals are still needed by two other town boards before the new building can be constructed.

Commission members voiced concerns that the rezoning, the only one in Williston in recent memory, would set a precedent and allow future development along Vermont 2A south of Interstate 89. The area is currently zoned only for residential development.

“The biggest single point is the precedent,” said commission Chairman David Yandell. “It still scares me.”

Neighboring homeowners had strongly opposed the rezoning during previous meetings on the proposal. A handful of them attended Tuesday’s session, but those who spoke seemed resigned that the rezoning would be approved and instead focused on minimizing its impact.

Larry Reed, who lives along Vermont 2A adjacent to the land to be rezoned, urged the commission to ensure exterior lighting didn’t end up looking like “ Bolton Valley with night skiing.” He also asked commissioners to keep a buffer of undeveloped land between existing homes and the proposed building.

Much of Tuesday’s lengthy debate focused on conditions attached to the rezoning, particularly those requiring most of the 55-acre parcel to remain undeveloped and reserving a portion of the land for affordable housing.

Commissioners were divided on the housing requirement. After much debate, they deleted the condition and instead required all but the 12- acre site where the building will be located to remain undeveloped.

They also attached a written statement that said the rezoning was allowed “to accommodate an existing tenant that makes a major contribution to the local economy.” The statement said other property owners who might want to rezone their land should not consider the decision a precedent.

The parcel to be rezoned is in the town’s agriculture-rural zoning district where commercial uses are not permitted. It is also outside the sewer service area, meaning the town would have to extend a sewer line. And the land is in a district that protects ridgeline views.

The Williston Selectboard still has to approve the changes. If it does, the town’s Development Review Board will then have to approve the building itself before anything is constructed.

Qimonda produces memory chips used in consumer products. Its current research and development facility is not large enough to accommodate a planned expansion that could add dozens of high-paying jobs.

The company now employs about 120 people. Qimonda has said it could add as many as 80 workers if a new facility is built.

Neighbors and town officials had suggested the company look at other sites in Williston. But Qimonda said other locations would not provide the quiet, park-like setting needed for research and development of new products.

The commission in November rejected a request to rezone Dunn’s entire 55-acre parcel. He then asked the town to alter its land-use map by placing a 12-acre slice of the land in the commercial zoning district while promising to keep the remaining parcel undeveloped. The change seemed to take the edge off neighbors’ vociferous opposition.

Yandell said he hoped the latest proposal would ease the impact on neighbors and ensure no further commercial development occurs south of Interstate 89.

“I think this is better than what we started with by a long shot,” he said. “We’ve mitigated the impact of this as much as we can. I hope the precedent doesn’t come back to bite us.”

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Former cafe now home to four businesses

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Village building has gone through several incarnations

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The building that housed a long-defunct cafe in Williston Village is now home to four small businesses.

Hinesburg resident Darrel Depot purchased the former Bread & Beyond building at 7808 Williston Road. It will provide space for Purofirst, a business he owns that repairs fire- and water-damaged buildings.

Depot said he was looking for office space after his lease expired and the building was a bargain. He bought it for $412,500, closing the sale on Nov. 16 and moving in at the beginning of December.

It had been years since a business occupied the roughly 4,500-square-foot structure. It needed a new roof and fresh paint. A plumbing leak had caused water damage.

“They really let it go for a very good price,” Depot said. “And the condition of the building might have scared some people.”

But Depot knew how to assess and fix damaged buildings.

“That’s my business,” he said, estimating it cost about $15,000 to make the repairs.

Three tenants have moved into the building over the past few weeks. They are:

Elder/Simays Construction. The company is a general contractor that has worked with Purofirst on building repairs.

Jonathan Milne, a financial consultant and Williston resident. Milne said he previously worked for another financial services company but wanted to open his own office.

Nanci Smith, a family law attorney who moved her practice from Montpelier. She has more than 13 years of experience in civil, criminal and family court experience, according to her Web site.

Purofirst is a national franchise headquartered in Florida. Franchisees like Depot independently own and operate their businesses.

Depot formerly worked as a consultant to paper and steel mills. But he tired of the travel associated with the work and wanted a job that would keep him close to his wife and two children. He opened Purofirst in June 2005.

He and his employees are experts in cleaning up messes caused by fires, floods, plumbing leaks and malfunctioning furnaces.

A common job this time of year is repairing damage caused by frozen pipes. Depot said he is currently working on several structures where pipes have broken.

When he started looking for a new location, Depot said he intended to lease space. But he said buying the Williston building ending up making financial sense.

The two-story structure just west of Williston Town Hall has an interesting history.

It was built in 1992 by Louise Ransom, former publisher of the Williston Observer, which was then known as the Williston Whistle. The building was designed to mimic an historic home, with an irregular roof line and wood floors.

Various tenants have occupied the building, including the newspaper and most recently an insurance office.

But longtime residents may best remember it as the location of the Williston Community Coffeehouse and a cafe named Bread & Beyond.

During its 1990s heyday, the coffeehouse hosted musical performances, meetings and classes. When it went out of business, Bread & Beyond took over the space, and for a time it continued to serve as an unofficial community center.

The business was bought in 1999 by Burlington resident Christian Diamandis. He cut staff and discontinued dinner service to keep the business afloat. But Diamandis closed the restaurant for good in 2001.

The building was eventually sold to ASM LLC, a trust whose beneficiary was apparently a young man by the name of Aubrey MacFarland.

Kathy Smardon, assistant town clerk, said MacFarland lived in the building off and on. She remembers him coming in to pay his property taxes and water bills.

But MacFarland died in a motorcycle accident some time ago, according to Smardon. The building was again put on the market.

Town officials said they are pleased the building is now occupied. Without a steady tenant and regular maintenance, the building had become an eyesore in the heart of the historic district.

“As you know, it was getting to be a derelict old building, so we’re glad to see it has changed hands,” said D.K. Johnston, Williston’s zoning administrator.

“It definitely looked like it had been abandoned,” Smardon said. “Good grief, the grass looked waist high.”

The building is an ideal location for its new tenants, Depot said, noting that the homey atmosphere gives it a unique flavor.

"It’s not a sterile office space," he said. "It’s more like a house."

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Proposed school budgets mean 5% tax increase

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Williston school expenses increase 6.5 percent

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

With a boyish grin on his face, and a hint of sarcasm in his voice, Williston School Board member Andy Bishop on Thursday night said he’d been dreaming of page 14 in the proposed budget: the Act 68 equalized homestead tax rate calculation.

As if it was the best thing since Ben and Jerry invented coconut almond fudge chip ice cream (Bishop’s favorite), Bishop quietly fawned over the sheet with 32 lines of data traced over four fiscal years.

The reason for Bishop’s feigned enthusiasm was not lost on some of those present at Thursday’s board meeting. For the uninitiated, and even some veterans, the tax rate calculation sheet’s 32 lines are perhaps the most complicated piece of the school budget process.

Line 1: $15.97 million — the total proposed budget to run Williston’s public elementary and middle schools next year.

Line 3: $5.7 million — Williston’s share of Champlain Valley Union High School’s budget for next year.

Line 5 totals the two.

Each succeeding line – with names like “initial education spending” and “per pupil figure used for calculating district adjustment” move progressively closer to the one line that most voters care about: Line 24, the estimated actual homestead tax rate – or what a Williston homeowner will pay for next year’s property school taxes.

The budget total

The Williston School District Board of Directors on Thursday night approved a $15.97 million proposed budget for the 2007-2008 school year. The school district serves students in preschool through eighth grade from the towns of Williston and St. George.

The proposed budget that will go before voters in March represents a 7 percent increase over this year’s budget. Due to a recommended accounting change – meaning that Medicaid-related expenses must be listed in the budget, even though there is an equal amount of revenue – the actual increase in school spending is 6.5 percent. Last year, Williston voters approved a budget increase of 7.5 percent.

About half of the proposed increase is due to projected increases in salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and staff that work at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools. Though teacher contracts expire in June, the budget includes an estimate of 6.6 percent increase in salary and benefits. Annual increases for staff are set by a contract that took effect last year.

The other half of the proposed budget increase is in special education programs and staffing. Those changes include one new professional special educator position and several paraprofessional educators.

Increasingly, Williston schools are seeing students with learning and physical disabilities, administrators have said. By law, schools must supply whatever instructional supports are reasonable to ensure those students have equal access to educational success.

Outside those two heavy-hitting cost areas, a number of small programmatic additions also were made to the proposed budget. The St. George School Board recently voted to provide more than $17,000 for the purchase of books, writing and reading comprehension materials to step-up literacy efforts.

The Williston School Board, for its part, agreed to add to the budget line items for additional supplies and several part-time positions. The board approved $27,300 to add a 30-percent-time foreign language teacher. The increase in students interested in foreign language is “still going strong,” District Principal Walter Nardelli told the board. “We’re trying to keep class sizes at a reasonable number.”

Another significant programmatic improvement is in intensive math instruction. For $9,198 the Board approved adding another half-day for the math intervention instructor to work with students who struggle in math.

One proposed improvement that is not part of the regular budget is renovations for bathrooms upstairs at Williston Central School. In a formal presentation to the board, a group of students advocated that the 38-year-old bathrooms be uppated. Currently the bathrooms are not in compliance for wheelchair accessibility, presenters said, and they are the only bathrooms available on the second floor.

The School Board on Thursday agreed to ask the public to allow them to use up to $150,000 of the school fund balance on renovation projects to include the upstairs bathroom. The school district maintains such a fund balance in case of unforeseen building emergencies.

Tax Implications

In addition to the budget for Williston schools, Williston taxpayers are responsible for about $5.68 million, or 35 percent, of Champlain Valley Union High School’s budget. Accounting for both budgets, the town’s total proposed school spending for the 2007-2008 school year is $21.68 million.

If voters approve both the Williston School District and the CVU High School budgets, Williston homeowners will face a 5 percent increase in their property taxes, or 8.5 cents for every $100 of their home’s assessed value. For a $300,000 home, that’s a $255 tax increase, before any state reduction in school taxes according to income.

State income sensitivity guidelines reduced the final school property tax bill for nearly 1,500 Williston homeowners last year. Those residents – with an average household income of $55,300 – saved an average of $1,444 each.

If the budgets pass on Town Meeting Day, Williston business owners will face a nearly 11-cent increase for every $100 of the business’ assessed value. For a $500,000 business, that’s a nearly $550 increase.

The School Board directors will hold an open forum on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Williston Central School meeting room near the front of the school to discuss the school budgets and tax implications. The public is encouraged to attend.

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Legislative committee work begins

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Observer staff report

Vermont Legislative committee assignments were announced last week. Chittenden County senators and local House representatives are serving on a range of committees, many of which are now getting overviews and updates from state administrators. Some committees already are getting feedback and background on specific bills. Here’s a quick overview of what our representatives and one of our senators are working on.

Rep. Joan Lenes (D-St. George/Shelburne) said she’s had “plenty” of moments where she’s felt like the new kid on the block. In her first term as a Legislator, Lenes has been assigned to the House institutions committee that examines school construction issues, the state hospital, the corrections system, and the capitol improvements budget that includes maintenance and improvements of state buildings and grounds. “The amount of information is huge,” Lenes said. “(But) it wasn’t all so foreign that my head was spinning.”

Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston), who previously served on the natural resources and energy committee, has been assigned to the fish, wildlife and water resources committee. The two committees have some overlap, McCullough said, and Williston is facing several water issues that will relate to the work of his new committee. Stormwater and groundwater are the two big water-related topics, McCullough said. A resolution supporting an upcoming federal bill to ban the export of mercury from the U.S. is before the committee currently. Also, McCullough said, they’ll look at fish and wildlife division funding.

“They’re funded primarily from hunting and fishing licenses, which have been declining substantially,” McCullough said. “We’re hoping to discover a better way to help fund it.”

Rep. Mary Peterson (D-Williston) said her return to the ways and means committee is “same old, same old.” School funding is the massive topic on the table, though broadband access throughout the state is another priority, Peterson said. The committee so far has heard from the state tax commissioner and the state chief fiscal officer.

“After we’ve gotten all of the information from the administration, then I think a puzzle starts to emerge of what all the various committees are going to try to accomplish,” Peterson said.

Sen. Ginny Lyons ( D-Chittenden County) has returned as chair of the natural resources and energy Senate committee and as a member of health and welfare. Lyons designed recent and upcoming testimony for legislators on climate change and economic development. The natural resources and energy committee will then move into state energy planning, she said. One bill before her committee would make the permitting process for small renewable electric generation — like farm methane projects – more streamlined. The health and welfare committee already has started to review how Catamount Health and a chronic care initiative passed last year are being implemented. “We’ll be looking at some things that have fallen through the cracks while Catamount Health was being developed,” like foster, care, she said.

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Longtime residents leave town after 3 decades

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Bev Thomas came across the old newspaper while packing up her Williston home of 33 years. The real estate section from 1973 showed a picture of her North Williston home, with an asking price of $43,500.

How times have changed. And not just monetarily.

Decades ago, the North Williston Road outside the Thomas family home became the location for Saturday night “kick the can” games; but they didn’t have to worry about cars coming by. Sundays they played soccer on the field that now houses the Pleasant Acres development.

The post office was in the small building currently occupied by the fire department on the village green. The first time Bev went to get her mail, she said, “I walked through the door and they knew who I was. It blew me away.”

After 33 years on North Williston Road, Beverly and her husband of 26 years, Dick Thomas, are moving to Plainfield. A house came up for sale there across the street from one of their 10 children – they have a blended family from previous marriages, Beverly said – and the couple decided it was time to downsize.

Sitting in their nearly empty home last week, the movers long gone, Bev and Dick said they’ll miss the relationships they’ve built. Given the years of service the pair have contributed to the town, it is clear many in Williston also will miss them.

BEV THOMAS

“Bev has done so much,” said Jill Coffrin, youth services librarian at Dorothy Alling Library. “She has really been committed to serving the families of not only Williston but also St. George.”

Bev’s early volunteer work in Williston began as a scout leader and as a coordinator of a parent-teacher organization ski and winter equipment sale. But it was her professional work as a preschool special education teacher that made her decide she wanted a way to stay connected to young families in the community.

Upon her retirement over six years ago, Bev became coordinator of the Williston Early Childhood Connection. She ran the Mother Goose Early Literacy program through the Vermont Center for the Book. The program introduces parents to books appropriate for the age of their children and gives them free books to take home to share with their children. Bev also organized and coordinated a group for first-time parents to share their struggles and how to overcome them. A baby welcoming program and a program to share books with home-based childcare centers also were part of Bev’s volunteer responsibilities.

Williston resident Karen Allen first met Bev when her oldest son, Ryan, now 12, was enrolled in the Early Essential Education preschool program. She crossed paths with Bev again when Bev brought welcome baby program gifts after her middle and youngest sons were born.

“She’s very thoughtful and kind, and very compassionate and caring,” Allen said. “She just loves children.”

DICK THOMAS

Dick Thomas’ contributions to town life began in the mid 1980s, he said, when the Pleasant Acres development was proposed. Dick, an attorney, joined the Planning Commission and not long thereafter was asked to fill in on the Selectboard. He then ran for a one-year and later a three-year term, seeing Williston through its second town plan. A proposal for the Pyramid Mall that never came to fruition – its proposed size was larger than University Mall in South Burlington – was a big topic of discussion during his tenure.

“I guess for close to two years we spent what must have been 10 hours a week with either a zoning-type meeting or a regular Selectboard-type meeting,” he said. In recent years, while running his law office from home, he’s served on the Interfaith Affordable Housing Task Force as well as a town committee addressing a recreation path proposed for North Williston Road.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said Dick’s personality is “low key but to the point” and that Dick is a hard worker.

“He brought a wealth of experience,” Boyden said. “I always felt that he brought a lot of concern and passion for the environmental issues.”

With only a corner of houseplants left to pack up before closing the door on their home of so many years, the Thomases plan to maintain the connections they value.

“We’ll still be in touch,” Bev said. “That’s not going to end.”

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Vermont 50+ EXPO celebrates 12th year this Saturday

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Vermont’s largest event for Baby Boomers and seniors, the Vermont 50+ EXPO, will be held Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The 12th annual event is a full day of fun for those age 50 and older, and all ages are welcome.

Attendees are invited to escape cabin fever and enjoy a mid-winter bit of Hawaiian paradise in the Sheraton’s conference center, including free tropical punch, hula lessons with Karen Amirault, and more.

In the Emerald Ballroom, the Lyric Theatre Chorus will perform a “Tropical Getaway in Song.” Other highlights of the day include a fashion show, over 75 exhibitors, and an afternoon dance party with music by Charlie Rice of C-Note Entertainment.

The EXPO also offers a series of seminars throughout the day on topics ranging from retirement planning to consumer education to getting a good night’s sleep.

The EXPO will feature a 50-50 raffle and silent auction, and prize giveaways including a trip for two valued at over $2,400, plus free tote bags while supplies last.

Tickets are $5 at the door, or $4 in advance when purchased at the University Mall’s customer service desk in South Burlington, or by calling Vermont Maturity at 872-9000 x10.

A portion of all proceeds benefit the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, which provides vital services to area seniors including the Meals on Wheels program and the Senior HelpLine.

The EXPO is presented by Vermont Maturity Magazine and the Vermont Agency.

For advance tickets, call 872-9000 x10. For more information, call (802) 878-0051 or e-mail [email protected]

 

Note: Vermont Maturity Magazine is published by Paul and Marianne Apfelbaum, the publishers of the Williston Observer.

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Snow vacation ends for plowing crews

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Recent storms make up for winter’s warm start

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Two weeks ago, the winter looked like an easy one for Williston’s snowplowing crews. Salt and sand usage was well below average. Only a fraction of the town’s annual winter road maintenance budget had been spent.

But after an ice storm on Martin Luther King Day and a series of small, wind-driven snowfalls last week, it is beginning to look more like the typical Vermont winter. The budget surplus for plowing is shrinking like a snowdrift on a sunny afternoon.

“It changed a lot because we had a number of storms,” said Neil Boyden, who oversees snowplowing as Williston’s public works director. “We’ve been out several times – we didn’t miss many days in the past two weeks.”

On Monday, with the midpoint of the plowing season (mid-November to mid-April) approaching, the town had spent 56 percent of its $88,000 annual budget for salt, spreading 1,135 tons of the stuff. Back on Jan. 5, Williston had used only a third of the salt budget.

The total winter road maintenance budget for 2006-07 is $369,792, which includes salt and sand as well as labor, equipment and fuel costs. Boyden said total plowing expenditures track salt usage, meaning that about half the road-clearing budget has been spent so far this winter.

The town experienced seven snow “events” in the nine-day period ending Jan. 22. “Events” are characterized as snowfall that sticks to roads. The town has also had five “chasers” during the period, which are when snowdrifts pile up in roads.

“Friday, it snowed all day and the wind blew,” Boyden said. “So we had to go out constantly with two or three trucks to chase drifts.”

All the flurries, however, have added up to relatively little total snow this winter. The National Weather Service reported 28.2 inches of snow as of Jan. 21, about 11 inches less than normal for this time of year. The Burlington area averages 81.2 inches of snow each winter.

Unseasonably warm temperatures have kept the snowfall below average, but it appears Mother Nature is now making up for lost time, said Greg Hanson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We got off to such a warm start in November and December,” he said. “In the last week or two, we got into more of a normal weather pattern.”

Though snowfall has been scant, frequent flurries and high winds have hit the area over the past week. The National Weather Service measured gusts of at least 29 mph on each day from Jan. 18 through Jan. 20.

The town of Williston has a fleet of seven full-size plows and 12 drivers to clear about 75 miles of paved and unpaved roads. Each plow is responsible for about 10 miles. The town uses a private contractor to plow narrower streets that full-size trucks cannot traverse.

Boyden said the number of storms, not just the total snowfall, drives road-clearing costs. Storms that fall on evenings and holidays also increase costs.

“When you get snow in small increments, it just zaps resources for salt, manpower and overtime,” he said. “It takes just as much effort to clear.”
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Town warning nears completion

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Selectboard adopts $7.2M budget

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

A new community center; a traffic light at Talcott Road; and a Williston ambulance service could all be in Williston’s near future, if voters approve all articles and the budget at town meeting this year. The Selectboard on Monday approved the latest draft of the official town warning for Williston’s Town Meeting Day on March 6. Although the warning cannot be finalized until Jan. 29, the board decided to OK the warning thus far, with some slight changes in language. The board will meet on Monday to finalize the warning.

Of the first seven articles (the ones to be voted on from the floor at town meeting), three are noteworthy: Article 5 asks the voters if they will authorize the maximum veteran’s property tax exemption from the current $20,000 to $40,000. Williston currently has nine veterans receiving the $20,000 exemption, according to the town. A memo from Town Clerk Deb Beckett says the tax impact on the town is an estimated $5,400.

REBATE/PREBATE CHANGES

Articles 3 and 4 deal with the new property tax rebate and prebate system. This fiscal year, eligible taxpayers will no longer receive income sensitivity prebates or rebates on their property taxes directly. Instead, the payment will be sent from the state to the town. In Article 4, voters will decide to have the payments applied “in order” or “pro rata.” “In order” means the rebate/prebate will be applied to the first tax payment in a lump sum. If the rebate/prebate is greater than the initial required payment, the remainder will be applied to the next installment. “Pro rata” means that the rebate/prebate amount will be spread evenly over the three tax bills. The board asked that the language on this article be clarified to improve people’s understanding.

Article 3 will ask voters to push back the due date for tax bills from the current 10th of the month to the 20th for the first payment in August, and the 15th for the following two in November and February. Beckett explained that because of the new rebate/prebate system, the town will not receive updated tax data in time for accurate bills to be sent out by the 10th.

BUDGETS ADOPTED

The Selectboard on Monday also adopted the $7.25 million municipal budget. The proposed operating budget is up 7.8 percent over the current fiscal year, representing a 25 percent tax rate increase, or 4.4 cents per $100 of assessed home value. The rate increase would mean an additional $132 per year on a $300,000 home.

The capital budget, for major projects such as buildings and vehicle purchases planned over the next six years, was also adopted. Each year the board adopts a long-term capital plan, but the only part that is binding is the projects in the upcoming fiscal year. For FY 2008, the capital costs would be about $1.3 million. The capital budget is funded mostly from impact fees, grants and other sources besides property taxes. Capital projects for the upcoming year include $255,370 (funded by impact fees) for a traffic signal on Talcott Road and U.S. 2; $22,000 (from the host town fund) for renovation of the Town Hall Annex, and $100,000 (from grants) for a new community center.

The board also adopted the water and sewer budgets, which increased 5 percent and 19 percent respectively.

AMBULANCE SERVICE

A consultant was hired by the town to study the pros and cons of accepting a $621,000 federal SAFER grant. The grant, for which Fire Chief Ken Morton successfully applied, is to let the town hire six full-time firefighter/emergency medical technicians. Kevin O’Donoghue, owner of Fire Safety Management Inc., presented his study to the Selectboard on Monday, and said he thought the town should accept the grant, and start an ambulance service due to the increasing call volume and decline of volunteers.

The current draft of the town warning includes an article to be voted on by Australian ballot, asking voters to authorize the town to borrow money for the purchase of two ambulances and related equipment for $250,000 and operating expenses of $447,884. In Donoghue’s report, he projects that Williston will need to have a full-time firefighter/EMT staff with an ambulance in the near future, and the SAFER grant would allow the town to offset some of the initial expenses. He admitted that the service would not ever really make a profit for the town, but stressed that it is a need Williston will face.

“You will never hear the term ‘cash cow’ and ambulance services used in the same sentence,” O’Donoghue said.

He estimated that the service would cost the town between $52,000-180,000 per year.

The full report will be available on the town’s Web site, http://town.williston.vt.us

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