May 27, 2018

Little Details (Sept. 18, 2008)

Challenging invisibility

Sept. 18, 2008
By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

I pulled into the Hannaford parking lot behind a late-model car sporting a recently issued license plate. An older man was crossing the lot, walking gingerly over puddles left by a recent storm. I noticed his clean white sneakers.

I was sure the car in front of me would let this pedestrian pass. To my surprise, he turned quickly, right in front of the older gentleman. The driver passed a space, decided to back up and threw his car in reverse, coming dangerously close to the man he just cut off. I saw the older man stumble backward, jolted by the threat of the unwieldy car.

Witnessing this callousness, intentional or not, made me angry. I wanted to give the driver the benefit of the doubt. I’ve certainly made stupid moves when preoccupied behind the wheel. Maybe he was retrieving an emergency prescription for a sick child at home. Maybe he just worked a double shift and was desperately hungry or thirsty, in need of sustenance.

Not knowing if there was an excuse, I was offended by what I witnessed. I was saddened by the seeming callousness toward another human being. Reckless driving compromised the elderly man’s safety. Being late or tired or hungry or even stressed is not an excuse for vehicular aggression.

Exiting my car, I walked over to the older man and told him I saw what happened. He admitted he was a little shaken by the near miss. It was important to bear witness even if I couldn’t fix what happened. I saw in this frightened man someone’s husband, father or grandfather.

What of the man who drove so aggressively? I walked in the store and spotted him casually perusing the video section. I guess it wasn’t an emergency after all.

My friend Mary stands about 5-foot-2. Her hair is a smooth white-gray that she sweeps up into a bun. She’s a retired social worker who worked with at-risk youths in southern California, helping many turn their lives around. At 67, Mary’s knees show the wear of arthritis and too many long nights searching for kids on the run.

What Mary lacks in stature she exceeds in character. She is a prolific knitter, creating sweaters, blankets and slippers with needles dancing in her hands. She’s a voracious reader with vast knowledge of the political events of the day. She pays attention to and interacts with the world around her. She’s very social, forming friendships defined by compatibility, not age.

Walking through Boston with Mary recently, a group of teenage boys brushed passed us, banging into Mary, who steadied herself with her cane. These young people were too busy to stop to acknowledge the collision or even to murmur a quick, “pardon me.”

I looked at Mary and said I was sorry about what happened.

“It’s normal,” she said. “I’ve become more invisible as I’ve aged.”

Is it the altered pigment of an older person’s hair that emboldens some to see them as invisible? Is it that their slower steps, or driving, or emptying of their grocery carts are just too much for the speed set for whom busyness somehow implies heightened importance? Maybe we have something to learn from our sometimes slower-paced neighbors. Being “busy” isn’t all it’s hyped up to be.

I’ve pondered Mary’s words as my own gray hairs emerge and my skin takes on the tattoos of age. Will I too become invisible as my pace slows and my hair loses its youthful shade? I certainly hope not. I’ll try to gray gracefully while wearing LOUD — but stylish — earrings.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or

[Read more…]

Around Town (Sept. 18, 2008)

Sept. 18, 2008

Path progress

A long-running effort to get easements from Pleasant Acres residents for a recreation path along Mountain View Road is nearly complete.

Just one easement from those living in the subdivision remains to be granted, Public Works Director Neil Boyden said last week. Talks continue with other residents along the half-mile stretch between North Williston Road and Old Stage Road.

The segment is one of three to be funded entirely by a $2.6 million bond approved by voters in 2004. The others run along North Williston Road and U.S. Route 2. The bond will partially fund two other segments on or near Vermont Route 2A.

Construction of the paths — extra-wide sidewalks suitable for pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers — has been stymied as the town negotiates rights to run them through residents’ property.

Boyden said he hopes to obtain the remaining easements along Mountain View Road and put the project out to bid by next spring.

Frameworks funding

The Williston School Board voted unanimously to extend funding for the Conceptual Frameworks Committee if the group’s members decide they need more time to create recommendations for the school district’s future.

The board voted at its Sept. 10 meeting. Chairwoman Darlene Worth said funding for the committee, which pays for the consulting fees of facilitator Mary Jane Shelley, could be extended by two to three months.

Even if the Frameworks Committee feels it needs a few more months to work, Worth said recommendations affecting the budget would still need to be made before January.

[Read more…]

Board to discuss future of ABS trailers (Sept. 18, 2008)

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Members of the Williston School Board are scheduled to appear before the Development Review Board on Tuesday to discuss a possible permit extension for the Allen Brook School modular classrooms.

At the meeting, originally scheduled for July, the School Board plans to discuss the continued need for the classrooms, citing the district’s current restructuring process.

“We can’t be without them,” said School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth.

The trailers were given a four-year permit by the Development Review Board in February 2006, after which they are to be removed. One stipulation of the permit was the district had to provide a long-term master plan for the site.

Worth said the master plan was completed this summer and highlights the current changes the district has enacted while providing current enrollment numbers.

In May, Worth sent a letter to the Development Review Board highlighting the School Board’s intentions to seek a permit extension before the expiration in February 2010.

“The Board and its facility committee will be working the next 3-5 years focusing on existing facility issues and needs, and reconfiguring how we use space currently in support of the overall education program,” the letter states. “The board intends to request another four year extension of the existing permit prior to the expiration of the current permit.”

Students moved into the trailers in the 2002-2003 school year. The classrooms were meant to be a temporary solution for increasing enrollment until another wing of Allen Brook School could be built.

The School Board may meet some resistance from members of the Development Review Board. Board Chairman Kevin McDermott told the Observer in May he believes the school wants the classrooms to become permanent structures. He said the Development Review Board only approved the trailers as temporary structures in the past.

Besides members of the School Board, Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney is also expected to attend.

The Development Review Board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23 at Town Hall.

[Read more…]

Town schedules November forum on child safety (Sept. 18, 2008)

Sex offender ordinance among the topics

Sept. 18, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A forum on child safety that will include talk of an ordinance limiting where sex offenders can live will be held in November.  

The forum is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13 at Williston Central School. It begins at 7 p.m.

Town Manager Rick McGuire had as of last week signed up two nonprofit organizations, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont and KidSafe Collaborative Inc. McGuire said he is recruiting others to participate in the forum’s panel discussion.

The forum grew out of a proposal by Selectboard member Chris Roy to consider an ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live. Such ordinances typically establish buffer zones around schools and other places children gather.

At least two Vermont municipalities recently approved residency restrictions on sex offenders, while other towns have discussed the issue in the wake of the June slaying of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett.

McGuire said he broadened the focus to ensure a wide-ranging discussion that includes several perspectives. Only debating a sex offender ordinance, he said, would limit the forum.

“If you focus on one solution right from the start, you don’t know if it’s the right solution,” McGuire said.

The forum will have a panel featuring representatives from perhaps four organizations. A set of predetermined questions will be posed to the panel, and then members of the general public will get to ask their own questions.

Roy said the broader focus is OK as long as discussion of a sex offender ordinance “is not lost in the shuffle.”

Sex offenses became an emotional and political issue in Vermont after Bennett disappeared in June and was found a week later in a shallow grave. Her uncle, Michael Jacques, a convicted sex offender, has been charged with kidnapping in connection with the case. Prosecutors have indicated that other charges may be filed.

State officials have since proposed stricter laws dealing with sex offenders. Gov. Jim Douglas wants legislators to require a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for certain sex crimes involving children. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered that measure and others during hearings in recent weeks.

Two Vermont cities, Rutland and Barre, recently enacted ordinances that restrict where sex offenders can live. The ordinances bar offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, recreation facilities and other places frequented by children.

Critics, including some victim advocates, assert that limiting where sex offenders can live only drives them underground and prevents their reintegration into society. Experts say such measures are based on the false premise that offenders are strangers when studies show they are in most cases known to the victim.

Some have accused Douglas and others seeking statewide office of using the issue to hammer their opponents for being soft on crime.

But McGuire and Roy denied that political considerations influenced the forum’s timing and topics.

McGuire said the forum, which will be held the week after the Nov. 4 election, was scheduled based on availability of space at the school. He said he did not deliberately try to hold it after the election.

“You keep trying to draw a connection, but for me there is no connection,” he told the Observer.

Roy, who is the local chairman for the state Republican Party, said politics played no role in his proposal. Two Republicans are challenging a pair of Democrats for Williston’s two seats in the Vermont House in the November election. One of the Democrats is Terry Macaig, chairman of the Selectboard.

Roy said passage of the ordinance in Barre, his hometown, led him to wonder if Williston should enact similar restrictions on where sex offenders live.

He said it is better that the forum is held after the election because it will eliminate politics and allow residents to focus exclusively on what will best ensure children’s safety.

“Believe it or not, this was never intended to be a political maneuver at all,” he said.

[Read more…]

School boards brainstorm ideas to close achievement gap (Sept. 18, 2008)

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The Williston School Board met for the first time since the school year began, but this time with a twist.

For the first 40 minutes of the Sept. 10 meeting, a joint gathering was held between the Williston and Shelburne school boards. The idea was to share ideas to close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and the majority of students who don’t fall under that classification.

Williston Chairwoman Darlene Worth said she and Shelburne Chairman Grant Bush thought it would be helpful to meet two to three times during the school year to discuss a variety of subjects.

“We’re all interested in the same things,” Worth said.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney agreed and expressed hope that joint meetings could occur more often between CSSU districts.

“This is about building that professional learning community,” Pinckney said.

Shelburne School District Principal John Bossange told the school boards and various administrators the joint meetings would better allow him to pool ideas to address the achievement gap.

“We really want to learn from each other on this one, because this is hard work,” Bossange said.

Both school districts are looking to close the achievement gap and make Adequate Yearly Progress, also known as AYP, a federal designation to measure academic improvement through the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Vermont measures AYP through the New England Common Assessment Program tests, commonly referred to as NECAP tests.

Williston did not make AYP for the third consecutive time earlier this year, due to the low NECAP scores from economically disadvantaged students and special needs students. As a result, the school district was placed on the Vermont Department of Education’s list of schools in need of improvement.

Also, the school district must provide students from the two underperforming groups with supplemental education services. The DOE has compiled a list of approved service providers.

Shelburne did not make AYP for the first time this year, in the area of special needs students, although Bossange said he was concerned for the school district’s economically disadvantaged students as well.

At the meeting, Bossange, along with Shelburne Community School Principal Allegra Miller, talked about research the district had done about closing the achievement gap, as well as how they planned to close that gap. Allen Brook School Principal John Terko, who filled in for District Principal Walter Nardelli at the meeting, then spoke about the progress Williston hopes to make in the coming school year.

Bossange listed what he discovered from reading an article about schools across the country that had successfully closed the achievement gap. Success factors included full-day kindergarten, reduced class sizes, full-time staff development teachers, standards based curriculums, diagnostic assessments, more parent involvement and extended learning opportunities — either after school or during the summer.

Bossange and Miller said Shelburne would continue with its homework club for grades four through eight, as well as its summer school program. The district would then hope to add more after-school tutoring programs and more professional development for teachers.

Bossange also said Shelburne will be starting the Response to Instruction, or RTI program, something Williston has been doing for four years. Terko said Williston was one of the pilot schools in the state to enact the program.

RTI is a program in which teachers monitor certain students on a regular basis to see how they respond to what is being taught. It’s a way for teachers to note key areas a student needs to focus on so they can intervene before a student gets left behind, Terko said at the meeting.

“Students are screened everywhere and evaluated on a weekly basis,” Terko said.

Terko explained that Williston, like Shelburne, also has after school homework clubs and had a “very successful” summer camp for students who struggled in the NECAP exams.

To further help students in need, the district has been using the Web-based resource guide AIMSweb, and through that, programs such as Fundations and Great Leaps, Terko said. For kindergarten-aged students, Allen Brook School will be using the Bridges math program for early intervention. These are just a few of the many programs Terko discussed with the boards.

Besides using programs and educational tools, Terko said it was just as important to understand where economically disadvantaged students are coming from.

“Teachers in Chittenden South need a good, solid understanding of poverty,” he said.

Terko added with all the research and intervention programs Williston has enacted, he’s “very optimistic” the achievement gap can be shortened.

“We’re shooting for it,” he said.

[Read more…]

Finding the right balance in Williston

More factors than boy to girl ratio, officials say

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Male students outnumber females by more than 60 in Williston’s schools, making it impossible to find a perfect gender balance in each academic house, say school officials.

But Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said the administration tries to be as balanced as possible.

“You do the best you can and hope it works out,” Terko said. “I don’t want people to think that we throw darts on a board and decide that way.”

Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks agreed.

“It’s incredibly challenging to be able to put all of that together,” she said.

The gender breakdown was given to the School Board during its Sept. 10 meeting. Terko, filling in for District Principal Walter Nardelli, presented the numbers.

“The board had asked us to do that at the beginning of the year,” Terko said.

Terko said Nardelli also sent a copy of the numbers to the Conceptual Frameworks Committee, a group working to recommend changes in the district’s future.

Terko said the upper houses had to undergo more “tweaking” of student placement than the lower houses before school started. Upper houses Full and Swift saw the addition of an extra eighth grade and fifth grade class, respectively. As a result, those houses have five teachers and, on average, between 10 to 15 more students than the four-teacher upper houses.

“Because this is year one of the restructuring, we have more imbalance in some situations than we’d like to see,” Parks said.

By the numbers

For the lower houses, there are 257 boys and 220 girls. In the upper houses, there are 260 boys and 235 girls. With the exception of Voyager House, all lower and upper houses have more boys than girls.

While none of the houses have equal numbers of boys and girls, some are closer in balance than others. In the lower houses, the difference ranges from two in Lighthouse — 37 boys and 35 girls — to 11 in Discovery House — 42 boys and 31 girls. The new Pinnacle House, with its six-teacher team, has 58 boys and 54 girls.

In the upper houses, Full House has a difference of 11 — 60 boys vs. 49 girls. Harbor House has the largest variance, a difference of 24, with 59 boys to 35 girls. Voyager House — an exception to the rule — has 39 boys and 56 girls. Only Swift and Meeting houses come close to being balanced.

Between grades, the gender balances are closer in grades one through five, but tend to become more imbalanced in certain instances in grades six, seven and eight. In Harbor House, for instance, there are six girls and 15 boys in grade seven and nine girls and 17 boys in grade eight.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are six boys and 14 girls in Voyager’s grade seven.

Playing with numbers

Splitting the upper house teams during last school year’s reconfiguration also posed challenges. To avoid splitting up friends, the administration relied on parent help in placement.

“When we split them up, we felt there should be some options for parents and students,” Terko said.

Parks said this has been a “challenging year” because of reconfiguration and the placement of students. Still, there is balance in some areas. Parks said the houses are balanced much more when it comes to special education students, socio-economic factors and different academic levels.

“Gender is the least balanced of the lenses we look through in terms of placement,” Parks said.

Parks said the numbers concern teachers and administrators, but it’s also up to the teachers to make their classrooms positive learning environments for everyone.

Parks added she had received a lot of parent feedback — some negative, some positive — in the spring and summer leading up the school year in terms of gender numbers. But she said she hasn’t had one negative comment from a parent since school started in regards to the number of boys and girls in a classroom.

“My take is that people are happier with how this school year is going,” Parks said.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said she looked at the numbers and, while she would have liked to see more of a balance, she understands the difficulty in making them balanced.

“It’s not a perfect science and it never will be a perfect science,” Worth said.

Gender breakdown, by house
Lower houses (grades 1-4)
Calliope        32                        40
Discovery      31                       42
Esprit            33                        40
Lighthouse    35                        37
Pinnacle           54                    58
Vista                35                    40

Upper houses (grades 5-8)
Full                49                     60
Harbor            35                    59
Meeting            44                    47
Swift                51                    55
Voyager            56                    39

Information provided by the Williston School District.
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Williston Police go with pedal power (Sept. 18, 2008)

Three officers certified as bike patrollers

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

On a recent bright and sunny Thursday, Williston Police Officer Travis Trybulski slowly made his way through the Lawnwood and Southridge neighborhoods — but not in a patrol car. Instead, Trybulski pedaled his way on a Williston Police mountain bike.

As Trybulski cruised onto the bike path and around Williston Community Park, many walkers and other cyclists waved and smiled at the officer.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Bike patrol officer Travis Trybulski looks to catch speeding cars on Chamberlin Lane last Thursday. Trybulski says patrolling Williston by bike is good way to stay in touch with the community.

“A lot of people are appreciative of the work you do when they see you’re out on the bike,” he said. “People approach you much easier and you end up creating more of a rapport with community members.”

Officer Brandon Wilson, who along with Trybulski and Det. Mike Lavoie is a bike patrolman, agreed with Trybulski’s comments.

“There’s no barrier per se,” Wilson said. “You become much more approachable.”

All three officers are certified bike patrollers through the Law Enforcement Bike Association. Winooski Police Officer Ben Kaufman, who is the state’s only bicycle patrol certification instructor, said bikes allow officers to get a closer look at their community.

“It slows you down so you see more of what’s going on,” Kaufman said.

On patrol

Heading towards Lawnwood Drive on Sept. 11, Trybulski witnessed a speeding car pass a school bus on Old Stage Road. While the bus did not have its stoplights flashing, Trybulski believed the car was traveling too fast for the posted 35 mph speed limit. He jumped off his bike and ran into the road to try to stop the driver, but the car continued quickly up Old Stage Road.

“I can’t believe that,” he said.

Such are some of the limitations of patrolling on bike, Trybulski admitted, adding the benefits of this type of policing are still important for the community. Besides, Trybulski noted part of the car’s license plate and was confident he would find the driver.

Earlier in the afternoon, Trybulski set himself up in the shade of a tree along Chamberlain Lane in what he said was a strategic spot to find speeding drivers. It was right about the hour schools were letting out, a time, Trybulski said, when more cars than usual frequent the neighborhood.

“We sometimes get calls from residents here that cars are going too fast,” Trybulski said.

With his bike set off the road, Trybulski used a radar gun to clock the speeds of passing vehicles. Most drove by going close to the marked 25 mph speed limit. Only a few cars were traveling faster than 30 mph, to which the officer waved his hand to slow them down. None of the cars was going fast enough to warrant a ticket, Trybulski said.


With the amount of bike-friendly paths in Williston and the large shopping areas of Taft Corners, Trybulski found the town to be a perfect fit for bike patrolling and decided to earn his certification.

“It’s a good community policing tool and it’s a good exercise,” he said.

As of last Thursday, Trybulski had ridden 237 miles on his bike, according to his odometer. He was certified in July.

Besides being a noticeable presence on the bike paths and around Maple Tree Place, Trybulski said he has stopped speeders and other traffic violators in Williston neighborhoods, and arrested a shoplifter hiding in the tall grass outside Bed Bath & Beyond.

“It works well because you can sometimes sneak up on suspects,” Trybulski said. “People don’t expect to see a police officer on a bike.”

To become a certified bike patrol officer, police have to take a weeklong course, under Kaufman, at the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford. Trybulski said he rode more than 100 miles during the training, many of which were up and over steep roads and mountain bike trails, and even on stairs.

Training covered everything from proper nutrition while riding to the best techniques for keeping consistent pedal action no matter the grade of the road. Trybulski said he also learned to use a bike as a defensive weapon if need be.

Trybulski said some of the hardest training came when the bike patrol officers had to train with their guns. He said one of the drills required pedaling hard for a quarter mile before jumping off the bike and firing at a target.

Kaufman, who regularly patrols the streets of Winooski on two wheels, said there are approximately 65 certified bike patrol officers in Vermont and he expects the number to rise significantly.

“I think you’ll start to see a surge because of the high cost of fuel for police departments,” Kaufman said.

Trybulski said bike patrolling can be a challenge, but he finds it one of the best ways to police within the community. And even though a bike officer can’t always chase down a speeding car, that doesn’t mean a violator can make a clean escape.

That driver who passed the school bus? Trybulski traced the license plate number of his car, found the driver and cited him with more than $500 in fines.


[Read more…]

Allen Brook adjusts to all-day kindergarten (Sept. 18, 2008)

Sept. 18, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

It was reading time in kindergarten teacher Jen Canfield’s class Monday afternoon, and she was busy getting her class of 5-year-olds ready for the lesson. At 1 p.m., it was about five hours into the students’ full-day kindergarten class.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Kindergartener Shahin Ardesh builds shapes on Monday afternoon in Sarah Read’s class.

“I want you to show me buddy reading. Can you show me what it looks like?” Canfield asked the class as students partnered up to read together.

Soon, all the students had found buddies and began looking through the colorful picture books.

This is the first school year with full-day kindergarten in the Williston School District after years of a half-day program. All seven classes are being housed at Allen Brook School.

Canfield said the full-day changes were an adjustment, but are a welcome change. She likes the added time and what it will mean for improving her students’ learning skills.

“It helps us to support them in social learning,” Canfield said.

Anne Macnee, who used to teach half-day kindergarten at Williston Central School, enjoys how the full-day setting allows for a more relaxed classroom and more time for teaching.

“Personally, I’m loving the full-day kindergarten,” Macnee said. “The pacing is much better.”


Into the swing of things

According to Allen Brook Principal John Terko, the school’s first weeks of full-day kindergarten have been going “really well.” The classrooms aren’t yet into the full academic schedules they’ll have for the rest of the year, but that should come soon, Terko said. Mainly, students have been learning rules and expectations, as well as getting to know each other.

“I’ve noticed each week has become a little bit easier,” he said.

When the kindergarten program had only its half-day sessions — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — students only had two hours and 23 minutes of school, Terko estimated. With full-day kindergarten, students are now at school for six hours, allowing for a less rushed learning experience, Terko said.

While kindergarten students continue to have library and physical education time during the week, a music and art program has been added because of the additional time. Terko also said the classes will have around two hours more each day for core subjects, including English, math, science and social studies. Terko added there was plenty of time for students to play and they enjoy a 30-minute outdoor recess.

“Kindergarten is very much a combination of academics and play,” Terko said.

Enrollment in kindergarten is higher than the district expected, Terko said, with 125 students. The school originally expected 110 students. He said the administration had added another classroom teacher in June in anticipation of larger enrollment.

Laura Dyer, formerly a grade one and two teacher, took the new kindergarten position. Former Allen Brook math interventionist Sarah Read replaced outgoing kindergarten teacher Carmen LaFlamme.

Also during the first few weeks, teachers and staff have been rescheduling the lunch times of all the kindergarten classes. Originally, all classes ate together, but Terko said there were too many students in the lunchroom and it became too hectic for everyone involved.

In the new schedule, three classrooms have recess from 10 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. before returning to the rooms for more instruction. Of those three classes, one room eats at 11:20 a.m. and two eat at 11:40 a.m.

The other four classrooms have recess from 10:30 a.m. until 11 a.m., then immediately head to the lunchroom until 11:20 a.m. Terko said organizing this schedule has been his “biggest issue.”

“Parents have been very supportive of what we’ve been doing here,” Terko said.

Teachers and parents

Teachers, like Macnee and Canfield, are also supportive of the longer day and the extra time they have with students. Read, who’s teaching a classroom for the first time, said it’s “much different” than her previous role as math interventionist. She said she enjoys teaching her students a variety of subjects, including math.

“And I get to read to them, a lot,” Read said.

School Board member Laura Gigliotti, who’s son has Macnee for a teacher, said she was at first unsure of how her son would do in a full-day setting, but has been “pleasantly surprised.”

“(Macnee) has done a really good job making it fun for them,” Gigliotti said.

Gigliotti, who’s daughter had Macnee four years ago in the half-day kindergarten program, said it’s still early in the year to know how the full-day program will be for everyone, but so far so good. Gigliotti said her son isn’t “worn out” at the end of the day and is ready to go back to school every morning.

“He is still very, very excited to go to school, which, truthfully, I didn’t expect,” Gigliotti said.

[Read more…]


Contracts set fees, regulate operations

Sept. 18, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston has renewed contracts with two solid waste companies that pay more than $300,000 in annual fees, the town’s third-largest source of revenue.

The Selectboard on Monday approved so-called host town agreements with the Burlington Transfer Station and All Cycle Waste. Each operates facilities that accept household and commercial waste brought by haulers, which is then trucked to landfills elsewhere in Vermont. The Burlington Transfer Station is located on Redmond Road; All Cycle operates facilities off Industrial Avenue.

The contracts continue to require each company to pay a per-ton fee pegged to inflation and impose restrictions on operations.

The fees are intended to account for wear and tear on roads caused by the large number of trucks coming and going from each facility, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. The Burlington Transfer Station agreement also regulates where trucks can travel and mandates wind-blown waste be cleaned up.

“We’re requiring them to do a better job of policing and picking up trash,” McGuire said.

Stray trash and heavy truck traffic have long been concerns among residents living near the facility.

Property and sales tax revenue fund the vast majority of Williston’s municipal budget. But next to those, the transfer station fees are the town’s largest sources of revenue.

In the previous fiscal year, the facilities paid a combined $317,081 in fees, according to Susan Lamb, Williston’s finance director. All Cycle paid $175,158 during the period and Burlington Transfer Station paid $141,923.

The new three-year contracts continue the longstanding practice of charging a per-ton fee that is adjusted each year to account for increases in the Consumer Price Index, the federal government’s principal measure of inflation. The contracts each call for a base rate of $2.11, which was immediately adjusted upward to $2.22 to account for inflation, Lamb said.

Other provisions allow the town to verify the amount of waste collected by mandating access to records and to impose fees for late payments.

The 10-page agreement with the Burlington Transfer Station — double the length of the All Cycle contract — adds rules governing where waste can be trucked and how stray debris is controlled. The Burlington Transfer Station facility is near residential areas while the All Cycle transfer station is in an industrial district.

Tractor-trailers hauling trash to and from Burlington Transfer Station may use only Vermont Route 2A, Mountain View Road and Redmond Road. The contract makes an exception for trucks that need to refuel or “gain access to other necessary services.”

The contract also requires Burlington Transfer Station to pick up debris at or around the transfer station. The company must, on the request of the town or any resident, promptly collect debris that blows away from the site. And the company must maintain a log detailing dates and times litter has been picked up.

Contract talks took place over the past year. The town was represented by Selectboard members Judy Sassorossi and Jeff Fehrs as well as McGuire and Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

Negotiations moved slowly in part because of scheduling difficulties associated with the relatively large number of people involved, McGuire said. The town was also trying to be fair to both companies, which compete with each other, while getting the best deal for Williston.

McGuire declined to detail specifics involved with the contract negotiations.

“There were lots of issues we talked about, and I don’t want to pick one out,” he said. “Fees and everything else were on the table.”

Asked how the public could confirm the town got the best possible deal, McGuire said the contracts speak for themselves and noted they include provisions protecting the public’s interest, such as the trucking restrictions.

Mike Cozad, general manager for All Cycle Waste in Williston, could not be reached for comment.

Tom Badowski, general manager of Burlington Transfer Station, said talks did not turn on any one issue.

“I don’t thing there was any bones of contention, per se,” he said.

Due to the competitive nature of the market, Badowski said his company does not always pass the town’s fee increases on to customers. Sometimes the transfer station simply absorbs hikes.

The transfer stations are used mainly by commercial trash haulers. Residents can dispose of their household waste without using a hauler by using drop-off centers operated by the Chittenden Solid Waste District. The Williston drop-off center is located on Redmond Road near the Burlington Transfer Station facility.

The new contracts comprise two of the three host town agreements in Williston. The other, with CSWD, permits a landfill to be built in the future.

That 1992 agreement has generated considerable controversy in recent years, and organized opposition has formed to the landfill. Residents living near the proposed site filed a legal challenge to the agreement. But a Vermont Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month that the agreement was valid.

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Sales tax revenue better than expected

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Sales tax collections in Williston rebounded in the second quarter of 2007, easing fears that state rule changes had sent a major source of local revenue into a permanent freefall.

Williston received $689,491 from the local option tax in the quarter ending June 30. The 1 percent levy is tacked onto the Vermont’s 6 percent sales tax.

The latest figures represent a 10 percent drop from the same quarter in 2006. But that is less than half the decrease seen in the first quarter, when same-quarter collections fell by 22 percent.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the new figures give him guarded hope, although he emphasized that numbers from additional quarters are needed before a solid trend emerges.

“There’s a drop-off, and it is large, but it may not be quite as bad as it first appeared to be,” he said.

Starting January 1, the state of Vermont altered rules that determine what goods and services are subject to the statewide sales tax and their piggybacked local options taxes. The changes exempted some items that were formerly taxed and began taxing others.

The state also changed rules governing when the local option tax is charged, with the levy now based on the purchase’s destination. Items bought in Williston but shipped or delivered elsewhere are no longer subject to Williston’s local sales tax.

The changes are 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 additional revenue for states and municipalities.

Michael Wasser, policy analyst with the Vermont Tax Department, said the smaller decrease in local option tax collections in the most recent quarter represents a more accurate picture of what is really going on. He said the previous quarter’s figures were inaccurate because not all the sales tax returns from merchants were processed when the numbers were reported.

On a statewide level, sales tax collections continued to rise, increasing in the latest quarter by roughly 5 percent over the same period in 2006, Wasser said. But in Williston, state sales tax revenue fell by around 3 percent during the quarter.

He speculated that a downturn in the housing market may have in part caused the local drop in state sales tax revenue, with people buying fewer home improvement products and perhaps cutting back on other purchases at Williston’s many retailers.

As for the local option tax, Wasser said both changes in sourcing rules and the new exemptions for clothing and beer are likely reducing collections in Williston.

Town officials had expected a decrease in local option tax revenue when the new rules were enacted. The 2006-07 budget assumed that revenue would remain level despite the fact that proceeds had risen steadily since the town started collecting the tax in 2002.

But officials were startled by the larger-than-expected first-quarter drop. The decrease was especially remarkable because same-quarter revenue had increased all but one time over the past five years.

In June, the Selectboard decided to raise the property tax rate by an additional penny and withdraw money from budget reserves to make up for the anticipated drop in sales tax revenue in the coming fiscal year.

Now town officials will be watching closely what happens over the next four quarters, which comprise the 2007-08 fiscal year. A yearlong drop in sales tax proceeds could force the town to cut spending by hundreds of thousands of dollars, raise property taxes or further draw down budget reserves. Revenue from the local option tax funds about 40 percent of the town’s budget.

Wasser said it will take about a year to accurately assess the impact of rule changes on local sales tax revenue.

“You won’t really get the full picture until you get 12 months accounted for,” he said. “But there will be a loss.”

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