October 31, 2014

Budgets, contested races to be decided on Mar. 4

Share

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Candidates have voiced their views. Budgets have been finalized. Now it's time for voters to have their say.

Williston residents will cast ballots for a host of candidates and a trio of budgets on Tuesday, March 4. The annual Town Meeting, heavy on tradition but light on substantive business, takes place Monday evening.

The election features four races, a change from recent years when uncontested seats on town and school boards were the norm. Candidates this year have widely varying backgrounds and civic experience.

Town and school budgets reflect belt-tightening efforts, with spending increases lower than in previous years. Officials hope the budgets are thrifty enough to pass muster with voters, who last year rejected the school budget and barely passed the municipal budget.

Here is a review of the candidates and budgets on the ballot:

Williston Selectboard

A race for a two-year seat pits Joel Klein, a television producer whose credits include the reality show "Fear Factor," against Christopher Roy, a lawyer with Downs Rachlin Martin.

Klein moved from Los Angeles to Williston last July. He now teaches a filmmaking course at Burlington College and continues to pursue writing projects for television. His wife, Abby Klein, is running for the Williston School Board.

Klein, who has never held elected office, said he would bring "fresh eyes and open ears" to the position. The self-described liberal thinks managing growth is the most important issue facing Williston. He said Williston should consider small business incentives so the town isn't totally dominated by chain stores.

Roy has a long record of civic service. He is a member of the Williston Recreation Committee and a former member of several other boards and commissions. Until it was discontinued pending the election, Roy wrote a column with a conservative slant for the Observer.

Roy views the sometimes-heated debate over growth as largely settled. He would like to keep the town on its present course.

In a race for a three-year term on the Selectboard, Bob Blankenheim, vice president for a Plattsburgh, N.Y. packaging company, is running against incumbent Judy Sassorossi.

Blankenheim, who is making his first run for public office, is among the 37 residents suing to overturn an agreement between the town and the Chittenden Solid Waste District. The agreement permits operation of the current transfer station off Redmond Road in Williston and a proposed landfill.

Opponents say the landfill would cause pollution and decrease home prices. Blankenheim lives less than a half-mile away from the site.

To deal with the conflict of interest if elected, he promised to recuse himself when the board discusses the landfill. He noted the lawsuit seeks no financial damages from the town and asserted that nullifying the agreement would benefit Williston because it is a bad deal for the town.

Blankenheim wants the town to formulate its budget in a more business-like manner, starting from scratch and justifying each expenditure. He said the town should improve infrastructure to safeguard sales tax revenue generated by retailers.

His opponent is Judy Sassorossi, who has served on the Selectboard for two years and on the Planning Commission for about a dozen years before that. She is an employee benefits specialist with a South Burlington insurance brokerage.

She disagrees with Blankenheim's bottom-up approach to the budget, saying it would waste time because there are many non-discretionary expenditures that pay for essential public services. On the landfill, she noted that voters approved the agreement and said the lawsuit raises questions about her opponent's allegiance.

There is one other contested race for a municipal position, a three-year term as lister. See the story on page 3 for more information.

Williston School Board

The Williston School Board has one contested race, for a three-year seat. Williston newcomer Abby Klein is running against incumbent Darlene Worth.

Klein wants to see changes in the upper house structure as well as a new, less costly and more nutritious school lunch program.

Klein has been a teacher for 19 years and is a children's book author. She currently teaches kindergarten in South Burlington.

Worth has served on the School Board for three years and is currently the board's chairwoman. She is the director of the Champlain Valley Educator Development Center and was a Vermont educator for more than 30 years.

Worth said she has enjoyed her service on the board. She noted that the board held down spending in the proposed budget while extending the school day and adding all-day kindergarten.

Other candidates

A handful of uncontested races will also appear on the ballot.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett is running for re-election to a three-year term as both clerk and treasurer.

On the Williston School Board, Holly Rouelle is running for re-election to her two-year seat. On the Champlain Valley Union High School Board, newcomer David Rath is seeking a three-year term.

Patricia Mardeusz is running for a five-year term as library trustee. Donald Phillips is seeking another three years as Champlain Water District representative. And Kermit Laclair wants to serve another year as town constable.

Budgets

The Williston School District's proposed budget totals $16.24 million, a 3.7 percent increase over current spending. The budget adds an all-day kindergarten program and a longer school day. Separate articles ask voters to approve bonds for $480,000 for roof repairs at Williston Central School and $187,000 for two school buses.

The $7.6 million municipal budget increases spending by 5 percent. The budget includes one new administrative position and includes funding to increase hours for two other administrative employees working in the police and fire departments.

A separate ballot item asks voters to approve a bond for $489,500 to pay for a new fire engine.

The proposed $20.7 million budget for Champlain Valley Union High School represents a 4.7 percent increase. The budget includes $175,000 for new staffing.

Staff writer Tim Simard contributed to this story.

SIDEBAR

Voting information

Town Meeting will be held Monday at Williston Central School's auditorium. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. The school's Jazz Band will perform beforehand at 7 p.m.

Voting for candidates and budgets takes place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The venue has changed this year to the Williston Armory next to Town Hall. Parking is available at the Armory and Town Hall.

Annual town reports are available at Town Hall, the library and some Williston grocery and convenience stores. A summary of the report has been mailed to residents.

Absentee ballots can be cast at Town Hall until Monday at 5 p.m. Voters can also pick up ballots, but only for themselves. Ballots will be mailed upon request through Friday. Call 878-5121 to request one.

More information about the candidates and budgets on the ballot is available at the Observer's Web site, www.willistonobserver.com. Check next week's edition for voting results
[Read more...]

Vermont eyes presidential primary

Share

Williston expects huge turnout for March election

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

In less than a week, Vermonters will get their say in what is arguably the most exciting election season in recent memory. Democratic voters will get their choice between two frontrunners: Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

The race has been neck and neck since the New Hampshire primary, with both senators trying to outdo each other in the delegate count. Vermont carries 15 Democratic delegates, as well as eight superdelegates.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona is all but a shoe-in, with no real competition left in the delegate count. Vermont carries 17 Republican delegates.

Voting takes place on Town Meeting Day, March 4.

Gearing up to vote

Williston town officials are getting ready for a huge March election. Deb Beckett, Williston town clerk, says the interest in this election is much higher than usual.

"For March elections, we usually see 27 to 30 percent of eligible voters," Beckett said. "We expect to see that much, much higher."

She said a good indicator of voter turnout is the number of early votes that have come in. As recently as Monday, Beckett said she had received 350 absentee ballots. Since Friday, she had registered more than 40 new Williston voters.

Democrats battling for nomination

Clinton's campaign has quickly mobilized in the Champlain Valley in the weeks before the March 4 primary, said Carly Lindauer, a campaign spokesperson.

Lindauer described herself as a "transient campaigner," having worked in the New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Missouri campaigns.

"I think we have a really great base of support in (Vermont)," Lindauer said.

Lindauer said the campaign is "feeling good" about its chances in Vermont, even when a poll released on Saturday — conducted by American Research Group Inc. — has 60 percent of Vermont Democratic respondents favoring Obama, with 34 percent favoring Clinton.

Clinton volunteer and Williston resident Marlene O'Brien looked long and hard at all the Democratic candidates and their issues before deciding that Hillary Clinton was her choice.

"(Clinton) is the only one out there who brings real solutions to real problems that we face," O'Brien said.

O'Brien has canvassed local neighborhoods and made numerous phone calls for the Clinton campaign. She said there has been some "amazingly positive" reactions, as well as lots of grassroots action in the state.

The Clinton campaign has only recently opened offices in Vermont. An office opened in South Burlington on Friday, Feb. 22 and one in Rutland opened Tuesday. Lindauer said they have a full-time staff operating in the state.

The Obama Campaign has seven offices throughout the state, most of which opened early last week, according to Obama campaign spokesperson Ted Brady.

However, Clinton has had high profile Vermont politicians stumping on her behalf for quite some time, including former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and current Speaker of the House Gaye Symington, D-Jericho.

O'Brien has been a staunch Clinton supporter since before the New Hampshire primary, even though the New York senator's campaign has been slow to canvass the state.

"I think we could always have started earlier, but who would've thunk?" she said.

Said Lindauer, "We're going to work hard on the senator's behalf. She's working hard everywhere."

Brady, a Williston resident, is encouraged by the recent poll numbers for his candidate and feels strongly about the Illinois senator's chances next week.

"Sen. Obama's campaign is going to make sure that the voice of every Vermonter is heard and the message of hope and change is heard loud and clear," Brady said.

Brady, who works for Sen. Patrick Leahy at his Montpelier office, is taking a week off from work to campaign on Obama's behalf. He said the volunteer effort for Obama is strong throughout the state.

"Volunteers are talking to neighbors, calling their friends, knocking on doors, trying to spread the message of hope and change that Senator Obama inspires," Brady said.

Vermont doesn't carry the high delegate count of larger states such as Texas and Ohio, which also have primaries on March 4, but Brady said Obama cares about every state.

"The senator is committed to campaigning in every state," he said. "The main message here is that Vermont matters in the national primaries."

Despite the campaign office presence of Clinton and Obama, neither Lindauer nor Brady could confirm if either candidate would visit Vermont.

Republican focus on McCain

McCain enjoys widespread Republican support throughout Vermont, according to the American Research Group poll. McCain has 73 percent of the support among Republican respondents, compared to Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 11 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 9 percent.

Williston resident Chris Roy, a co-chair of McCain's Vermont campaign, believes the Arizona senator best appeals to Vermont independents.

"His brand of Republicanism jives with Vermont's brand of Republicanism," Roy said.

McCain visited Vermont two weeks ago, on the same day former challenger and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed him.

"He felt strongly enough to come up," said Roy, a former Observer columnist who is running for a seat on the town Selectboard. "It was an opportunity for him to say 'hi' to his supporters in the state. He enjoys Vermont. A lot of his staff have Vermont ties."

Neither Huckabee nor Paul have campaign offices in the state.

And with McCain already winning far more delegates than Huckabee, his nearest competitor, Roy believes the Republican side of the primaries has already wrapped up.

"The turnout for the Democrats will probably blow the doors off the Republican turnout, because (the Democrats) have a real race there," Roy said.

Instead, McCain is gearing up for the national election in November, which is one of the reasons he made the trip to Vermont recently.

"McCain's approach to the election is really a 50-state approach," Roy said.

During his February stop in Vermont, McCain promised to visit the state again before November.
[Read more...]

The joy of cooking for one

Share

Food writer Pasanen gives tips at library event

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Shopping for groceries at South Burlington's Price Chopper and trying to find quantities for a one-person meal, food writer Melissa Pasanen had a hard time picking out individual-sized portions. When she did find the items, they were at a premium price.

"I couldn't buy only one chicken breast," Pasanen said. "I had to get two or more. There were no offers from the butcher to get just the one."

Pasanen was preparing a cooking-for-one article at the time, and the experience highlighted the difficulties faced by home chefs preparing meals for one person.

Creativity was the key to her shopping-for-one experience, she said. She found items to replace certain ingredients in recipes: Instead of sour cream for a sweet potato dish, she used cottage cheese, an item she could use in other meals.

"You do have to think a little beyond the box sometimes," Pasanen said.

Pasanen, a food writer for the Burlington Free Press and co-author of the "Cooking with Shelburne Farms" cookbook, recently spoke at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. The event, titled "Cooking For One," gave tips and ideas to those who live and cook alone.

Challenges

For someone who lives alone, it's very tempting to order take-out dinners or cook microwave-ready meals every night, Pasanen said. The food writer believes these aren't the best or healthiest options.

"Cooking for yourself has the advantage, hopefully, of also providing your body with better nutrition than a constant diet of frozen prepared foods or take-out," she said.

Another reason some people are reluctant to cook for themselves if they live alone, said Pasanen, is because of dreaded leftovers.

"It is certainly more efficient to cook one recipe and eat it for four or five meals, or freeze it in single portions for future meals," Pasanen said, "but it can get monotonous and frozen portions often don't keep as well as one would like."

Leftovers may be unavoidable, but limiting the frequency of the same meal – like avoiding a week's worth of beef stew – can make leftovers manageable.

Jessie Price, food editor for Charlotte-based Eating Well Magazine, believes properly freezing and storing leftovers is the best way to stretch out a meal and save money. At the same time, cooking the right amount to fit the individual is "always the best idea."

"It's definitely important for yourself to not make a huge pot of something and then get sick of what you've made," Price said.

But before even thinking about leftovers, people have to overcome the biggest challenge when it comes to cooking for one: shopping for one.

Buying the groceries

Pasanen said it can be difficult shopping for one, but there are several options to make it a less painful process.

She recommended looking at the salad bar for certain ingredients, which can be a cheaper alternative.

Price agreed.

"It's convenient because the stuff is always cleaned and prepared for you," Price said.

Price and Pasanen agree it can also be cheaper to purchase smaller quantities from olive bars or bulk bins, the latter of which are turning up in mainstream supermarkets. Pasanen also recommended people take advantage of pre-prepped items, such as minced garlic, bottled ginger, salsa and instant rice.

"Rather than hurrying around to buy fresh herbs all the time, it can work," she said.

And while buying large quantities might seem excessive if someone is only feeding him or herself, Pasanen said perfecting freezing techniques to avoid freezer burn can make foods last longer and taste better. She suggested using a hand-held vacuum device – along with appropriate freezer bags.

Still, Price and Pasanen say the best method is to be a savvy shopper.

"You don't need to shop at Costco all the time if you're just eating for one," Price said.

Finding recipes

During part of Pasanen's presentation, she demonstrated two dishes that someone could easily prepare for one: sweet potatoes with black bean and tomato topping and Asian pork lettuce wraps. Both meals featured ways to diversify ingredients.

That cottage cheese Pasanen bought at Price Chopper, for instance? It was for this sweet potato recipe.

As another tip, Pasanen suggested finding recipes geared to one or two people, or paring down larger recipes.

Price, who also edits the magazine's "Serves Two" column, said many Web sites feature recipes for two or one. Some creative and healthy smaller recipes are on Eating Well's Web site, EatingWell.com.

Spreading ideas

Pasanen explained her inspiration to research creative cooking for one came from her mother, who lived alone for many years before remarrying.

"She was amazing about cooking for herself," she said. "She loved it, loved to cook."

About 15 people attended the event at Dorothy Alling Library, many of whom shared the love of cooking.

"I do have a husband at home, but he doesn't always eat what I eat," said Joy Pashby of Williston.

Another Williston resident, Rickie Emerson, said although she lives alone, she still buys groceries at the supermarket like "I'm cooking for a whole family."

"I am the type who usually cooks something and eats it for four or five days in a row," she said.

Coralie Magoon of Colchester came for ideas of how to cook differently. Magoon said she does a lot of gardening and canning. She was glad to find out about the pre-prepped items such as ginger.

"I would never think to spice up things like she did," Magoon said.

Pasanen believes finding new and interesting dishes and cooking them for oneself – without overdoing it – is a great activity, especially for seniors.

"I would think that any activity in which you are engaged, whether it's cooking or doing crossword puzzles, can be a good thing," she said.
[Read more...]

Williston college student volunteers for

Share

Shaw campaigns for Obama on East Coast

By Tim Simard
Observer staff
It was a busy January for Williston resident and college student Katy Shaw. Instead of relaxing at home over winter break, Shaw, 19, was busy holding signs, making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods, and organizing events, all for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Shaw volunteered in the biggest primaries of last month’s presidential campaign, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

When the Democratic presidential field was full of candidates, Shaw, who attends Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, chose to support Obama after seeing him speak in Portland at a September 2007 event.

Shaw said she liked his views on education, health care, and the war in Iraq. Better international relations is an issue important to Shaw and she believes he’s more willing to open dialogues with other countries than is his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, of New York.

“What he had to say was about change and doing things differently,” she said. “It was good for me to hear because I feel like a lot of young people are cynical about politics today. They don’t think they are listened to.”

According to her mother, Joanne, Katy’s hard work has helped the Obama campaign in a lot of ways.

“She’s gotten many, many people enthusiastic about Barack,” Joanne said.

Volunteering in N.H.

Shaw said she’s always been interested in politics. She grew up listening to NPR at home.

“Politics have always been a part of my life,” Shaw said.

This was the first presidential election in which Shaw would be eligible to vote and she looked forward to helping select the next president of the United States. Shaw became involved after receiving a campus-wide email from Obama’s grassroots student organization. She expressed interest in volunteering and the organization asked her to campaign in New Hampshire before the Jan. 8 primary.

She was sent to volunteer in eastern New Hampshire on Dec. 31, 2007, in the White Mountain community of Conway. Shaw said she was one of 11 staffers and volunteers at the Conway location. Part of her job was to go door to door in the rural towns of Freedom, Ossipee, and Effingham in Carroll County, as well as hold Obama campaign signs and place phone calls to area residents.

In the week leading up to the primary, the media reported Obama was ahead in the polls and that he could win New Hampshire after his Jan. 3 win in the Iowa caucus. Shaw said she and fellow Obama supporters were cautiously optimistic about the senator’s chances.

“When the polls kept coming out that he was so far ahead, we didn’t really believe it because we kept talking to people who were either voting for Hillary or were undecided,” she said.

On New Hampshire primary day, Shaw made last minute phone calls and held Obama signs in and around the Mount Washington Valley. When results came in later that night, Sen. Clinton took an early lead and held it to the end.

“It was unfortunate, it was disappointing,” Shaw said. “It was hard to be there a week and then lose.”

Clinton won New Hampshire with 39 percent of the vote. Obama wasn’t far behind with 36 percent. However, he did win Conway and Carroll County. It was a tie in the delegate count, with Obama and Clinton picking up nine each.

“The change that Obama is talking about and the change he’ll bring, it would have been too easy for him to win both Iowa and New Hampshire,” she said. “It would have been too fantastical.”

The South Carolina primary

After the New Hampshire primary, the next big contest for the Democratic candidates was the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary. Shaw volunteered her time once again and flew down the week before the Saturday contest. She worked in the small, south-central town of Bamberg, S.C. in Bamberg County. Since she was one of only three volunteers and staffers at the location, Shaw had more responsibilities. Instead of knocking on doors, she made phone calls and helped organize events in Bamberg and Barnwell counties.

While in South Carolina, she was able to attend a rally in which Obama’s wife, Michelle, spoke.

“It was great to meet her,” Shaw said. “She was very supportive of all the work I’ve done and the work all volunteers had done.”

South Carolina proved to be a huge victory for Obama. He easily won South Carolina’s primary, taking 55 percent of the vote and picking up 25 delegates. Hillary Clinton received 27 percent of the vote and 12 delegates.

“That felt really good,” Shaw said. “I was disappointed in New Hampshire, but was then part of a big win, so it was great.”

Maine and Vermont

While back at Bowdoin College at the end of January, Shaw helped campaign for Obama in between class responsibilities. On the Maine caucus day, Feb. 10, Shaw hung door hangers on dorm doors encouraging students to come out and caucus in Brunswick. Town residents and students braved cold temperatures and snow to caucus, giving Brunswick one of the highest voter turnouts in the state. Obama won the town and the state easily with 59 percent of the vote, picking up 15 delegates.

As for the upcoming Vermont primary on March 4, Shaw said she wants to help out either from Bowdoin or a quick weekend back in Williston. Shaw said that she’s very proud to be from Vermont and she’s excited that this year, Vermont’s voice will be heard.

“Vermont actually is mattering more than it usually does!” she said.

Shaw has gotten her family involved, as well. Her father, Tony, joined her in New Hampshire to canvas neighborhoods and her mother and younger sister, Emily, plan to volunteer locally.

“Her passion has been contagious,” her mother, Joanne, said. “She’s gotten the whole family on the Obama bandwagon.”

As for Obama’s goal to win the Democratic nomination, Shaw believes “it’s totally possible.”

“He’s still the underdog in some ways in terms of name recognition,” Shaw said. “The only way he can win the nomination is if people go out and vote. It’s up to the 15 states or so that are left.”

[Read more...]

Salt shortage plagues town

Share

Incessant snow exhausts supply

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Warning: slippery roads ahead.

A steady stream of snow and ice storms this winter has kept plow trucks busy spreading salt and sand. But now the salt shed is nearly empty in Williston and elsewhere. Additional shipments are stalled amid a nationwide supply crunch.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden wants residents to know he and his road crews are still trying to keep roads clear. But with supplies having dwindled to less than what is usually used for a single storm, Williston road crews are doling out salt in smaller doses, mixing it with sand and skipping applications altogether on less-traveled roads. Crews are concentrating on intersections, curves and hills.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Boyden said. “And we’re going above and beyond trying to get more product.”

Williston, like towns throughout Vermont, has space for only a limited stockpile of salt. The town’s shed can hold enough salt for at most three storms.

So Williston counts on ongoing shipments to replenish supplies. But an unusually snowy winter in Vermont and other parts of the country has strained the supply chain, and now many areas are not receiving salt quickly enough to replace what is being used.

The town has sought help from the state and gone outside normal supply channels.

Earlier this month, Williston worked with three other Chittenden County towns to arrange shipments from Canada. But after much red tape and a couple of shipments, that supply was cut off.

As for the state, Boyden said limited help has been forthcoming. “We asked for seven dump truck loads and we got three loads,” he said. “And that wouldn’t even get us through one storm.”

Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said the state is struggling with the same supply shortage.

“We understand people are in a pinch right now and we’re trying to do what we can to help,” he said.

The Agency of Transportation said last week that it had provided salt to nearly 100 municipalities. However, the agency also announced that it would only loan salt until a given maintenance district’s storage facility reaches 25 percent of capacity. In District 5, which includes Williston, the reserve was down to about 36 percent, Ziconni said.

Meanwhile, Williston has even begun to run out of sand. Unlike salt, the town buys all its sand at the beginning of the winter.

“I’ve never seen the pile that low,” said Rick Peet, Williston’s public works foreman. He said the town’s sand stockpile had dwindled from 20 feet high at the beginning of the winter to less than 4 feet high.

As of Feb. 5, the town had used 88 percent of the 2,100 tons of salt it planned to apply this winter. Williston will likely spend more than the $98,700 budgeted for salt this year, which could force cuts in other areas such as road paving.

“Who knows what Mother Nature will bring us over the next few weeks, but I suspect she won’t be nice enough to allow us to stay within the salt budget,” Boyden wrote in a memo.

[Read more...]

Local runner the best in the state

Share

New England Runner Magazine names Rountree Male Runner of Year

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Saying that Williston resident Rick Rountree likes to run is a bit of an understatement. In an average week, Rountree covers 70 to 75 miles running the rolling hills around Williston and Richmond.

"Running is so simple," he said. "All you need is clothes and sneakers, really."

Tall, thin and lanky, Rountree is ideally suited for his favorite sport. It's more than a "hobby" or a nice exercise side project, he said; Rountree routinely enters and wins running events all over Vermont and New England.

Just this past Saturday, Feb. 2, Rountree won a 10-mile race in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, setting the course record at 52 minutes, 3 seconds. The week before, he was the top finisher in the Boston Prep 16-Miler in Derry, N.H. He ran a 1:33:36 race, almost a minute better than the second-place finisher.

"I'd say Rick Rountree is one of our top three runners," said Charlie Windisch, president of the Green Mountain Athletic Association, of which Rountree is a member. "He cleans up on most of our races."

His achievements have not gone unnoticed. New England Runner Magazine recently named Rountree the 2007 Vermont Male Runner of the Year for the second year in a row.

"It's always nice to get recognition for your hard work," he said.

Overcoming obstacles

Last year wasn't an easy one for Rountree, who had to overcome two injuries in the early part of 2007. He strained his adductor muscle in his leg and could hardly walk without significant pain. By favoring his leg, he injured his Achilles tendon when he tried running again, something he said he started too early.

"It wasn't until June that I could feel good enough to race," he said.

He was nervous before his first post-injury race in Rutland, but overcame his nerves to win the event. And while 2007 wasn't a typical running year for Rountree, he did compete in 10 races, winning five of them.

His injuries came after he competed in a short race while vacationing in Geneva. Rountree was the top American finisher, placing fourth overall, but he felt he could have placed higher if had been feeling better.

"I was really jet lagged, really out of it," he said.

Beginnings

Rountree began running during his freshman year of high school. He joined the cross country team, but he wasn't sure running was for him.

"I wanted to quit when I first started, but my parents kept pushing me to keep with it," he said.

He went on to have success in college while attending Bentley College in Massachusetts, one of the top running schools in New England. After college, Rountree moved to the Washington, D.C. area, competing in local races in the region, some of which had some decent monetary prizes.

"I won enough money to cover entry fees, running shoes, travel expenses," he said. "I wasn't running for the money, but it helped to break even."

Rountree moved to Vermont two years ago and continued racing in local half marathons and other shorter distance races. His favorites include the Leaf Peeper's Half Marathon, which takes place in the fall in Waterbury, and a mile sprint in downtown Montpelier.

"Typically, he goes out fast from the start," Windisch said. "He'll stay in the lead pack for the most part and then try to break away at the end. It seems to do the trick."

Looking forward

While Rountree is a fast runner who competes well in shorter, faster races, his trouble spot is marathons. He hasn't completed one of the 26-mile races since 2003, but hopes to change that this year. Rountree said that the training for a half-marathon and a full marathon are completely different.

"It's been hard," he said. "I feel like I've underperformed at the marathon level. I have a lot of room to grow. To be honest, I don't like to run that far. I hate that last 10 (kilometers)."

Despite his dislike of the longer distances, Rountree keeps pushing himself, and he hopes to compete in this year's Vermont City Marathon, taking place in Burlington in May. Until then, he'll keep running along the roads and paths around Williston, training to continue his winning ways.

[Read more...]

Reverse mortgages can be a good decision, if done correctly

Share

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Ann Sullivan, 65, of Panton lives in a large farmhouse set amongst the rural countryside. The property has been occupied, in one form or another, by family members since the 1800s. Sullivan recently realized that she might not be able to hold onto it.

Her ex-husband, whom she remained good friends with, recently passed away and her five grown children no longer live in the house. As a part-time teacher at Vergennes High School, she wanted to consider full-time retirement, but was unsure if it was a realistic possibility.

"I lacked the finances and realized I didn't have the funds to cover debts," Sullivan said.

Sullivan noticed advertisements about the possibility of getting a reverse mortgage.

"I liked how I could stay in my home and not have to pay for it," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about extra bills, either."

A reverse mortgage is a home equity loan that allows the homeowner to borrow against its value. It's a popular option for many people over the age of 62, the required age minimum, because it provides an immediate access to cash. The older a borrower is, the more money he or she will receive. Credit history and income levels aren't taken into account since the loan is based on the value of the home.

The loan does not need to be paid back until the owner sells the home, moves away or dies. The "home" eventually repays the loan, along with all interest fees, once the estate is sold.

Reverse mortgages have been around for 20 years, but recently have become very popular, with more financial firms advertising the option. Sullivan recently called Scott Funk of Mortgage Financial during her initial research stages. Funk, known as the "Reverse Mortgage Guy" in Vermont, specializes only in reverse mortgages. He works out of his home in Richmond, but travels all over the state for consultations.

"The whole point of (a reverse mortgage) is to keep people in their homes," Funk said. "It's better for everybody."

According to Funk, who serves on the Aging in Place Council, a reverse mortgage can be a good financial move for someone like Sullivan.

"People usually do it for two reasons," Funk said. "They're in some sort of financial crisis or they're looking towards the future."

In a crisis, individuals may choose the reverse mortgage option because it's a quick and safe fix.

"It bails them out," Funk said. "It helps them pay old bills and pay their taxes. In what I do, I try to get the wolf out of the kitchen and off down the street."

Sullivan was not in a crisis, but she was looking towards the future. She was in the correct age requirement, over 62 years old, and wanted to continue to live in her house without the stress of bills. She also liked the idea of passing the house along to her children in the future.

Regarding the fact that the loan ends once it's paid off, Sullivan said, "There are exits if one of my sons wants to buy the house."

Borrowers can take the loan as a lump sum, or put the money into a line of credit, where the potential for a growth rate exists, said Funk.

But there are downsides. Getting a reverse mortgage can be very expensive. One of the more popular reverse mortgages, the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), charges a 2 percent insurance premium and a 2 percent origination fee on top of closing costs. Total fees and costs on a $200,000 home can sometimes exceed $11,000.

"A lot of reasons some people don't like a reverse mortgage is because costs are high and people are averse to being in debt," Funk said, adding that reverse mortgages are the only loans where all expenses must be shown to the applicant before borrowing.

Reverse mortgages and annuities

In December 2007, the Senate Committee on Aging held hearings about reverse mortgages and how they could be improved to better serve the nation's senior community. One point the committee spoke about was related to using reverse mortgages to purchase annuities. An annuity is a monthly cash advance for life from an insurance company.

"When used properly, reverse mortgages can be an effective way for seniors to tap into the equity of their house as a means to bolster their retirement security," Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the committee, said at a meeting on Dec. 12, adding "long-term annuities are almost always inappropriate for seniors, as they can tie up retirement savings far beyond one's life expectancy."

John Olmstead, an FHA representative based in Burlington, agrees that reverse mortgages and annuities don't always work well together.

"If you were to get a reverse mortgage and take the proceeds and put it into an annuity, then you'd have to pay the annuity fee," he said. "You're essentially paying a fee twice."

Olmstead is an FHA-certified financial counselor. By law, a potential borrower has to speak to a third party, like Olmstead, if he or she is looking to get a reverse mortgage. This was put into place as a safeguard.

"As a counselor, I try to present the information as clean as I can," he said.

Olmstead said people feel they need to get an annuity as well as a reverse mortgage because they believe they'll get a better investment with an annuity than what a reverse mortgage line of credit might give. It also has to do with assets.

"Once you have an annuity, it's an asset in your name," Olmstead said. "A reverse mortgage is your money, but not an asset in your name."

Being aware

Many of the recent congressional hearings focused on questionable practices by lenders to attract new customers to reverse mortgages, especially the new baby boomer generation that is entering the required age bracket.

According to Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Aging, reverse mortgages have seen rapid growth due to the growing numbers of Americans getting older. Speaking at the Dec. 12 meeting, Sen. Smith said that in 1990, the FHA only issued 157 reverse mortgages. In 2007, 107,000 were issued – an increase of 68,000 percent in the last 17 years.

"However, as this rapid growth continues, so grows our responsibility to properly inform and prepare senior homeowners for what could potentially be a marketplace ripe for inappropriate products and downright fraudulent brokers," Sen. Smith said.

Funk agreed that people should make sure to be comfortable about whom they are dealing with before getting a reverse mortgage. He said that getting the loan should not be done over the phone or by mail, but face-to-face. Individuals shouldn't be rushed, either.

"It should be that there's lots of time to make decisions," Funk said.

Funk also suggested that people check references to make sure the broker is legitimate.

Sullivan said her experience getting the reverse mortgage was incredibly easy and that she was happy her children could be involved. It was an easier process than she thought it would be, and recommends people explore it as an option.

"For me, I think it's going to be ideal," Sullivan said. "It was the answer I needed at the time I needed it."

[Read more...]

Cold water, warm hearts

Share

Plungers get wet for Special Olympics

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick, dressed in a white t-shirt, shorts and his police cap and blowing on a whistle clamped between his teeth, dashed into the frigid water of Lake Champlain on Saturday.

No, it was not some type of training exercise, or a wacky chase after a criminal. When Dimmick immersed himself in the Burlington waterfront near the Coast Guard Station, he did so to benefit Special Olympics Vermont at the 13th annual Penguin Plunge.

“It was cold. It was very cold. Sort of take your breath away cold,” Dimmick said a couple of days after the event, after he’d had a chance to warm up. “But it was a great event. We had great turnout, the participant level was much higher than last year.”

More than 1,040 plungers on 58 teams took part in the chilly fundraiser, according to Robyn Comstock, fundraising events manager for Special Olympics Vermont.
Dimmick, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Vermont, participated with a team of police chiefs and sheriffs, as well as Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan and Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

“Law enforcement has always enjoyed a special relationship with the athletes that get involved with Special Olympics,” Dimmick said.

The Williston Police Chief said his team raised more than $4,000 for Special Olympics.

Figures for the entire Plunge had yet to be released by press deadline, and Comstock would not offer an estimate.

But she did say the Plunge is the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Vermont, with money helping children and adults with intellectual disabilities to play sports.
The Special Olympics Winter Games are coming up, scheduled to take place from March 14 to 16 at Suicide Six in Woodstock. Games will include alpine skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding, Comstock said.

With sunny skies and little wind at the Plunge, Comstock said the event “was fantastic. There were no problems at all. It was really smooth.”

[Read more...]

War protesters accept deal

Share

Prosecutor offers community service

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Protesters arrested during an anti-war, anti-recruiting demonstration in Williston have accepted a deal under which charges will be dropped when they complete 15 hours of community service.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said Monday that he offered the arrangement to 13 protesters arrested on trespassing charges. Donovan said he is still waiting to hear from one or two protesters, but most have accepted the offer.

They are allowed to choose the type of community service. It could involve work on behalf of the anti-war movement, perhaps even a peaceful protest.

"The only limitation was that I said it had to be legal," Donovan said, adding that he wanted to ensure it didn't involve another protest that includes civil disobedience.

On Nov. 30, dozens of protesters marched on a pair of military recruiting offices in Maple Tree Place. They at first massed in front of the recruiting office for the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines on the east side of the shopping center's central green. But when they found that office deserted, protesters drifted over to the nearby Vermont Army National Guard office.

Some harangued recruiters while others sat in a circle on the floor. Police eventually ordered protesters to leave or be arrested. Thirteen refused and were cited for trespassing.

The protest was organized by a group of students at Mount Mansfield Union High School. They are unhappy with recruiting practices, specifically a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to give students' names and phone numbers to the military.

The deal offered by Donovan averted a trial. Jury selection was slated to begin Monday. Under state law, trespassing is punishable by three months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

About half of those arrested have already completed the community service, which must be verified in writing by another person, Donovan said.

Donovan, a Democrat elected in 2006, told the Observer last month that he was trying to balance defendants' First Amendment rights with his duty to enforce the law.

He said he weighs several factors, including whether a protest involves violence, property damage or business disruptions, to decide the appropriate punishment. Donovan said the Williston protest clearly interfered with recruitment and obstructed traffic at Maple Tree Place.

He said on Monday that the deal he offered to Williston protesters would not set a precedent for future demonstrations.

"I think what you do is look at these on a case-by-case basis," Donovan said. "I'm not going to prepare a set of guidelines saying this is what is going to happen if you protest."

[Read more...]

New pastor takes over at Church of the Nazarene

Share

Renovations coincide with pastor's installment

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Last Thursday afternoon, Rev. Nate Patnode of the Church of the Nazarene in Williston walked through his new parish, surveying the renovations that are being completed to coincide with his arrival.

"Everything's new around here," said Patnode, 31. "New paint job, new windows, soon to be new carpet."

But the biggest change for the church, located right off Route 2A, is the pastor. On Sunday, Feb. 3, Patnode was officially installed as the church's head pastor. About 100 people from Williston and other Nazarene church communities turned up for the occasion.

Young and enthusiastic, Patnode looks forward to his time in Vermont.

"It's a beautiful area. You've got the lakes and the mountains," he said with a big smile. "I'm just happy to be here."

Renovations

Formed around the turn of the 20th century, the Church of the Nazarene grew out of British evangelist John Wesley's holiness movement. The denomination emphasizes that individuals need the Holy Spirit to embody them with its power in order to live a Christian life.

The Church of the Nazarene has been located in Williston for more than 30 years, but was officially organized in Burlington in 1928. The church had not been renovated since it was built in the 1960s, according to church member Wendy Elmer. With décor reminiscent of 40 years ago, church members knew it was time for an update. Wood paneling was removed behind the stage in favor of a new paint job. The worn carpets have been replaced as well.

Elmer said sermons now would be aided by the use of computers.

"We've installed new speakers, new amplifiers and a new computer," she said. "There was a trench dug in the floor so we could put in new wiring."

Elmer also said a new projector has been installed to give more opportunities to incorporate multimedia into sermons. Total costs of the renovation were estimated at $25,000, she said.

Renovations were completed Saturday night before Sunday's special event. All except the carpets, which would not get installed until Tuesday.

The new pastor

The Burlington-Williston Church of the Nazarene has been without a pastor for more than two years, during which time a pastor split time between Williston and Concord, N.H. Before that, the church only had a part-time pastor, according to Elmer.

"He'll bring more stability," Elmer said of Padnode. "Having someone full time makes it easier to get things done rather than having someone part-time."

Pearl Wells, the church board's secretary, said the board reviewed many resumes before deciding on Patnode's.

"He seemed to be right on track with what the church believed," Wells said. "He's enthusiastic and ready to go forward."

Patnode came to Vermont from a Nazarene church in Malden, Mass. He was the associate pastor there and jumped at the chance to become a head pastor. A native of Plattsburgh, N.Y., Patnode also liked the fact that he was moving home, so to speak, to the Champlain Valley.

Patnode grew up as a member of the Church of the Nazarene but wasn't sure he wanted to be a pastor until later in his teen years.

"I think I heard the call around the time I was 18, but I kept thinking it wasn't for me," he said. "I kept saying, 'I can't get up in front of people and speak.' But friends and family kept confirming that I should do this."

Patnode attended Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass. where he earned his degree. Around that time, he also became a youth minister and did several missionary trips to Brazil and Belize. He then moved on to the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., where he earned his masters degree in divinity.

He started the job three weeks ago, just after moving from Massachusetts with his wife, Miranda, and newborn daughter, Olivia. Patnode knows that the new job will be a lot of work and be a huge change for his family, but he's excited. He's looking to improve the Williston church and bring more community members in.

"(Change) doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It takes a long period of time. Nothing will grow if you just sit there."

Patnode talked about how he wants to bring more awareness to the church through community activities. Once the weather gets warmer, he wants to throw a big block party. Through more activities, such as a basketball night at the church's gym, he hopes to expand the Williston congregation's numbers, which currently are around 40 to 45 members, he said.

"We've been focusing on the younger generations and how to reach them," Wells said. "I think we got a nice young couple to help do that."

[Read more...]