October 23, 2014

Retired officer laid to rest

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Kenneth Palady, a long-time Williston resident and retired Williston police office, was laid to rest last Friday at Deer View Cemetery. Palady passed away unexpectedly on May 7 from a heart attack. He was 73.

“Kenny,” as many friends called him, began his work life in the drywall taping business before being asked to consider becoming a police officer in Milton. Soon after, Palady was certified as a police officer in 1969.

“He grew to love this newfound job,” his wife, Sharon, wrote in the eulogy she read last week. “He took it very seriously, studying the laws of Vermont, attending classes whenever he could.”

In addition to working in Milton, Palady was an officer with the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department, and Vermont State and Williston Police departments, and was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Palady also served as head of security for Shelburne Shipyard.

“He loved working for all of these departments, but Williston was his ‘home,’” Sharon Palady wrote.

Kenneth Palady was born on Riverside Avenue in Burlington on Jan. 12, 1934, and moved to Williston when he was an infant. He lived on West Oak Hill Road, across the street from a one-room schoolhouse. In an interview, Sharon said her husband told her that as teenagers, he and friend Paul Boutin, now deceased, once put a big farm wagon on the roof of the school as a prank.

Palady was a Civil War buff and enjoyed traveling to Civil War sites with his wife, whom he married in 1990. He was “bosom buddies” with Knoha, the couple’s chocolate mini poodle, his wife said, though he’d told her he didn’t want a dog.

“Ken would get up in the morning; they both had eggs and toast,” Sharon said. “Ken got him hooked on pears – at two in the afternoon – bananas at seven.”

He also liked to play cards with his oldest granddaughter, Zoie, age 12.

“She cheats and he cheated,” Sharon said with a small laugh. “She knew it and he knew it.”

Palady may have cheated in cards, but repeatedly friends and former officers said in interviews that Palady was fair, honest and dependable.

“I knew him to be honest, dedicated,” close friend and former Vermont State Trooper Wes Relation said. “He cared about everybody, he cared about his community. … Anytime anybody needed anything, he was there to help.”

When Palady began his part-time work with the Williston Police Department in roughly 1977, officers supplied their own uniforms and were paid only while on patrol. Williston had only 84 businesses (now there are roughly 1,100) and that year the department made four arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Everett Curavoo, a retired part-time Williston police officer and long-time friend of Palady’s, said Palady had the kind of hearty laugh he can never forget.

“He was a very jolly type person,” Curavoo said. “He was also a serious person, and a very fair police officer dealing with people. He wasn’t one of these tough guys or anything like that. I believe he dealt with the people from his heart.”

Sharon Palady shared in the eulogy she wrote a story representative of her husband’s approach to law enforcement. Once Ken stopped a car driven by a young man under the influence.

“Ken, knowing this young man’s father, made the decision that he would arrest the individual and scare the b’Jesus out of him,” Sharon wrote. After being processed, the young man asked Palady to take him to jail when he realized he was going to drive him straight home to his father, which the son said would be worse than jail.

“Ken always knew that sometimes as a police officer you have to put a little more effort into a relationship or circumstance, that in doing so, down the road someone may get something better back,” she wrote.

Ken Palady is survived by his wife, Sharon; daughters Robin (Keith) Schumacher, Carol Palady, Lisa (Paul) Brigham, Heidi (Dennis) Tessier and Heather (Jim) Boudreau; grandsons Aaron, Jason, Kyle, Andrew; granddaughters Zoie and Vanessa; a sister, Janice Ayers; mother-in-law, Marjorie Haggarty; special brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law; cousins, nieces, nephews, many good friends and fellow patrol officers. Ken was predeceased by his father, mother, and siblings Eugene, Frank, Harry and Phyllis.

Donations may be made to Vermont Law Enforcement & Fire Memorial, 317 Academy Road, Pittsford, VT 05763.

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Williston helps rebuild Mississippi

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The insulation was moldy, the floor joists and sheetrock rotted. The walls were starting to buckle.

Nearly 21 months after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, a Moss Point. Miss., home belonging to one woman still stood in desperate need of repair and reconstruction.

Residents from Williston, as part of a trip organized by the Williston Federated Church, spent a week reconstructing, painting and cleaning up at that house and three others in Moss Point and Pascagoula, Miss.

“All we see from our end is we’re making dents,” said long-time Williston resident Paul Bouchard. “But we’re making a dent to one person or one family, and that’s huge.”

The trip was the second organized by the Williston Federated Church to volunteer through the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. The first group went in November. This month 17 people traveled to southeastern Mississippi’s Camp Hope, one of 30 United Methodist base camps in the Gulf Coast. Williston trip participants included Paul and Carol Bouchard, Alex Alexander, Carol Burbank, Tony and Susan Lamb, Ruth Magill, Sally and Will Metro, and Ken and Nancy Stone. Others were friends or family members and Williston postal deliverywoman Jean Wright, a Burlington resident who saw the call for participants in the Observer.

The Williston group is a tiny fraction of those who’ve come before them; site facilitator Curt Brown said there have been more than 5,000 volunteers through United Methodist camps just since Jan. 1, 2007. Camp Hope volunteers alone have assisted in the reconstruction of more than 600 homes.

“A lot of people think the coast is cleaned up and done … and it’s not,” Brown said by phone this week. “We have a lot of work to do.”

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission officials assume between five and seven years of reconstruction projects lay ahead. Brown’s organization tends to assist first people who are most impoverished, elderly, and who have disabilities, Brown said.

“You drive around and you realize we’ve touched 5 percent of homes that need to be fixed down here,” Brown said, referring to all volunteer organizations. “Many of these homes will be in bad shape for a long time.”

Burbank, who had never completed a trip to do relief work prior to Mississippi, said she was overwhelmed by the devastation, in spite of having seen pictures on television.

“To actually be there in person … it really touched your soul,” she said. “It made it very real.”

She experienced deep sadness over people’s losses, she said, and yet she found hope, too.

“I was very moved by this unshakable spirit these people had, and also the dedication of the volunteers down there, the church people,” Burbank said. “We think we volunteer up here. These people are day in and day out.”

One volunteer, for example, has been serving breakfast to volunteers five to six days a week for the last 21 months, Paul and Carol Bouchard said.

Trip participants – whose ages ranged roughly from fifties to seventies – needed no special skills, the Bouchards said. Some had plumbing and electrical skills; some did yard clean up and painting; errands needed to be run, too. Carol Bouchard did not know how to lay laminate flooring when she left Vermont for Mississippi; by the end of her week there, she was teaching others how to do it, her husband said.

Both Brown and Burbank spoke of an equally important piece of the volunteers’ work.

“Even if you were a listener to the people so they could tell their story, that was one of the greatest gifts you could give,” Burbank said.

The Bouchards said the trip and the projects were well-organized. The cost of the trip included plane tickets and $100 per person for food and dormitory lodging.

“If anybody has any inkling at all, they should do it,” Carol Bouc
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Proposed taxes up 2.5 percent

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By Kim Howard

Williston voters will return to the polls Tuesday to weigh in a second time on a proposed 2007-08 Williston School District budget.

The new $15.69 million proposal is a 4.88 percent increase over the current year. On Town Meeting Day, voters rejected a $15.9 million budget that would have been an increase of 6.83 percent.

Voters “need to know we have made serious cuts this year,” Williston School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said this week. “Some people are taking on additional jobs; we’re patching in some places.”

Special education services, for example, will not see as much of an increase as originally planned, though the new budget still allots an additional $250,000 for that area. Voluntary changes in personnel through retirements, leaves of absence or hour reductions also saved money. Other cuts included elimination of the band bus, a kindergarten bus run, and a regular school bus run. Classroom supplies were reduced by $10 per student, leaving $80 per student.

Four areas will get more scrutiny in the coming year, Worth said: food service, transportation, class structure and facilities. The School Board will hold meetings in Williston starting in September on each of those areas, Worth said.

“We need to hear what the community is saying,” she said.

The new proposed budget means a school property tax increase of 2.5 percent, half as high as the budget that failed in March. The owner of a $300,000 house, for example, will pay $129 more in school taxes – before income sensitivity adjustments – than they paid this year if the new budget passes.

Enrollment steady; test scores high

Unlike many schools in Vermont, Williston’s public school enrollment is not declining – something Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said is important for voters to understand.

In 2001, for example, Williston schools enrolled 1,192 students; when school started last fall, there were only 12 fewer students. By contrast, Charlotte Central School has lost roughly 100 students in the last five years, Pinckney said.

Williston School District annually spends less per student than Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne – the other towns in the supervisory union. Unlike school districts that see budget increases slow or even shrink with declining enrollment, Williston’s budget must increase to keep pace with enrollment, Pinckney said. Where other towns can cut teachers because they’ve seen such big drops in enrollment, she said, Williston can’t.

“When you don’t have declining enrollment, you can’t go there without affecting (the quality of the) program,” Pinckney said.

With a higher enrollment than other towns at the high school and in the supervisory union, Williston also must pay a higher percentage of the high school and supervisory union budgets.

Williston Central School Principal Jacqueline Parks said at the April 5 budget meeting that one measure of school quality is student test scores. And Williston, she added, is doing well.

“People are getting a good quality product for what they’re paying in,” Parks said.

Williston’s public elementary and middle school students outpaced their Vermont peers by hefty margins in the most recent state test results in reading, writing and mathematics.

Salaries and benefits cause conflict

A point of tension in the first several School Board meetings after the budget failed was school personnel salary increases and benefits.

Teacher salary and health insurance benefits are negotiated as part of a supervisory union-wide contract. The contract that would go into effect on July 1 is currently under negotiation. The last contract guaranteed salary increases of 4.55 percent annually for the last three years. This year the average Williston teacher salary is $60,924. The average CVU High School teacher salary is $57,768.

Some Williston residents have asked if teachers and administrators should pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums. Currently they contribute 10 percent for a basic premium that costs $5,622 for a single person and $14,815 for a family. The Chittenden County public school teacher average contribution is slightly more than 11 percent. Increasingly public employers – like the State of Vermont and the University of Vermont – expect closer to 15 to 20 percent.

If Williston teachers and administrators contributed 20 percent to their health insurance premiums, that would save roughly $80,000, or less than half a percent of the Williston school budget, according to Chief Executive Officer Bob Mason.

Special education spending below stage average

The number of students requiring special education services is increasing in Williston schools according to administrators, especially in the early years. While special education expenses account for a solid portion of the proposed budget increase, Williston spends 12 percent less per pupil than the state average.

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Plans for community center coming together

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Facility could serve several demographic groups

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A community center in Williston is moving from broad concept to concrete proposal.

Comments from about a dozen residents who attended a public meeting last week showed support for a facility that would serve both teens and seniors, said Terry Macaig, chairman of a task force studying the proposal.

“We’re coming closer to a multi-generational facility,” Macaig said.

The task force was formed by the Selectboard last fall. Since then, the group has met at least monthly to study whom the center would serve, where it would be located and how its construction and operation would be funded.

Kevin Finnegan, the town’s recreation director, said the center could provide a central gathering place for residents and bolster participation in existing recreation programs.

“It’s the ‘if you build it, they will come’ concept,” he said.

Several locations have been considered. “Our preference is in the village, but we haven’t ruled out other locations,” Macaig said.

One potential location is the so-called Lyons property, municipally owned land behind Town Hall. Affordable housing advocates have proposed building homes on the land, but Macaig said that use may be compatible with a community center.

A ballpark estimate to construct the facility is $1.5 million, Macaig said. But he emphasized that was a rough figure based on the cost of similar facilities in other Chittenden County towns.

The task force has studied a public-private partnership that could provide much of the funding for construction and operation. Catamount Family Center in Williston and the YMCA are among the organizations that have been approached.

No municipal money has been committed to fund the facility, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

The town could seek voter approval for bonds to pay for a community center. State statute allows municipalities to incur bond debt equal to 10 times the grand list.

Williston’s debt ceiling is $120 million, said town finance director Susan Lamb. Including money to be borrowed this summer for new public safety facilities, the town’s total bond debt is just $8.6 million.

But McGuire said statutory limits on borrowing and voters’ tolerance for more debt – and property tax increases to pay it off – are two different things.

“The most important question to ask is are we over-extended as far as voters are concerned,” he said.

A survey of Williston voters in March showed strong support for a community center, with 85 percent favoring a multi-purpose facility. However, the University of Vermont students who conducted the survey noted in a report that many people refused to answer questions because they didn’t want anything that would increase taxes.

It’s important for the town to determine whether Williston residents will actually use a community center, Finnegan said.

In Charlotte, for example, the town has a well-used senior center, he said. But Colchester’s facility sits empty much of the time.

“Is the space we have in town adequate? Finnegan asked. “We don’t know that yet.”

Macaig said the task force was originally scheduled to make recommendations to the Selectboard in June. He said the group won’t make that deadline, but he hopes to wrap up work by summer’s end.

The task force’s next meeting will be held at 8 a.m. on Monday, June at Town Hall.

Residents who want to express their opinions about a community center can call Finnegan at 878-1239 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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Meetings will map out Circ options

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Analysis of alternatives to be explained

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

An analysis of Circumferential Highway alternatives will be unveiled next week, a study that may provide clues about which of 10 options is still considered feasible.

Public meetings to discuss the study are scheduled in Burlington, Essex Junction and Jericho. The analysis is the latest phase in a court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement, a comprehensive look at the impact of the original highway’s design as well as various alternatives.

No information about the analysis was available last week. Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said the study was not ready and the agency wanted to release the information to everyone at once.

The meetings are intended to help residents understand the complex analysis while fulfilling highway officials’ promise to keep the public informed about the EIS’s status.

“We told everyone that we would take a thorough look at things and involve the public at every step of the way, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Zicconi said.

Federal and state highway officials are working with a consultant to study the impact of the Circ and nine other options. The alternatives fall into three broad categories: build the originally planned limited access highway or another road between Interstate 89 in Williston and Vermont 117 in Essex; widen Vermont 2A and/or replace traffic lights with roundabouts along that road in Williston; or combine elements from each of the plans. There is also a no-build option.

More than three years have passed since a federal court ruled that a new Environmental Impact Statement was required. Judge William Sessions sided with environmental groups that filed a lawsuit to block the Circ, saying that the EIS done in the 1980s was outdated.

Transportation officials have since held 23 public meetings and mulled dozens of potential alternatives.

The process is running well behind schedule. Last year, the state said the analysis of options was taking longer than expected and delayed its release until this spring.

State officials now estimate that step will be completed by early summer. It is unclear when the entire EIS process, which ends with selection of a preferred alternative, will be completed.

The slow progress has annoyed the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The CCMPO board last month grilled state and federal transportation officials about the study’s status.

Some board members were irked that they had heard little about the study for a year, according to minutes from the board’s April 18 session. Others wondered why there were still so many alternatives.

“Why can’t they narrow it down to a more manageable list to receive comment on?” said Jeff Carr, a Williston economist who serves on both the CCMPO board and the Essex Town Selectboard, in an interview. He said leaving so many options on the table is “counterintuitive” and will only cause further delays.

Transportation officials told the CCMPO board that the alternatives have in fact been whittled down from the original list of 60, according to meeting minutes. They noted that the study is being closely scrutinized and that they were obligated to include any viable alternative.

None of next week’s meetings are being held in Williston because there was no location available that fit scheduling and space requirements, Zicconi said. A large space was needed because of the meeting’s open house format, in which participants can browse graphical displays placed around the room.

The meetings will allow the public to better understand the pros and cons of each option as well as give them one more chance to influence which design is chosen, Zicconi said.

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Williston man alleges lawyer is racially biased

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Smith requests new public defender

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A Williston man facing domestic assault charges requested a new public defender last week, alleging his lawyer is prejudiced.

Kaseen Smith, 31, alleged that his assigned lawyer, Harley G. Brown III, has provided insufficient counsel, is racially biased, and is “deliberately trying to sabotage” Smith’s case, according to a copy of his request. Brown also requested permission to withdraw as Smith’s lawyer since Smith made it clear he no longer wanted his assistance.

Smith pled not guilty this spring to charges of aggravated domestic assault, aggravated sexual assault, domestic assault, sexual assault and attempting to disarm a law enforcement officer.

In a two-page, handwritten statement to the court, Smith wrote that Brown, who is white, “told me I am a black man living in a white state so therefore I’m screwed…. And another thing he compared me to O.J. Simpson as in winning his case. I have my own opinion but I am greatly offended.”

In Brown’s motion to withdraw from the case, he wrote that he and the defendant have “irreconcilable differences,” that the defendant believes he is biased and prejudiced and that he “cannot represent someone who misinterprets everything I say to him.”

Smith also alleged Brown is trying to “sabotage” his case because Brown has made no motions, did not reduce bail, and “doesn’t say anything in court unless I ask him to.”

Lawyers do not determine a defendant’s bail amount; judges do. Smith has been held without bail since Feb. 23 at Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility.

Brown said after last week’s hearing that he doesn’t want to comment beyond his written motion to withdraw, except to say there are more than 2,000 pages of documents in the case to date. That amount of information takes a great deal of time to sift through.

At Smith’s last hearing in March, Smith expressed his desire that the case move faster. Brown said it was impossible to do so and prepare an effective defense given the mountain of evidence. The judge had asked Smith if he understood the predicament; Smith said yes, and that he also understood the case might move more slowly than he would like.

Brown had scheduled five depositions for Friday, May 18, so requested “prompt attention” to the request. Vermont District Court Judge Michael Kupersmith granted the request, noting a new lawyer should be assigned immediately.

Smith is next scheduled for a hearing Friday, June 1 at 1 p.m. Stephen H. Mackenzie is the defense lawyer listed on the District Court’s online calendar.

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North Williston may be designated historic district

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Area around former railroad depot settled in 1800s

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Town planners have proposed creating a historic district in North Williston, a change that would help sustain the area’s character by imposing rules governing building renovation and construction.

The district would comprise about 290 acres and include parts of North Williston Road, Chapman Lane and Fay Lane. It would largely follow the boundaries of the existing state historic district.

Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston said the idea of creating a second historic district in Williston – a portion of the village has long held the designation – came about after a new subdivision was proposed for the area.

Mike and Dan Fontaine want to build a 49-unit development called Settlers Village on part of the 293 acres of land they own in North Williston.

“We felt the best way keep consistency with what’s already there is to have it all be designed under a new historic district’s rules,” Johnston said.

The proposal is still being developed, so few specifics were available. But Johnston said that the rules for North Williston could be similar to those governing the village’s historic district.

Homeowners and businesses within the village who want to alter an existing building and construct a new one must complete an application. The application is reviewed by the Historic and Architectural Advisory Committee.

Then the Development Review Board decides whether to issue a certificate of appropriateness. If approved, the property owner must then apply for a zoning/building permit.

The rules apply to new structures as well as alterations to existing buildings, such as additions and decks. Johnston said the rules do not govern interior changes or exterior maintenance like painting or new roofs.

There are pros and cons to historic districts, Johnston said. Property owners who want to make major changes to structures must get the town’s permission, he said. But it also means your neighbor can’t do something out of character with the neighborhood.

“So you know your environment and views are protected from something inappropriate,” Johnston said.

Marianne Riordan, who lives at the corner of North Williston Road and Fay Lane, said she knew little about the proposal and so had not formed an opinion.

But Riordan, who lives in a home built in 1855, worries the town may impose rules mandating historically correct renovations that could make it much more expensive – or even impossible – for her to repair her home.

“If you have a house in the historic district that requires something, what if they don’t make it anymore?” she wondered.
North Williston is among the longest-settled parts of town. The area boomed following completion of a Central Vermont Railroad depot in 1850, according to a summary of the town’s history in Williston’s 2000 Comprehensive Plan.

The railroad allowed farmers to ship products to markets. The area eventually included a post office and a general store. A cold storage plant, which included one of the country’s first commercial refrigerators, was built in 1876, according to “The Williston Story,” a book by F. Kennon Moody and Floyd D. Putnam.

But development shifted back to Williston’s geographic center in the 1900s as roads were paved and electric power was installed. The flood of 1927 washed out miles of railroad track and signaled the beginning of the end for business activity in North Williston.

The area now has numerous historic homes and a few farms, one of which is owned by the Fontaines. Most of the properties in the proposed local historic district are listed in the state’s historic district.

That designation, however, is largely symbolic, Johnston said, because the state does not have authority to regulate local residential construction or renovation.

The Historic and Architectural Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss the new historic district at its meeting on Tuesday, June 5 at Williston Town Hall. The discussion is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

The process of approving a new historic district is similar to that of processing a rezoning case, Johnston said. A total of four public hearings must be held before the Planning Commission and the Selectboard.

Those meetings have yet to be scheduled. Johnston said all property owners within the proposed district will be notified when hearing dates are set.

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Sales tax revenue drops steeply

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Shortfall could mean property tax hike

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Local sales tax revenue fell sharply in the first quarter of 2007, raising the possibility of a property tax hike to bridge a potential budget gap.

Williston collects a 1 percent levy on sales of goods and services, piggybacking on the state’s 6 percent sales tax. The town relies heavily on the local option tax, which funds almost 40 percent of the municipal budget.

So Williston officials were alarmed to learn that revenue from the tax dropped 22 percent for the quarter ending March 31 compared to the same period a year ago. The decrease, from $581,048 to $451,461, is especially startling because same-quarter revenue had increased virtually every time since the town began collecting the tax in 2002.

Though it is impossible to know for sure, the drop likely stems from changes in state law that govern what goods are taxed. Starting at the beginning of the quarter, Vermont exempted some items and began taxing others.

The state also altered so-called sourcing rules, with taxes now based on the purchase’s destination. That means that items bought in Williston but shipped or delivered elsewhere are no longer subject to the local sales tax.

“We assumed there was going to be some loss of revenue,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire. “But we didn’t think it would be this much.”

Vermont tax officials think the new sales tax exemption on clothing may at least in part account for the revenue drop in Williston. Bolstering that theory is the fact that Manchester, home to several factory outlets that sell clothing, saw an even steeper drop in sales tax revenue than Williston.

Michael Wasser, policy analyst with the state Tax Department, said first-quarter receipts for the statewide sales tax have actually increased. In Williston, he thought the new sourcing rules combined with a loss of revenue from clothing sales could have resulted in the big fall in tax collections.

State officials said the decrease might indicate that some taxes collected by businesses during the quarter have yet to be tallied.

“One of the reasons for the apparent drop could be that it’s a matter of one month’s returns are not completely processed,” said Bill Smith, a statistician with the Tax Department. He noted that the month-by-month numbers show local option tax revenue down 12 percent in January, 9 percent in February and a whopping 36 percent in March.

The state had warned towns that levy the local sales tax that they would likely see a drop in revenue when the new rules went into effect, Wasser said. “So it shouldn’t be a surprise, although that doesn’t make it any less painful.”

Williston officials did in fact assume sales tax revenue would level off in the coming fiscal year. The budget calculates that sales tax proceeds will be the same as the current fiscal year, despite the fact that revenue had increased substantially each previous year.

The new numbers put the town in a quandary. The 2007-08 fiscal year budget has already been approved by voters, who were told the $7.3 million spending plan would mean an estimated municipal property tax rate of 22 cents per hundred dollars in valuation.

Voters approve a budget, however, not a tax rate, which is subject to change based on revenue. And change it might if town officials determine the recent drop in sales tax revenue is more than an aberration.

The problem is that the town must guess how much the tax will bring in before setting the property tax rate. By law, the rate must be set by July 1 – well before the town even gets the next quarter’s sales tax results, let alone knows numbers for the coming fiscal year.

“One quarter doesn’t necessarily give you the whole idea about a trend,” McGuire said. “But that’s all we’ve got to go on right now.”

Changes to Vermont’s sales tax rules were made as part of a nationwide effort to standardize collections. The goal of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project is to convince Congress to pass legislation requiring taxes on Internet sales, thus capturing revenue that has eluded states and municipalities.

McGuire said the Selectboard will have to decide whether the new figures indicate that local sales tax revenue will continue to shrink or if the recent numbers are just an anomaly.

The board could draw on budget reserves – an estimated $800,000 for the coming fiscal year – set aside for unexpected expenses or shortfalls. It could raise property taxes. It could use some reserves while raising property taxes by a smaller amount. Or it could do nothing and hope sales tax revenue stabilizes.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said the board’s reaction to the latest figures was “not to panic at this point.”

The town was conservative in projecting sales tax revenue for the current fiscal year, he said, so there shouldn’t be a shortfall in the current budget. “Where we have a problem is what happens in the next fiscal year,” Macaig said.

He said that raising property taxes should be a last resort. Each penny increase in the property tax rate brings in about $120,000 in revenue.

A yearlong drop in sales tax revenue at a rate similar to the most recent decrease could leave a budget gap of more than $500,000, McGuire said

If the board decides the new figures indicate a larger-than-expected downward trend for Williston’s sales tax, McGuire said “it’s likely the tax rate will be higher than was estimated.”

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Store hopes to reap health-conscious consumers

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Natural Provisions to open on Harvest Lane

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

With poisoned pet food and tainted meat making headlines, it seems an especially good time to open a health food store. Mark Grenier is certainly bullish on the business.

Grenier, who operates the Natural Provisions health food store in St. Johnsbury, plans to open a second outlet in Williston. It will be located at 329 Harvest Lane, in the building that formerly housed Boise Cascade, an office supply company.

Grenier said he has seen sales steadily increase since he purchased the St. Johnsbury store three years ago.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Grenier said. “And people are tending to eat healthier.”

So Grenier recently began looking to open another outlet in Chittenden County. He ruled out Burlington, and South Burlington, which each have stores – City Market and Healthy Living, respectively – that offer health foods.

Williston seemed far enough away from those stores yet central for many area residents. The location he found a short distance from Wal-Mart and other large retailers seemed ideal.

“Williston is an attractive area of course, with all those big-box stores,” he said.

The store will occupy 10,000 square feet on the ground floor of the sprawling Boise Cascade building. Though it will have a fraction of the space of a conventional grocery store, Natural Provisions will offer most of the types of products available at such stores, Grenier said.

He said he will squeeze many different types of items in the smaller space by limiting the number of brands of each product.

The store will have a selection of organic products such as vegetables, fruit, coffee and spices. Meat and fish will be offered. The inventory will include vitamins and nutritional supplements as well as wine and beer.

Grenier said he will carry well-known natural food brands such as Desert Essence, Nature’s Plus and Newman’s Own. He will also offer Vermont-made New Chapter vitamins.

Natural Provisions will have a small cafe that will have coffee, snacks and deli items. Grenier said he also hopes to offer a juice bar.

Organic and natural foods are increasingly available, not just in natural foods stores but also in farmers’ markets and conventional grocery stores.

In Williston, a pair of farmers’ markets are scheduled to open for their inaugural seasons in July. And both the Hannaford and Shaw’s grocery store chains have greatly expanded their organic offerings.

Hannaford announced this week that it had won recognition as a certified organic retailer. The grocery chain said the store now stocks more than 3,500 organic and natural products.

Grenier said he is currently working with a company to fit up the Harvest Lane store. He said Natural Provisions is scheduled to open in August.

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Turning down a Fulbright for Cambridge

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Emily Bruce thought science was boring until midway through high school.

“I didn’t understand it, I didn’t see how it was useful, and it certainly wasn’t exciting to me,” the 22-year-old Williston resident said recently. “Before junior year of high school, I would have said you were crazy if you said I was going to end up in a Master of Philosophy in Biological Science program.”

Come fall, Bruce will be studying exactly that – pathology in particular – through a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. The Vassar College graduating senior will spend her year in Cambridge conducting research on influenza-A.

Her science mind is built on an array of experiences. For the last two summers, she’s been at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in an undergraduate research program studying a protein that may affect the HIV infection process. Last spring, she studied in Mongolia, and conducted research for the World Health Organization on the availability of diagnostic tests for nomadic herders. On Monday, she turned in her biochemistry senior thesis, and her lab work continues until graduation, on what proteins interact with the protein Copine A.

“We don’t know a whole lot about how these proteins function, but they’re present in almost every organism, including humans,” Bruce said. “If you discover more about how it works, it can help in ways you can’t foresee.”

Jamie Bruce, Emily’s father, who himself has a Ph.D. in chemistry, said when his daughter began to express an interest in science, it was in molecular biology and “teeny tiny things” – what was happening at a cellular or sub-cellular level.

“She was always very detail oriented,” he said of his daughter. “She would design and make her own doll clothes, not bothering with sewing machines and patterns and things like that. So that attention to detail was sort of present from a very early age.”

Emily Bruce said it was Champlain Valley Union High School teacher David Ely who directly inspired her pursuit of science. When she took Advanced Placement Biology her junior year, that’s when her thoughts about science changed dramatically.

“It really made me think it was possible for me to go out and do scientific research and be able to change people’s lives,” Bruce said. “He made that seem like a feasible reality and incredibly exciting.”

Bruce said she’s not run across anyone in college who had the kind of high school preparation she had in A.P. Biology.

“His final exam was probably harder than the MCAT,” Bruce said, referring to the entrance exam for medical schools.

As a junior, Bruce began doing independent research with Ely, who helped her write her first grant for $500 from the Vermont Council of Arts and Sciences.

“Now I’m in a world of $18 million grants,” she said with a quiet laugh.

Bruce credits other high school and middle school teachers, and her parents, for encouraging her to pursue her varied interests. She also loves arts and crafts, has played the flute for 14 years (though she says she doesn’t have the natural musical talent of either of her younger sisters), and is interested in current events, political science, human rights and travel – all of which she traces back to the flexibility to explore during her days in Swift House at Williston Central School.

Though a few weeks ago she was offered a Fulbright Scholarship to Sweden, also to do immunology research, she chose Cambridge in part based on her time in Mongolia.

That semester, Bruce said was “amazing, unforgettable, truly life changing.” But the language barrier caused isolation and loneliness, she said, neither of which she would experience at Cambridge with roughly 100 other Gates scholars. Fulbright scholars are spread around the world.

After Cambridge, Bruce will still have many years of schooling ahead. She will enter an M.D./Ph.D. program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York City.

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