August 21, 2014

Clarification11/26/08

Share

Nov. 26, 2008

The Rape Aggression Defense class being offered by the Williston Police Department (“Williston police to offer women’s self-defense class,” Nov. 20) will be held for four consecutive Thursdays beginning on Jan. 8. The classes will be held in the Williston Central School cafeteria. To sign up, call Williston Police at 878-6611 or stop by the department at 7928 Williston Road.

 

[Read more...]

Pedestrian hit by car, severely injured11/26/08

Share

Nov. 26, 2008

A pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and sustained major injuries in an accident that occurred at the stoplight intersection of Route 2 and Maple Tree Place Road. The incident occurred at 5 p.m. on Thursday and was not a hit-and-run, according to police.

Williston police officer Benjamin Hollwedel said the pedestrian was in the crosswalk at the stoplight, walking towards the Exxon station when he was hit. Hollwedel said the pedestrian, who was dressed entirely in black, was crossing against a “do not walk” signal while westbound traffic had a green light.

Hollwedel did not specify the injuries, but said they were serious.

“He’s going to live, but he got banged up pretty good,” Hollwedel said.

There were no injuries to the driver, he added.

According to Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton, the vehicle sustained significant damage from the pedestrian hitting the car, including a damaged bumper and shattered windshield. Morton said St. Michael’s College Rescue Service transported the pedestrian to Fletcher Allen Health Care. Hollwedel said he was still hospitalized.

Hollwedel said police have concluded their investigation and no charges will be filed.

— Tim Simard, Observer staff

[Read more...]

CVU school bus collides with car in Brennan Woods11/26/08

Share

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A Champlain Valley Union High School bus collided with a car Thursday morning at the rotary intersection of Chamberlin Lane and Hanon Drive. The accident occurred after one of the bus’ first stops of the morning, around 6:30 a.m.

Williston Police Sgt. Brian Claffy said the bus made a left turn through the rotary, as it normally does, since the intersection is narrow for the vehicles’ wide clearance.

“It’s the only way (the driver) can do it safely,” Claffy said of driving against the flow of traffic.

After stopping to pick up a student, police said, the bus driver continued through the rotary, making a left turn onto Chamberlin Lane without noticing the car waiting at a stop sign. Claffy said the car sustained “significant” driver’s side damage. The bus had minor damage, he said.

The three high school student passengers were transferred to another bus that arrived on scene to continue the run. Williston firefighter Ryan Prouty said the police and fire departments arrived on site after the second bus had left.

“We were going to get (patient) assessments, but they were already gone,” Prouty said.

One parent, who said her son suffered a mild concussion after slamming his head into a bus window during the collision, is furious about the accident and alleged lack of response by CVU once her son reached school.

Bridget Ritchie said when her son reached school, he was not directed to go to the nurse’s office by any administrators until after the first block started. She said her son complained of a strong headache by the time he was told to go to the nurse. Ritchie took him out of CVU for the rest of the day.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said in an e-mail to the Observer that all students were transported safely to school, evaluated by the school nurse and school officials contacted parents.

Ritchie also complained about previous incidents with the bus driver, including speeding, and said she’s heard of similar problems with other CVU bus drivers. Officials at CVU and CSSU did not comment on the driver’s identity or the driver’s record.

“You always hear these stories,” Ritchie said. “You just wonder when your kid gets on the bus whether they’ll even get to school.”

Mason said all bus drivers are employees of CSSU and the organization does not contract out its bus system. All drivers go through an application and interview process before being hired, he added.

Mason said on Monday the bus driver was on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of CSSU’s investigation, which should be wrapped up by the end of the week.

 

[Read more...]

Board hears needs for 2009-2010 school budget11/26/08

Share
Worries over Act 82 hang in the air

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

According to various school officials, the district needs to update its operations and its technology. New heating boilers are needed to ensure students stay warm through the winter, and more computers are needed to keep students up-to-date in 21st century learning.

The Williston School Board heard presentations on all these necessities and more during Thursday’s budget meeting. But the limitations brought on by Vermont’s Act 82 could mean that updates will have to wait for another school year.

The board’s prevailing concern is explaining to voters why Williston qualifies for two separate school budget votes, and convincing those voters to approve both budget articles. Passed by the state Legislature this year, Act 82 is essentially a spending cap for school budgets. If a school district’s proposed budget exceeds a 3.9 percent increase — a number determined by the state — residents must approve the additional funds through a second vote. As it stands now, Williston voters will have to decide on one article for $16.44 million, plus an additional vote for $325,000.

Williston’s baseline budget is increasing 3.03 percent from last year, but significant losses in revenue mean the district won’t have previously available funding. As a result, it will have to make up the difference by going for the second vote.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said unless the board finds other increased revenues or can cut net spending, a second vote is all but guaranteed.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said it is imperative word gets out about what the school budget represents and what it would mean if one article was passed and another was not.

Board member Holly Rouelle suggested showing voters where the money in the second vote would be linked to, such as programs and services.

“People need to see it’s not just a dollar amount, it’s programs for children in Williston,” Rouelle said.

District Principal Walter Nardelli agreed.

“You really have to show where the money is going,” he said. “Once the $325,000 is cut, it’s gone and there’s no going back.”

Presentations

Allen Brook School Principal John Terko explained to the board that the operating budget for both schools, which makes up a portion of the overall district budget, is likely to increase 6.4 percent. Much of the increase comes from fuel and energy increases, although there might be some further tweaking in the budget if energy prices continue to drop, Terko said.

As for repairs and updates, Terko spoke about a new elevator needed in Williston Central School to replace the current one, which is broken. Last year, the school looked at a variety of options and found it was cheaper to install the elevator in another location.

Nardelli said much of the money to build a new elevator already exists in a construction fund. Voters would need to approve the money from the fund to be spent on the elevator in March, Nardelli said.

“We’re also hoping it will qualify for state aid, since it is an emergency,” Nardelli said.

Also of pressing need is the replacement of Williston Central School’s boilers, Terko said. The school has three large boilers used for heating, all of which are nearly 45 years old. The age of the heating units causes diminished efficiency and higher costs when parts break down.

“The boilers of today are much more efficient and take up less space,” Terko said.

Terko said each boiler would cost around $100,000 to replace and while replacing one is unlikely for the next school year, it should be considered for the “very near future.”

“If Act 82 weren’t here, we’d make that a priority,” Worth said.

The district’s technology director, Charlie Wilson, also gave a presentation on the importance of technology in learning. In a world that is becoming even more technologically advanced, the need for updated equipment is of utmost importance, Wilson said.

The school currently has 290 desktop computers and 130 laptops, which get updated on an eight-year rotation. Wilson said he’s looking to increase the student-to-computer ratio to one-to-one. He reiterated the importance of allowing students to bring their own laptops to school.

“Students should be able to bring computing devices to school,” Wilson said. “Every personal device that comes in is one more computer for other students in school.”

Student Services Director Carter Smith also presented the budget for the district’s special education program, which is increasing 4 percent, stemming from staff and other program costs.

 

[Read more...]

Williston

Share
Officials unsure if economy is to blame

Nov. 26, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Late property tax payments jumped 27 percent in October, prompting town officials to watch warily for signs more residents are struggling amid the economic downturn.

Town Manager Rick McGuire reported to the Selectboard last week the sharp increase in unpaid property taxes. Past due payments totaled $267,384 in October, up by $56,252 from the same month in 2007. It is the highest amount in arrears for the month in the past six years.

McGuire, who oversees delinquent tax collections, emphasized that the past-due amount represents less than 1 percent of the roughly $31 million Williston property owners pay annually. He also noted that a change in the due date for payments may have skewed the numbers.

Still, the unpaid tally is something to watch carefully, McGuire said, especially with increasing awareness of how the darkening economic picture is affecting government revenue.

“Certainly, it is enough of a change to warrant continuing to closely look at it,” he said. “But we don’t have enough information to know if it’s a long-term trend.”

Property tax bills are sent out once a year. Residents pay in three installments, which are due in August, November and February. Typically, the total unpaid tax tally is highest immediately after the installment dates, town officials say. That number usually drops over the following months, then rises again immediately after the next payment is due.

For example, in October 2007, there was a total of $211,132 in unpaid taxes. Immediately after the November installment was due, the town had roughly $572,000 in late taxes still due.

Assistant Town Clerk Kathy Smardon said people forgetting to pay their bills account for the majority of late tax payments. Most catch up within a month or two.

“A few, those who are truly delinquent, are much smaller,” she said.

The town considers taxpayers delinquent after they fail to make the February payment.

Late and delinquent taxpayers comprise only a tiny fraction of all property owners in Williston. Smardon said at any given time there are roughly 100 people who are behind in their bills.

It is unclear if the economy is affecting tax collections. McGuire said it will take several months to determine if there is a trend.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett, who is also town treasurer, said she occasionally hears from people who say they can’t pay because they have lost their job, but she’s not aware of any increase in late payments because of the economy.

The latest tax payment was due Nov. 17. Smardon said more taxpayers were telling her the bill was a burden.

“More people were saying it’s hard to pay the bill,” she said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not paying. It just means they are struggling.”

Property owners who are late with their August and November installments pay 1 percent a month interest on the amount they owe for the first three months, 1.5 percent afterwards. Those delinquent after the February installment also pay a penalty of 1 percent.

Eventually, the town can take over and sell a property to recoup delinquent taxes. But tax sales are rare.

McGuire said there has been no tax sale involving a residence since he has been town manager. He works with property owners to set up payments plans and make other arrangements to avoid such a drastic measure.

McGuire said he will continue to monitor the tax payment situation.

“It’s just a heightened financial awareness for town government,” he said. “It bears closely watching.”

 

[Read more...]

Redhawk in flight11/26/08

Share


    Observer photo by Karen Pike
Champlain Valley Union High basketball player Christopher Banbury, a transfer from Winooski High, levitates during Saturday's scrimmage. 

[Read more...]

Local retailers hoping for busy Black Friday11/26/08

Share

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Cautiously optimistic.

That’s how Williston shop owners are feeling in regards to the unofficial holiday shopping season that kicks off on Friday.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Many parking spots remain open in Maple Tree Place a week before Black Friday — one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Retailers are hoping every parking space is filled with customers looking for deals the day after Thanksgiving.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Local retailers hope the walkways at Maple Tree Place, empty last Friday, will fill with shoppers on Black Friday.

With the economy in a slump and uncertainty hanging in the air, many experts, including Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a Maryland-based retail think tank, say numbers will be down greatly, making for one of the more modest shopping seasons in recent memory. Flickinger is expecting a 3 percent decline in sales this shopping season from last year.

But local retailers are holding out hope for strong sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is generally seen as one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Many of the national big box stores, such as Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us and Dick’s Sporting Goods in Williston, hold massive sales on the day, and some only during the early morning hours. For instance, Williston’s Toys “R” Us and the Christmas Tree Shops plans to open at 5 a.m. on Friday.

Already, stores such as Best Buy and Christmas Tree Shops are having early sales, hoping to attract shoppers early and often.

Tasha Wallis, executive director for the Vermont Retailers Association, said the economy is putting many small business owners in “uncharted waters.”

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen (this weekend),” Wallis said. “There could be decreases or a big bump from shoppers.”

Recently, an e-mail has been circulating the Internet identifying national businesses — including some with branches in Williston — that may go out of business at the end of year. The e-mail warns not to purchase gift cards at the stores. Wallis said she’s seen the e-mail and though she does not know if the rumors are true, she does believe it’s causing undue panic.

“Even if there are some retailers struggling, no one disappears pretty much overnight,” Wallis said.

One store that is slowly disappearing in Williston is Linens ‘N’ Things. The bath and bedroom goods store has been slashing prices well before this weekend since announcing last month that all stores were going out of business. Circuit City, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier in the month and is closing 150 stores nationwide, is also having big sales.

Jim Baab, corporate communications manager for Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City, said the Williston store will continue to operate normally and has no plans to go out of business.

“It’s our intention to bounce back from Chapter 11,” Baab said.

Beyond the big box stores

The smaller, locally owned stores are also feeling the brunt of a weak economy, but many are crossing their fingers that economic forecasts are not as dire as predicted.

At Keeping Good Company in Maple Tree Place, the store is decked out in Christmas decorations. Owner Pam Carter said the design comes from the look of Colonial Williamsburg, a national historic site in Virginia, and hopes the holiday cheer will attract shoppers. She admits the smaller stores will have a harder time this year than the bigger box stores.

“It’s the little guy, the independently-owned stores that suffer most,” Carter said. “But the holidays are going to come regardless.”

This will be Carter’s third Black Friday with the high-end home goods store. It will also be the first time Keeping Good Company will have a sale on the day. From 10 a.m. until noon, the store will have a sale and offer warm beverages and cookies for shoppers. Carter believes shoppers will come to avoid the crowds in other stores and to find gifts for the home.

Over at the Floral Gallery, which sells floral arrangements and Vermont-made gifts in Maple Tree Place, owner Karen Sturtevant is among the cautiously optimistic crowd. She said Black Friday has been a lucrative day for her store in the past, and she’s having a sale on Vermont products in hopes of bringing in customers.

“We rarely run sales,” Sturtevant said.

Kathie Cooke, owner of the Paper Peddler in Maple Tree Place, also shares in the optimism. She’s hoping for a busy Black Friday weekend and even busier December shopping season.

“People still want to buy items and they still want to buy quality items,” Cooke said.

In years past, the Paper Peddler generally didn’t run sales on Black Friday, she said, although this year the store will have a sale on Christmas cards and related items.

“I expect (Black Friday) will be down a little, but shoppers will still be out there looking for those deals,” Cooke said.

Wallis hopes shoppers will be out in force in Williston and all over the state.

“We keep reiterating nobody’s cancelled Christmas,” Wallis said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

 

[Read more...]

Selectboard approves transportation impact fee hike11/26/08

Share

Levy to pay for road improvements

Nov. 26, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Selectboard has approved a scaled-back transportation impact fee that still more than doubles what developers pay to fund road improvements.

The fee will rise from $300 to $707 for each new single-family home in Williston. But the hike is only a fraction of the originally proposed $2,824-per-unit fee that would have funded a wide range of road construction projects to cope with the town’s rapid growth.

That proposal, based on a consultant’s study and a Planning Commission recommendation, was scuttled after developers protested and the Selectboard balked. The board was concerned that such a drastic increase would drive up housing prices that critics say are already out of reach for many area residents.

The lower fee will cover only a fraction of all of the town’s development-driven transportation needs, said Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell. If the millions of dollars in road improvements — which include adding grid streets around Taft Corners and widening the Interstate 89 interchange — are ever completed, existing residents and businesses will have to make up the difference through their property taxes.

“I don’t think we had anywhere near the right numbers as far as the real cost of improvements,” Yandell said. “The only question is who is going to pay.”

The transportation levy is one of three impact fees the town charges developers. In addition, the town has school and recreation fees that are also intended to defray the cost of adding classroom space and recreation facilities. In all, impact fees total more than $12,000 for each single-family home.

A study by Mike Munson, a former Williston town planner, and the consulting firm Resource Systems Group found the town would need a nine-fold increase in the existing transportation fee to fund millions of dollars in road improvements.

State law requires impact fees to be used only for infrastructure needs directly attributable to new development. Fees collected must be set aside for their intended purpose and used within six years.

Developers, including representatives from Snyder Companies, which plans to built 356 units of housing as part of the Finney Crossing project near Taft Corners, protested the fee hike was too high at a Planning Commission hearing earlier this year.

“We heard from some major developers, and what we heard is that they didn’t think it was possible to absorb that,” Yandell said.

The developers said the increase would simply wind up being paid by new homeowners.

Impact fees and other costs of development drive up the cost of housing, said Joe Sinagra, executive officer for the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont.

He said the permitting costs, which include impact fees, have risen by 242 percent in the past decade. And he pointed to a report by the Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign that shows new homes are already too expensive for many residents.

It took an annual household income of $103,000 to afford the median-priced new single-family home in 2007, according to the report. The median household income in Vermont is $51,622.

It is a myth that builders can absorb impact fees and other permitting costs, Sinagra said. In good times, builders can make a 10 percent profit. In a tough market like the current one, that margin evaporates.

“Builders have to pass permitting costs on to potential buyers,” he said.

The Selectboard was also worried about driving up housing costs. Board member Jeff Fehrs said during a meeting last year that he had “sticker shock” from the original proposal. The board directed the Planning Commission to reconsider.

The fee approved by the Selectboard on Nov. 17 includes provisions for affordable housing. Units designated as perpetually affordable are eligible for a 50 percent fee reduction.

Town officials say a large hike in the transportation impact fee was needed because it had not been increased in many years. The fee was enacted in 1987 and last changed in 1999.

Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning director, said setting impact fees is a “balancing act.” If fees are too high, it makes new commercial and residential development unaffordable. If fees are too low, existing property owners must foot the bill for infrastructure needs created by newcomers.

Yandell also acknowledged a balance, adding that fee hikes are subject to the law of unintended consequences. In this case, that meant a too-steep levy may scare away potential developers and actually dry up revenue.

“It’s not Williston’s intention to make things any harder than they have to be for any of these developers,” he said.

 

Impact fee rundown

The town of Williston charges developers impact fees totaling more than $12,000 for each single-family home. The breakdown:

Transportation impact fee

$700 per peak-hour trip end. That equates to $707 for a single-family home and $546 for multi-family dwellings. Commercial development also pays the fee, which is calculated based on the amount of peak-hour traffic it generates.

School impact fee

$10,838 for single-family homes; $3,649 for multi-family units. The fee only applies to residential development.

Recreation impact fee

$840 for single-family homes; $667 for multi-family units. Again, the fee applies only to residential development.

 

[Read more...]

Spicy pretzels a hot new treat11/26/08

Share

Williston student creates hit snack business

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Simultaneously hot, crunchy and, above all, spicy with the punch of cayenne pepper, Alec’s Spicy Pretzels have quickly become the number one snack at Williston Central School and Champlain Valley Union High School.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Alec Distler, a Williston Central School eighth grade student and owner of Alec’s Spicy Pretzels, holds up 3- and 9-ounce bags of his popular fiery snack. The pretzels have become a hit at Champlain Valley Union High School and around Williston.

Pretzel brainchild Alec Distler, Williston Central School eighth grader and entrepreneur extraordinaire, has been marketing and selling his popular snack for only a few months, but has already developed a devoted following at both schools.

And he’s big in town, as well. Distler has successfully sold the pretzels to local shops — the stores keep calling for more supplies as they repeatedly sell out. To paraphrase the old Lay’s potato chip adage, you apparently can’t eat just one.

Distler has even become a celebrity of sorts. While on a recent field trip with CVU students, he was quickly recognized as the “pretzel kid.”

“They kept saying, ‘We have a celebrity on the bus!’” Distler said. “One kid even wanted my autograph, which was a little interesting.”

Mike Adams, owner of Eddie’s Energy Bars in Richmond, is Distler’s advisor for the business. He sees a big future for Alec’s Spicy Pretzels.

“He’s got a solid foundation,” Adams said. “America is a snack culture and you can never have too many snack options.”

More than just a passing hobby, Distler means business with his spicy pretzels. So far, he said, he’s made $3,000. He’s quick to point out the money has gone into updating equipment, but he hopes to give himself a nice Christmas bonus next month. And he hopes to have an even bigger bonus if the company is successful enough to pay for his college tuition.

Humble beginnings

The genesis of Alec’s Spicy Pretzels came about last year during Al Fletcher’s social studies class in Full House at Williston Central School. As part of a study in economics, students were awarded Monopoly money for good grades and could cash in at the end of the year for prizes. Distler decided to sell small bags of the pretzels, made with an old family recipe, to classmates for their Monopoly money.

It worked. Distler had the most money in the class — more than $30,000 in Monopoly cash — and “bought” a camera.

It dawned on Distler and his family that there might be some real money in selling the fiery concoction to the public. The Distlers tried it out by setting up a booth at the Williston Farmer’s Market, selling 6- and 12-ounce bags of the pretzels. Again, the snack was a success.

“We actually sold out a couple times, which was pretty awesome,” Distler said.

Building upon the success of the farmer’s market, Distler approached CVU’s Food Service Director Leo LaForce to sell in the school’s cafeteria. The pair agreed to start by selling 50 3-ounce bags. Within days, LaForce called saying he’d sold out and wanted 100 more. After selling out again within a matter of days, LaForce asked for 100 bags twice a week.

“They like spicy here at CVU,” LaForce said. “When we run out, students are always looking for (the pretzels) and asking for them.”

Now, LaForce is getting 300 bags on Mondays and 300 bags on Wednesdays. The bags cost $1.25 for students, LaForce said.

Distler also sells his pretzels to businesses in Williston, including Clark’s Sunoco, Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market and Natural Provisions. The bags are also on sale at the Shelburne Market and Shelburne Country Store, and at Lantman’s Best Yet in Hinesburg. The pretzels are sold in 3- and 9-ounce bags, with prices varying by location.

Distler’s newest customer is the University of Vermont. He said he just got a call from the college’s bookstore looking for another shipment after selling out in a matter of days.

Pretzel empire

Distler is incorporating his new business as part of his eighth grade challenge at Williston Central School. Along with passing an inspection with the Vermont Department of Health, he’s incorporated the business into an official LLC, built a Web site — www.alecsspicypretzels.com — and is donating 10 percent of his proceeds to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. His hard work, he hopes, will leave him in good standing for his school project.

With his success locally, Distler is looking beyond eighth grade and into bigger markets.

“We’ve had some dreams, you could say,” Distler said.

He’d like to see his pretzels in more local stores, and thinks they would make a great snack for sports venues. Distler also has relatives who want to bring the spicy pretzels to Pennsylvania and New York City. A new packaging label, to be unveiled next month, should help to drive sales, he said.

Distler admits the business has become a full-time job, but credits has parents, Frank and Lynn, and siblings with helping him mix spices and break up pretzels into bite-size bits. But he’s committed to his spicy enterprise.

“They’re my favorite food,” Distler said with a smile.

 

[Read more...]

Students give trash the heave-ho at CVU11/20/08

Share
 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
CVU seniors use claws to sift through garbage bags at the school’s Trash on the Lawn Day.

[Read more...]