September 28, 2016

Correction

Aug. 21, 2008

A story in the Aug. 14 edition of the Observer about the race for Vermont Senate (“Democrats rule the roost in Senate race”) omitted a candidate. Tom Licata, an independent from Burlington, is also running in the six-seat Chittenden County district.

[Read more…]

Around Town

Aug. 21, 2008

Town safety

Anyone who has ever harbored a secret desire to spray a fire extinguisher will have a chance to do so this weekend.

On Saturday, Aug. 23, the Army National Guard, Williston Police Department, Williston Fire Department, the Red Cross and other groups will be at Allen Brook School for Williston Safety Day. Residents are invited to the free event, taking place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to learn about common safety tips — including how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

The fire department will also teach residents how to choose the correct smoke detector for their homes. Police will host a bicycle safety course, the Army National Guard will have an ambulance and other equipment on display, and the Red Cross will conduct a blood drive.

Other features of the day include heating safety, Internet safety and proper disposal of hazardous household waste.

 

Observer online gets a facelift

Been to the Observer’s Web site, www.willistonobserver.com, recently? Online visitors should notice some changes.

On the front page of the Web site, every article in the online edition will display a headline. Clicking on the headline will display a small preview of the story. Visitors can then access that story by clicking on the “Read More …” link.

Additionally, when visitors navigate to “Local News” or “Community Forum,” each of the headlines for the articles in those sections will appear.

The new format will allow for further expansions and components to be added more easily.

 

Let the fair season begin!

The Champlain Valley Fair opens this weekend, running from Aug. 23 to Sept. 1.

Held at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, the fair features concerts, food, animals, agricultural displays, commercial exhibits, rides and more.

More information is available online at www.cvexpo.org.

[Read more…]

Click it: Staying safe on the road (Aug. 21, 2008)

Aug. 21, 2008
By Molly Shaker
Observer staff

Knowing how to remain safe in a motor vehicle is something that drivers and passengers should keep in mind anytime they’re on the road.
And nothing, according to Tom Williams, regional manager for AAA northern New England in Montpelier, is more important than buckling up.
Though the percentage of people in Vermont who wear their seat belts is higher than the national average, 15 percent of the state’s population still doesn’t.
Fifty-five percent of the auto fatalities in the Green Mountain State are a result of this 15 percent who don’t buckle up, according to Tom Williams.
Women tend to wear their seat belts more often than men, and people who drive cars tend to wear their safety belts more than people who drive trucks, Williams said.
Before the age of 16 — the age at which a Vermonter is old enough to obtain a junior operator’s permit — the state enforces a mandatory seat belt law.
This law requires individuals 15 and younger to be in a restraint system of some sort, according to information provided by Michele Laberge, child passenger safety specialist for Vermont’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Infants must ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds. Children above the age of 1 and weighing 20 to 40 pounds require a forward-facing car seat. Children 40 pounds and up must ride in a booster seat or harness seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. At that point they must use a seatbelt.
Once an individual is 16 or older, the state of Vermont enforces a secondary seat belt law.
“A policeman cannot cite you for violating that law unless he first cites you for violating a primary offense, such as speeding,” Williams said. “If you’re speeding and a cop pulls you over and you’re not wearing your seat belt, he can’t write you a ticket unless you’re first cited for the primary offense. That leads a lot of people to believe that they don’t need to wear their seat belt.”
Still, Williams encourages all motor vehicle operators and passengers to buckle up.
“Put your seat belt on,” Williams said. “It’s the number one priority if you want to be safer in a car.”
Maintenance and precautions
In addition to buckling up, there are several other steps to take to ensure safety on the road.
For one, following the proper maintenance and upkeep of a car is crucial. The most important thing, Williams said, is making sure tires are properly inflated according to the recommendations from the tire manufacturer.
“You should inflate (your tires) in accordance with what it says on the tire, not necessarily with what it says on the car,” he said. “It’s more reliable.”
Williams also said AAA recommends all vehicles carry a breakdown kit for those unexpected breakdowns, so a flashlight, blanket or pair of jumper cables is at the ready.
But still, Williams emphasized the importance of getting in the habit of using a proper safety belt system.
“The number one step for auto safety is wear your seat belt,” he reiterated.

[Read more…]

Click it: Staying safe on the road

Aug. 21, 2008
By Molly Shaker
Observer staff

Knowing how to remain safe in a motor vehicle is something that drivers and passengers should keep in mind anytime they’re on the road.
And nothing, according to Tom Williams, regional manager for AAA northern New England in Montpelier, is more important than buckling up.
Though the percentage of people in Vermont who wear their seat belts is higher than the national average, 15 percent of the state’s population still doesn’t.
Fifty-five percent of the auto fatalities in the Green Mountain State are a result of this 15 percent who don’t buckle up, according to Tom Williams.
Women tend to wear their seat belts more often than men, and people who drive cars tend to wear their safety belts more than people who drive trucks, Williams said.
Before the age of 16 — the age at which a Vermonter is old enough to obtain a junior operator’s permit — the state enforces a mandatory seat belt law.
This law requires individuals 15 and younger to be in a restraint system of some sort, according to information provided by Michele Laberge, child passenger safety specialist for Vermont’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Infants must ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds. Children above the age of 1 and weighing 20 to 40 pounds require a forward-facing car seat. Children 40 pounds and up must ride in a booster seat or harness seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. At that point they must use a seatbelt.
Once an individual is 16 or older, the state of Vermont enforces a secondary seat belt law.
“A policeman cannot cite you for violating that law unless he first cites you for violating a primary offense, such as speeding,” Williams said. “If you’re speeding and a cop pulls you over and you’re not wearing your seat belt, he can’t write you a ticket unless you’re first cited for the primary offense. That leads a lot of people to believe that they don’t need to wear their seat belt.”
Still, Williams encourages all motor vehicle operators and passengers to buckle up.
“Put your seat belt on,” Williams said. “It’s the number one priority if you want to be safer in a car.”
Maintenance and precautions
In addition to buckling up, there are several other steps to take to ensure safety on the road.
For one, following the proper maintenance and upkeep of a car is crucial. The most important thing, Williams said, is making sure tires are properly inflated according to the recommendations from the tire manufacturer.
“You should inflate (your tires) in accordance with what it says on the tire, not necessarily with what it says on the car,” he said. “It’s more reliable.”
Williams also said AAA recommends all vehicles carry a breakdown kit for those unexpected breakdowns, so a flashlight, blanket or pair of jumper cables is at the ready.
But still, Williams emphasized the importance of getting in the habit of using a proper safety belt system.
“The number one step for auto safety is wear your seat belt,” he reiterated.

[Read more…]

Local sales tax revenue continues decline

New numbers show 9 percent drop

Aug. 21, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Local sales tax revenue resumed its long, slow slide in the second quarter, with proceeds down 9 percent over the same period last year.

Williston received $627,980 from the local option sales tax for the quarter ending June 30, according to Rosemary Hebert of the Vermont Tax Department. That’s $61,511 less than the same three months in 2007.

The latest numbers mean the tax failed to meet even the town’s downsized revenue expectations. The town budgeted $2.65 million in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire. The tax brought in $2.47 million.

McGuire, who had yet to receive the latest sales tax figures on Monday morning, did not want to comment until he had time to analyze the new numbers.

Williston voters approved the 1 percent sales tax six years ago. It is tacked onto the 6 percent state sales tax.

The tax initially was a boon for the town, allowing it to reduce the property tax rate to a fraction of its former level. At its peak, the tax funded about 40 percent of the municipal budget.

But starting in January 2007, the state enacted new rules designed to capture Internet sales. The changes are part of a multi-state initiative to standardize collections and thus convince Congress to pass legislation subjecting Internet sales to state sales taxes.

Among the changes Vermont made was a rule that required items purchased in one place but delivered elsewhere to be taxed based on their destination. That apparently hurt Williston, which has several chain retailers that sell appliances and other large items that are often shipped to customers in other towns.

Since the changes were enacted, same-quarter revenue has dropped in all but one of the six subsequent quarters. The lone exception occurred during the first three months of 2008, where revenue rose slightly over the same time a year earlier.

But state officials have said they think that upward blip may have been a statistical anomaly caused by problems associated with reporting and calculating the tax when the rules first went into effect during the first quarter of 2007.

It is unclear if the declining national economy has impacted local sales tax revenue. Retail sales dipped by 0.1 percent in July, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

It was the first decline since sales fell by 0.5 percent in February. Analysts attributed the recent drop to falling auto sales.

In Vermont, however, sales tax revenue for the state as a whole has risen in the last few quarters. Numbers for the most recent quarter were not immediately available, but previous periods had increases around 5 percent.

The next quarter could bring an even larger decline in local sales tax revenue. The state offered a sales tax holiday on items costing $2,000 or less on July 12-13 and made purchases of energy-efficient appliances exempt from both state and local taxes from July 12-18.

“I wouldn’t say we are concerned, but we’re certainly going to be following it closely,” McGuire said of the potential impact of the tax holiday on local revenue.

He noted that the sales tax holiday legislation includes a provision for reimbursing municipalities for revenue losses.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

[Read more…]

Statewide cycling event benefits area food shelves

 

Aug. 21, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

On Saturday, cyclists from Vermont and beyond gathered in Williston to raise money for the hungry. As part of the 113-mile Harpoon Point-to-Point Tour, bicyclists rode from Williston through the Green Mountains to Windsor, raising money for the Vermont Foodbank.

The Aug. 16 event also helped smaller food shelves, such as the new Williston Community Food Shelf.

 


    Contributed photo
‘Cyclists stand with their bikes during the Harpoon Point-to-Point Tour on Saturday, which raised money for the Vermont Foodbank. Bikers traveled 113 miles from Williston to Windsor.

According to Judy Stermer, communications specialist for the Vermont Foodbank, more than 230 cyclists took part this year, with 90 riders completing the seventh annual charity ride from Williston to the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor.

Two shorter rides were also offered — a 50-mile ride from Bethel to Windsor and a 25-mile loop ride around Windsor, beginning and ending at the brewery.

Stermer said the food bank would find out in the next month the exact amount that had been raised by the event. She said riders have a month to submit their pledges.

Stermer said $26,000 had already been raised through online contributions and the food bank was hoping to see “nearly $40,000” in donations by the end of the tally. She said $35,000 was raised last year during the Point-to-Point Tour. She added the ride is the largest single-day fundraiser for the Vermont Foodbank.

The Vermont Foodbank, a membership organization made up of food shelves and aid groups from around the state, stores food and food-related items to distribute to food shelves. It is a member of America’s Second Harvest, the country’s largest hunger-relief organization.

Stermer said the money raised in the Point-to-Point Tour goes to acquiring more food and lowering commodity costs, thus the money ends up helping organizations such as the Williston Community Food Shelf access goods.

“The food bank does whatever it can do to help out our members,” Stermer said.

Feeding Williston’s hungry

Currently, the Williston Community Food Shelf is not a member of the Vermont Foodbank, although President Jill Lang attended a Foodbank orientation at its headquarters in Barre.

Lang said as soon as the food shelf files for nonprofit organization status, it would automatically become a Vermont Foodbank member. Lang hopes to become an official nonprofit next month.

Lang said the Williston Food Shelf would pay an annual membership fee of $35 to the Vermont Foodbank. It would also have to pay 18 cents per pound of food ordered, although those costs would change in October, according to Lang.

Lang said the Vermont Foodbank plans to lower the cost of the 18-cent co-pay, but increase the annual membership. Neither Lang nor Stermer knew what the new costs would be, but both agreed charity events, including the Harpoon Point-to-Point Tour, help to lower co-pay costs for food shelves and offer more services to those who need it.

Lang said working with the food bank has been “wonderful.”

“They can’t be helpful enough in everything,” Lang said.

At the moment, the Williston Food Shelf is still without a home, although food is available on an “emergency” basis at the Town Clerk’s office or by calling Lang at the food shelf’s cell phone number, 735-6303.

Although Lang would still like to find a better alternative, a second-floor space at Maple Tree Place might be the best option for the time being, she said. While the shopping center offers ample parking, the logistics of hauling heavy packages of food to the second floor, as well as disposing of trash and recycling, could pose problems. Still, she’s happy someone in Williston has enough space.

“It’s very gracious of (Maple Tree Place) to be even talking to us,” Lang said. “But for long-term occupation, a second floor isn’t ideal.”

For information about registering with the Williston Community Food Shelf or how to obtain emergency food, contact Jill Lang at 735-6303.

[Read more…]

A glimpse of Frost

Statewide reading program explores life of Robert Frost

Aug. 21, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

American poet Robert Frost’s work is often associated with the quiet surroundings and pastoral beauty of the New England landscape. His poems are required readings in schools across the country and now, with a program through the Vermont Humanities Council, Williston residents can take part in a number of events surrounding the famous Vermonter’s life.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
‘A Restless Spirit: The Life of Robert Frost’ by Natalie Bober is available at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library as part of the Vermont Reads program.

The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library and the Williston-Richmond Rotary are sponsoring the Humanities Council’s Vermont Reads program for Williston, which aims to bring groups of people from across the age spectrum together to read, discuss and take part in different activities.

The Vermont Humanities Council has chosen the book “A Restless Spirit: The Story of Robert Frost” by author Natalie Bober for its Vermont Reads program, now in its sixth year. Sally Metro of the Williston-Richmond Rotary thought the program sounded like a great way of bringing community members together. This is the town’s first participation with the program.

Metro said the program for Williston officially kicks off on Sept. 6 at the Vermont Story Festival in Middlebury — hosted by the Humanities Council — and focuses on Frost. She said residents interested in taking part in Vermont Reads could read “A Restless Spirit” before the festival. Dorothy Alling Library Director Marti Fiske said there are 50 copies on hand to check out.

“When people take the books out, we ask them to register with (Vermont Reads),” Metro said.

The many events of the Vermont Story Festival will be held at various locations in downtown Middlebury, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. “A Restless Spirit” author Bober will be on hand to answer questions and sign books, and Frost’s granddaughter, artist Robin Hudnut, will also be there to answer questions and display her artwork. All events are free and open to the public.

Metro said the Rotary is planning to organize a carpool from Dorothy Alling Library to Middlebury for those that are interested.

Fiske said the library should have more than enough books for the program and will be able to keep several copies after Vermont Reads ends. She said the remaining copies would probably be donated to the libraries of area schools. So far, only four books had been checked out, but Fiske said they had just started getting the word out.

After the Middlebury event, a book discussion of “A Restless Spirit” will take place at the library on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Both Metro and Fiske said the discussion is open to all ages, and they hope a good mix of young adults through senior citizens turn out and give the talk a variety of views and opinions.

Continuing on, there will be two chances to take part in a watercolor painting class at the library in October. Local artist Deb Runge will be holding painting classes inspired by Frost’s poems on Monday, Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 2 p.m. According to Fiske, the class will read Frost’s “Birches” poem before painting a birch forest in watercolors. Participants only have to attend one of the painting sessions if they choose, Fiske said.

The Williston Vermont Reads program will culminate with a poetry slam on Monday, Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the library. Participants can read their own poetry inspired by Frost or read someone else’s.

Fiske said she hopes to see a broad range of age groups at the poetry event and said several Champlain Valley Union High School students had already expressed some interest.

Fiske said the Vermont Humanities Council has been “amazing” in organizing nonfiction and fiction book series with state libraries. Vermont Reads is a continuation of its work.

“Every year I’ve been here we’ve done a project with the Vermont Humanities Council,” Fiske said.

The council, based in Montpelier, helps run statewide literacy programs and other community-based events. Mark Fitzsimmons, director of community programs for the Vermont Humanities Council, said the organization picks books that are appropriate to a broad range of reading skills and interests.

“In addition, we try to get something that is current or has issues important to Vermonters,” Fitzsimmons said.

Fitzsimmons said Frost is of interest to Vermonters because of his ties to New England and the state. Frost lived and worked in Ripton and Bennington — where he is buried — during his lifetime, as well as in Derry, N.H. and Franconia, N.H.

“We feel we own him, as does the state of New Hampshire,” Fitzsimmons said, referring to a friendly state rivalry.

Metro said the book tells the story of Frost’s life in a well-written and interesting way. She also said many of his most famous poems are included, as well as pictures of his life and family.

According to Metro, the book stresses how Frost was an ordinary man who was unsure of what he wanted to be before becoming a poet and only stumbled onto greatness, but never sought it out. She hopes people, young adults especially, will be drawn to Frost’s story and see parallels to the famous poet and their own lives.

“We’re not born stars and we’re not born as famous poets,” Metro said. “(Frost) didn’t have huge goals, but worked hard at what he did. He was kind of an ordinary man.”

To register for Williston’s Vermont Read program and for more information on the Sept. 6 event in Middlebury, contact the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library at 878-4918 or Sally Metro at 879-4506.

[Read more…]

Swinging into school (Aug. 21, 2008)

 
 


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Best friends Devin Rogers (left) and Ethan Czarny, both 5, enjoy the swings during last week’s ice cream social for students about to enter kindergarten in Williston. Rogers’ father, Jason, pushed the boys while holding Avery, his youngest of three sons. Building Bright Futures, a group that connects children up to age 5 and their families to community resources, hosted the event at Williston Community Park.

[Read more…]

Corporate landowners appeal appraisals

Reductions would cost homeowners

Aug. 21, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston homeowners have shouldered an increasing share of the property tax burden in recent years as residential values rose rapidly and commercial land inched up slowly.

A town-wide appraisal this spring continued the trend, with home prices increasing an average of 43 percent and commercial property up just 20 percent.

But some of Williston’s largest corporate landowners still think their property is overvalued. If successful, their appeals would shift more of the tax burden onto residents and strain the town’s budget.

Among those appealing is IBM, which owns the second most expensive property in town. The company designs computer chips at the 482-acre complex off Redmond Road.

IBM said the town’s $31.6 million valuation is too high, even though it represents an increase of just 0.2 percent from the town’s last appraisal five years ago.

In a letter to the town, IBM asserts that the appraisal is inaccurate because the town failed to consider the facility’s actual market value and did not physically inspect and consider the condition of buildings.

Jeff Couture, an IBM spokesman, said the company simply wants to be treated the same as any other taxpayer.

“We just want to pay our fair share,” he said. “The same set of rules should apply. Taxation is taxation.”

IBM asked the town to reduce the appraisal to $18.4 million, a 42 percent decrease. The request was denied, and now the company has appealed to the town’s Board of Civil Authority.

IBM is one of a dozen businesses that were unsatisfied with the results of the grievance process, which includes a chance to informally meet with the town’s appraiser and then have a hearing before the Board of Listers. Each has appealed to the Board of Civil Authority.

They include Pizzagalli Properties LLC, which owns property valued at $8.9 million on Harvest Lane, and BankNorth, which has property on St. George Road valued at $5.2 million.

The highest-valued property in town is Maple Tree Place, the huge retail center at Taft Corners. The town’s appraisal valued it at $80.9 million.

The owner, Inland Western, initially appealed but dropped the matter after the town refused to reduce the value.

Bill Hinman, Williston’s assessor, said the appraisal was fair. Inland bought the property three years ago for $102.3 million.

“I said, ‘Look, you guys paid a lot more than we assessed you for,’” Hinman said. “You have to assume that the company is at least not crazy, that it must of put a lot of thought into it before plunking down a hundred million.”

Matt Tramel, a spokesman for Illinois-based Inland Group of Companies, which is affiliated with Inland Western, would say little about the aborted appeal.

“Inland thoroughly reviewed all the documentation and decided not to pursue the appeal,” Tramel said. He declined to further elaborate.

The town appraised Maple Tree Place for $42.2 million just before it was sold in 2005, raising questions about the accuracy of commercial valuations. Hinman has said he thought there were other business considerations in the deal, driving the price paid for Maple Tree Place beyond its actual market value.

Residents vs. corporations?

At least one resident believes the town has a bias favoring businesses to the detriment of residents’ wallets.

“What’s happening is that these are corporate bullies and they intimidate us,” said Jeffrey Haslett, president of the neighborhood association in the Eastview condominium development. “If they can’t get concessions, they threaten to leave town.”

Haslett, whose own valuation rose 44 percent, said many residents have neither the time nor the money to contest their property values, but big companies don’t have that problem.

Hinman said the appraisals are determined largely by looking at sales of comparable properties, and home prices have increased more than those for commercial and industrial properties. He said no special consideration is given to corporations, even IBM, the state’s largest private employer.

“It does not come into play whatsoever,” Hinman said. “It is not a thought on our radar, not even a blip.”

Hinman did not know exactly how much commercial property values have been reduced during the appeal process to date, but he said adjustments are comparable to those done for homeowners.

Municipal finance considerations

Williston officials have expressed concern about the impact of appeals on the town’s budget. Earlier this year, Town Manager Rick McGuire urged the Selectboard to be conservative in setting the tax rate because successful appeals by a couple of large business properties could reduce revenue and create a budget crunch.

A reduction in the appraised value of IBM caused an uproar in Essex Junction last year. The town dropped the value of the aging computer chip manufacturing facility located just across the Winooski River from Williston and other IBM-owned properties from $147 million to $104 million, according to Randy Viens, Essex’s assessor.

The decrease, combined with a quirk in the way the state funds education through property taxes, drove up taxes for homeowners. Jeff Carr, a Williston economist and the former chairman of the Essex Selectboard, remembers many residents accusing officials of “sticking it to the village’s taxpayers.”

On average, Essex homeowners saw an increase of $200 to $250 in property tax bills after the reappraisal, Carr said.

Viens said one reason the affect was so dramatic was because IBM’s plant – 3 million square feet – comprised more than 20 percent of Essex’s grand list, the total value of all property. In Williston, the impact of a devaluation of IBM’s 435,000-square-foot complex would be much smaller because it accounts for only a small fraction of the $1.6 billion grand list.

Still, IBM has drawn parallels between the Williston and Essex facilities and is seeking an even larger percentage devaluation here.

“The reappraisal overvalues the property significantly, in great contrast to a very recent, independently performed, and very thorough appraisal of IBM property in Essex Junction, Vermont,” wrote John DiToro, senior location executive, in the company’s notice of appeal. “IBM notes that the value attributed to square footage of building space in Williston is about 2X the value attributed to building space in Essex Junction.”

The Board of Civil Authority begins hearing appeals filed by commercial property owners next week. The IBM hearing is scheduled to take place Sept. 16 at Williston Town Hall.

Biggest property owners

Here are the 10 highest-valued commercial properties in Williston and the percentage increase in the town’s appraisal.

Property Owner/Location                            Value                    Increase
Inland Western/Maple Tree Place                  $80.9 million        19%
IBM Corp./Chip Alley                                   $31.6 million        0.2%
Miller Realty/Marshall Ave.                          $14.2 million        28%
Taft Corners Associates/Harvest Lane           $9.5 million        26%
Pizzagalli Properties/Harvest Lane.                $8.9 million        28%
Allen Brook Development/Cornerstone Dr.   $8.9 million        12%
Home Depot/Harvest Lane                            $8.7 million        26%
ST Griswold/Industrial Ave.                         $8.2 million        22%
Winter Development/Interstate Corp. Ctr.     $7.6 million        21%
The Miller Group/Holly Court                      $7.5 million        25%

[Read more…]

Heroes

 

Observer photo by Greg Elias
Members of the Williston Little League All-Stars mingle with supporters on Friday. The team got a police escort as it rolled into Williston.  Read all about it here.

[Read more…]