July 29, 2014

Police Notes12/24/08

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Dec. 24, 2008

Rash of window smashing

On Monday night, police received numerous reports of car windows being “smashed,” according to police reports. Reports came in from Hideaway Lane, Pinecrest Circle, Lamplite Lane, Barrett Lane and O’Brien Court, according to police. In one instance, an iPod was stolen from one of the vehicles. Police were continuing their investigation as of press time.

DUI

• After police received a report of an erratic driver on Dec. 11, a motor vehicle stop was conducted and Darby L. Crum, 41, of Essex was arrested and cited for driving under the influence, according to police reports. His blood alcohol test registered .285 “roadside,” the report notes. The legal limit for driving in Vermont is .08. He was released on a citation to appear in court.

• Following a motor vehicle stop on Interstate 89 northbound, Jennifer Boyer, 22, of Burlington was arrested and cited for driving under the influence on Dec. 16, according to police reports. Her blood alcohol test registered .157, the report notes. The legal limit for driving in Vermont is .08. The vehicle was towed and Boyer was released and cited to appear in court.

Violation of conditions

On Dec. 16, Michael P. Witter, 51, of Colchester was arrested and cited for consuming alcohol in violation of his court ordered conditions of release, after “recording a blood alcohol test of .013,” according to police reports. Witter was issued a citation to appear in court.

Theft

• A man “ran out of Best Buy with a handful of video games,” on Dec. 16, according to police reports. The investigation is ongoing.

• Two men left Friendly’s restaurant without paying for their meals on Dec. 16, according to police reports. Police searched the area but were unable to find the men.

Driving with suspended license

• Robert Scanlon, 48, of Richmond was issued a citation on Dec. 11 to appear in court on a charge of driving with a suspended license, according to police reports. Scanlon also “received numerous motor vehicle violations” and his vehicle was towed, the report notes.

• Following a motor vehicle stop, Jeremy B. Zeno, 25, of Fairfax was arrested and cited for driving with a suspended license on Dec. 18, according to police reports. He was cited to appear in court on Feb. 2, 2009.

• Jason C. Bates, 35, of South Burlington was cited for driving with a suspended license following a routine stop on Dec. 19, according to police reports. Bates’ license was suspended for driving under the influence, the report notes. He was cited to appear in court.

• Wendy M. Cobb, 24, of Colchester was arrested after a motor vehicle stop on Dec. 20, and cited for criminal driving with a suspended license, according to police reports.

Her license had been suspended for driving under the influence in October, the report notes. She was released and cited to appear in court.

Child in car

Police received a report of a juvenile left alone in a vehicle in the parking lot of Linens ‘n’ Things on Dec. 20, according to police reports. Police located the adult who owned the vehicle and gave a verbal warning advising “of the dangers of their actions,” according to the report.

False information to police

Following a motor vehicle stop on Dec. 13, Kathleen Hall, 19, of Shelburne was cited for “providing false information to a police officer,” as well as numerous motor vehicle violations, according to police reports. She was cited to appear in court on the false information charge.

 

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Everyday Gourmet12/24/08

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What I remembered this year

Dec. 24, 2008

By Kim Dannies

There has been an alarming increase in the things I know nothing about. It seems the more I learn about food and cooking the more I realize how little I know. And now that I’ve seen the other side of 50, the little bit I know, I can’t always remember when I need it. I hate my brain.

At least I remembered to keep notes for this column — little tips and techniques that helped to make me a better eater and cook in 2008. I’m sharing these morsels in the hopes that somebody out there will help me to remember them, and treat me someday with a sweet kernel of knowledge.

First, a subject near and dear to my waistline: the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. This past summer The New York Times revealed the critical element to creating truly epic chocolate chips cookies (July 9, 2008). In the interest of sound reporting, I experimented — several times, in fact — and concur with their findings. The dough is markedly more complex and delicious (with a finer crumb) when refrigerated 24 to 36 hours prior to baking.

A burlesque of happiness: perfectly poached eggs smashed over crispy French fries, (Don’t forget the sea salt.)

Shrimp, my favorite food, now gets a sprinkle of sugar before searing in a pan of hot olive oil. Why? The shrimp quickly turn a gorgeous copper color, while remaining plump and succulent. How come? The Maillard reaction, the chemical reaction between a protein and a reducing sugar in heat (it’s the same thing that happens when you make toast).

I fervently wish that it weren’t true, but it’s a fact: as baby boomers age, not only does the memory fade, but so do the taste buds. Yikes! Can pureed prunes be far behind? Don’t panic, the food industry is on the taste case — it’s no coincidence there are so many spicy rubs and salsas on menus today. At home, try using red pepper flakes instead of ground pepper in recipes. I use a 1-to-4 ratio when substituting the hot stuff.

The paradox of globalization: I went halfway around the world to eat authentic Lebanese food this summer, and discovered that my childhood auntie, Sandy O’Brien, cooks it better. Remember to seek out ethnic flavors right in your own town. There are great cooks just waiting to share their taste treasures with your adventurous palate.

Menu Tongue Twisters: galangal plant (or Blue Ginger) is a root used in Pan-Asian cuisine. It resembles ginger, but it is more hot and peppery in taste. Sriracha, a common condiment in Asian restaurants, is the generic name for Thai-style hot sauce. The sauce is made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It makes a mean dipping sauce when mixed with mayo — go for it, Boomers!

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

 

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Visions of Youth12/24/08

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Religion is history

Dec. 24, 2008

By Kayla Purvis

Buddha, Gandhi, Abraham and Jesus. They may be controversial, but they’re still a part of world history. Buddha inspired Buddhism, Gandhi is associated with Hinduism, and Abraham plays significant roles in early Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Jesus’ role in Christianity is perhaps what makes Christianity the most controversial of the five major religions.

Jesus’ claims of being the long-awaited Messiah are what keep him out of public schools today. His religious teachings are extremely contentious and many people don’t want their children to learn about them. But not all of Jesus’ teachings were religious. The Golden Rule, for example, comes from the Bible and is encouraged in most schools. The idea of equality and not judging others also comes from the Bible and teachings of Jesus. The WORD program at Champlain Valley Union High School, which stands for Working on Respecting Differences, supports the latter value.

It has been proven that Jesus was in fact a real person. So were Buddha, Gandhi and Abraham. All of them led groups of people in our history and impacted today’s world. Religious beliefs aside, all of them offered deep values that we could all benefit from, regardless of our beliefs. Buddha encouraged reflecting on oneself and being conscious of one’s inner self. Jesus promoted kindness and forgiveness of others.

I don’t think that religious figures should be kept out of school simply because of their beliefs or teachings. Obviously, they did something important if their names are still remembered and used now, and students should be able to learn about them. I’m not, however, saying that any certain religion should be taught in schools. Major players in the five major religions should be recognized in school, and anyone opposed to the idea should remember that religious beliefs are set aside in school. No teacher is going to tell your child what he or she needs to believe in.

It’s not fair to exclude beliefs pertaining to some sort of deity just because they’re controversial. Evolution is heavily pushed in schools, and if we’re going to play it this way, then that belief should also be removed from our school systems. My point is that every form of belief is the same in one way: they’re a belief. Some will agree with it and some will disagree. But is it really fair to exclude the beliefs of some students and not others? Many parents don’t want religion pushed on their children, but what about those that don’t want evolution pushed on theirs?

History is important and oftentimes exciting and interesting. Buddha, Gandhi, Abraham and yes, Jesus, all played interesting roles in the history of our world. That can’t be ignored or denied. History is taught in school but how effective or beneficial is it to us students if major parts are left out or skipped over?

I don’t think that religion itself should be taught in schools because it is a personal choice as to what one believes. But I do think that religious figures’ personal beliefs should be set aside so that students can learn about their impact on the world.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School.

 

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Little Details12/24/08

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The greatest gift

Dec. 24, 2008

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Every December, along with twinkly lights, ornaments steeped in sentimentality and assorted angels, we awaken our stash of holiday books from their off-season slumber. Charles Dickens, Clement C. Moore, Ruth Robbins, Peter Collington, Leo Buscaglia, Langston Hughes and Dr. Seuss eagerly vie for attention beneath our Christmas tree. Reading stories aloud is a holiday tradition.

One of my favorite tales is O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” For folks who may be unfamiliar, it’s a story about a young, poor couple — Della and Jim — living in an $8 dollar a week walk-up who lack money to buy each other Christmas gifts. Della opts to sell her finest possession — her bounteous, flowing, chestnut hair — to purchase a chain for her husband’s prized pocket watch, one he inherited from his father and grandfather. Jim, unbeknownst to Della, pawns his watch to buy tortoise-shell hair combs Della admired though a store window for months. Imagine the surprise — and tears — when each offers up his and her gift to the other.

I thought of O. Henry’s story when reading this year’s Christmas letter from my husband’s uncle and aunt in Ohio. Art and Eula, married over 50 years, are in their early 80s. They’re retired federal employees who, through prudent living and healthy pensions, have realized a long, comfortable retirement. They never had children. I remember them travelling to Massachusetts to attend our wedding. My husband’s parents were deceased so it was especially appreciated when aunts and uncles made the effort to come.

We trade holiday letters with Art and Eula every Christmas. I always look forward to the notes, penned by Art, tucked into their cards. Art is a huge reader and, not surprisingly, someone who enjoys writing. Art’s letters document their lives in Ohio, travels to Florida and comment, just a little, on the politics of the day. (I think he’s a Republican.)

This year’s letter is different. Eula’s health took a turn in the spring and she is now bedridden.

“I’ve elected myself as her caregiver since I know she’ll get better attention than some nursing home,” Art writes. “Must be doing a good job since she doesn’t complain or get depressed especially since she’s confined to one room. The condo has been decorated for Christmas and the cards have all been sent. Now is time to relax — I’ve got a library of books to keep myself entertained thru the winter.”

Art’s letter brought me right back to O. Henry’s story of Della and Jim. The greatest gift we can give to our loved ones at Christmas — and throughout the year — is unselfish, unconditional love. Art is doing this for Eula in his quiet, uncomplaining sort of way. Art’s letter serves as a gentle reminder in this season of mixed messages to stay focused on what really matters.

My husband and I opted to follow up our holiday letter to Art and Eula with a small Christmas parcel. Eula is clearly not well enough to bake this holiday season. Art doesn’t appear to be the baking type. He’s also occupied with Eula’s care. We mixed and measured flour, eggs, ginger, cinnamon and cloves for homemade gingerbread, which to me evokes the aromas of the season. We added samplings of homemade caramel corn and chocolate-dipped pretzels. Finally, we tucked in a copy of O. Henry’s story, “The Gift of the Magi,” with a note about how we read the story aloud as a family each Christmas. It’s a small gesture that sends our love and greetings from faraway Vermont. Art and Eula’s story is one I hope to carry in my heart for a long time.

O. Henry ends his tale with the following observation about Della and Jim:

“… And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

 

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Letters to the Editor12/24/08

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Dec. 24, 2008

Fire Department recruiting

Greetings from the Williston Fire Department! Thanks to the recent recruitment efforts we were able to fill the remaining call staff spots on our roster (a member of the local community that typically responds from their home or work). These people are typical individuals like you and I and they are an integral part of the department.

One of the benefits of being on the department is the quality of training the members are able to receive. Individuals that respond to fire calls (car accidents, fires, etc.) go through a course called Fire Fighter 1. This approximately 200-hour course gives individuals the basic skills they will need to become a firefighter, including being able to safely enter a burning building and extinguish a fire.

On the EMS side, members go through a similar type of training oriented towards taking care of a patient. In the EMT-Basic course, lasting approximately 120 hours, the individual learns skills such as making sure a scene is safe to be at, taking a patient’s blood pressure, pulse, etc., as well as how to treat traumatic injuries. Emergencies can range from a patient who has a small cut on their finger, to a person who has been in a car accident and needs to be put on a backboard, to someone in cardiac arrest needing CPR. Once we stabilize the patient, we await the arrival of an ambulance to transport him or her to the hospital.

The Williston Fire Department is very thankful for the continued support the town and its residents have provided over the years. Without the support of the town the department wouldn’t be able to provide the level of services currently offered as safely and effectively.

We hope you have a happy and safe holiday season.

The Williston Fire Department

 

Dining to defeat polio

The Williston Richmond Rotary would like to thank the Texas Roadhouse for an act of great generosity. Prior to their grand opening, they opened their restaurant to members of the community for a fundraising event for Polio Plus. The restaurant fed invited guests a great dinner and all proceeds for drinks and all tips were donated to Polio Plus via our Rotary Club.

All Rotary clubs around the world have a commitment to donate $1,000 a year for three years to raise $100 million in a matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting $200 million will directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries, where polio continues to infect and paralyze children, robbing them of their futures and compounding the hardships faced by their families.

Thanks to the generosity of John Strout and the Texas Roadhouse, we met our three-year goal. They inspire us to continue our local club’s goal of going beyond our commitment to Rotary International.

Polio Plus is an international Rotary campaign to eradicate polio worldwide. Anyone who is interested in learning more about this important campaign, or about the other great things Rotary does around the world and here at home, is welcome to visit our club. We meet at the Williston Federated Church on Thursday mornings at 7:15. Breakfast is on us!

Dave Ericson and Dave Mullin

Co-chairmen of the Williston Richmond Rotary Polio Plus Committee

 

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Guest Column12/24/08

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Remember the importance of reading drug labels

Dec. 24, 2008

By Peter Pitts

For seniors, the holidays represent a special opportunity to spend time with children and grandchildren alike. Such family gatherings are also the perfect time to talk about serious issues with loved ones. Here’s one that’s especially relevant to seniors: the importance of reading drug labels.

Americans — and seniors in particular — have access to more cutting-edge pharmaceuticals than ever before. But medicines carry risks. Failing to pay attention to a drug’s label — by taking more than the recommended dosage or mixing with the wrong medicines — can lead to serious side effects.

Right now, only the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to approve drug labels. This helps consumers by ensuring that labels in all 50 states contain the same warnings about potential side effects and instructions for safe usage.

That may soon change. The Supreme Court is about to decide a landmark case about drug labels. The question before the Court is whether expert scientists at the FDA or local juries should have the final say regarding what’s written on a prescription drug’s warning label.

It all goes back to Diana Levine, a Vermont woman who went to a clinic because of a migraine. In the course of her treatment, a doctor’s aide administered the anti-nausea drug Phenergan. Tragically, the drug was improperly injected despite an explicit warning label. Levine ended up losing her arm.

Levine sued the physician, the assistant and the clinic. Each settled. But she also sued Wyeth, the company that produces Phenergan. A Vermont jury ruled that even though Phenergan’s label had been approved by the FDA, Wyeth should have prohibited the method of administration used in Levine’s treatment.

This put Wyeth in a pickle. By Vermont law, the company was now obligated to prohibit a particular method of drug delivery. Satisfying this requirement, though, would put the company at odds with the FDA.

If the Court rules against Wyeth, drugs could be required to have different labels in each state. And labels might end up reading like complex legal disclaimers.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, this case should serve as a reminder for seniors about the importance of carefully reading and following the instructions on drug labels. There’s no better time than the holidays to make sure loved ones are doing just that.

Peter Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA Associate Commissioner.

 

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Gun club, neighbors aim for further dialogue12/24/08

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Dec. 24, 2008

By Mariana Lamaison Sears

Observer correspondent

Neighbors and members of the North Country Sportsman’s Club met last week at an informational session to express their views on the potential effects that club activities could have on the environment and public health. At the Thursday night meeting, hosted by the town, representatives of the Agency of Natural Resources, or ANR, and town officials were on hand to answer questions.

Town and club officials and neighbors agreed that lead, which is contained in bullets and concerns neighbors more than noise, is toxic and can contaminate the soil and water if left unattended in the ground. No one had a scientifically calculated number of how much lead sits in the club’s property, located off Old Creamery Road, but everyone agreed that several tons must have accumulated by now. The club has operated since 1962 at the site and has never recovered any lead, said Tom Blair, the club’s president.

Regardless of the amount, the club does not perceive the lead deposited to be a problem, Blair said.

“We don’t believe we have a lead contamination issue, all tests are below detection limits,” he said at the meeting.

Two samples from different water sources taken at the club were tested in October and resulted in undetectable levels of lead. Water tested in August at the home of Leo and Mona Boutin, neighbors of the club, showed lead levels below the state’s action limit for the first sample and below detection limit for the second sample, which came from the aquifer. And a nearby public water supply that is regularly tested never had alarming levels of lead detected, either. But neighbors do not want to wait until a test reveals higher levels of lead to take action.

“What happens if lead is found in our water next week?” questioned Rob Nesbit, a physician and neighbor of the club. “I treated people with lead poisoning. It is a tough thing to deal with.”

In a follow-up conversation with the Observer, Nesbit, who lives on Bradley Lane, said he would like to have water in the club and nearby wells closely monitored, by the town if necessary.

“Something systemic, not random; and transparent,” he said. “I have seen the effects of lead in multiple cases and by the time you find out, it is too late. I would like some responsible agency to study the problem.”

Best practices

Residents attending the meeting — more than 30 — learned that ANR does not consider lead in gun clubs a hazardous substance. George Desch, manager of hazardous waste sites with the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, explained that his office, following federal law, does not regulate shooting ranges or clubs because the lead there “is being used for its intended purpose.”

“We care for places abandoned where lead has been left behind,” he said.

The DEC encourages clubs to apply best management practices according to federal guidelines, such as lead recovery and recycling, he said.

Blair told neighbors that shot recovery is difficult, due to the terrain characteristics, but the club developed a lead management plan to implement best practices. The three-page document, approved by club directors this month, calls for applying lime to the soil to stabilize its acidity, monitoring technology to reclaim shot and implement reclamation when feasible, and monitoring lead in water and building containment structures if necessary.

Neighbors want to see further commitment from the club to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council guidelines. Their manuals suggest ideas including planting vegetation and installing a ditch to prevent rainwater runoff and thus the migration of lead, Nesbit said.

“There must be some way to contain or remove the lead,” said Adam Deyo, who lives on Old Creamery Road. “Best practices should be followed.”

Said another neighbor, David Yandell, “I feel that they need to hold themselves to higher standards in terms of land stewardship.”

Noisy Saturdays

Noise was discussed in the second part of the meeting. Neighbors were upset after noticing over the summer an increase in special events hosted by the club on Saturdays, outside regular hours of operation. After confirming this, Town Manager Rick McGuire said  the club agreed to cut special events back to an annual average of once a month. A neighbor suggested the town and the club come up with an official definition of a special event so it becomes clear how frequent those could be.

What is going to happen next remains unclear. Key to figuring out future steps, some say, is to continue the dialogue that began at the meeting.

“I do not have a clear sense of what we should be doing,” McGuire said the day after the meeting. “We need to continue the conversations.”

“We need to continue the dialogue; communication wasn’t good until this point,” Yandell said.

 

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Laughs for gas12/24/08

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Jewish comedy event to benefit heating assistance program

Dec. 24, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A laugh-filled night of Jewish comedy is returning to Williston this Hanukkah, and is helping to raise money to heat the homes of low income Vermonters this winter. Moo-Jew Comedy, organized by Burlington comedian Jason Lorber, will once again take over the Asian Bistro in Maple Tree Place this Wednesday and Thursday.

 


    Courtesy photo
Jason Lorber, pictured above, has once again organized the Moo-Jew.

The comedy nights benefit Project WARMTH, which helps less fortunate Vermonters with heating oil assistance, and fit neatly into the Hanukkah spirit. The Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of lights, is an eight-day commemoration of the Maccabeans’ victory over the Syrians, when one night’s supply of oil lasted eight days.
“It’s a natural tie-in,” Lorber said.

Project WARMTH is administered by the Champlain Office of Economic Development, which works with low-income people to achieve economic independence.

For the third year in a row, Moo-Jew Comedy is bringing its unique brand of humor to Williston. Lorber said it’s a great time and usually sells out. He said a few Canadians even reserved tables for the event. “We’ve gone international!” Lorber said proudly.

Joining Lorber for the festivities will be two Jewish comedian friends from New York City — Ophira Eisenberg and Myq Kaplan. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without New York Jews,” Lorber joked.

Both Eisenberg and Kaplan have appeared on Comedy Central and tour in the comedy festival circuit. Lorber said they’re looking forward to visiting Vermont and playing in the deep snow.
The Moo-Jew event is non-denominational, meaning non-Jews are invited to attend “as long as they’re loud,” Lorber said.

“It’s really a wonderful community event,” he said. “Everybody gets into the spirit together.”
Lorber, an actor and comedian from Burlington, also represents the city in the state’s House of Representatives. While the professions might seem light years away from each other, Lorber said it “plays to the same strengths.”

Moo-Jew Comedy’s opening night was on Tuesday, Dec. 23, but will also be taking place on Dec. 24 and 25. Tickets are $50 for a four-course meal and comedy show, and the cost includes tax, tip and jokes. Lorber said the dinner would start at “8 o’clock-ish,” with the show starting at “9 o’clock-ish” and ending around “10 o’clock-ish.”

Tickets and reservations can be purchased in advance through the Flynn Theater box office by calling 863-5966. Tickets can also be purchased at the door of Asian Bistro the night of the performances, but not before.

For more information, visit www.moojew.com.

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Lighting up December nights12/24/08

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Dec. 24, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

For the third year in a row, a Williston family is making the holiday season an audio-visual experience like no other.

 


    Courtesy photo
The Germain family’s light display, shown above at their home on Aster Lane, flashes to the tune of popular Christmas songs.

The Germain family of Aster Lane in the Meadowridge neighborhood has decked its house and property in a grandiose Christmas display. Don Germain, owner of the house and technical mastermind behind the display, said anybody and everybody is welcome to pull into his driveway and see the home.

The display is completely computerized and built by Germain and his 16-year-old son, Josh.

“He’s the wonder worker here,” Germain said of his son. “He’s Mr. Christmas.”

Josh also designed a Web site — wiredwonderland.com — that gives a detailed explanation of how the display was set up and other information.

“Let’s Celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Reason for the Season,” the Web site says.

The lights are designed to flash and dance along with music that can be heard on a low-frequency radio station, 88.3 FM.

The station can best be heard from the driveway, Germain said. The lights have been programmed to match songs on a programmed rotation, including the popular Christmas songs “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”

Germain said he and Josh begin setting up the display in September, by building sets in the yard and eventually decorating the house. Typically, the display doesn’t come down until a January thaw, Germain said, and barring that, not until the spring.

“It’s such a huge undertaking,” he said.

When the family started the “light party,” as Germain called it, the father and son used 35,000 lights. This year’s display uses 60,000 lights, he said. On top of that, Germain built all the circuit boards from scratch, as well as the 208 electronic switches that program the display to music. Germain has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Vermont to thank for his technical expertise, he said.

Germain said the creation of his family’s Christmas display couldn’t be done without his son’s involvement. In fact, Germain said he’s not sure how big the display will be when his son goes off to college.

“I can’t imagine what his house will look like when he owns one,” Germain said.

Being a very religious family, Germain hopes many people come by and see the show for themselves and get into the spirit of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ.

“It’s a lot of work we do and we’d really like people to enjoy it,” Germain said.

The Germain Christmas light display will run until New Year’s Eve. Anyone can stop by and check out the show, which runs daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, the show will probably run until midnight, Germain said. Visit wiredwonderland.com for more information.

 

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Municipal budget freeze proposed12/24/08

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Fehrs: Frugality needed in bad economy

Dec. 24, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Signs of the sour economy are everywhere.

Businesses are struggling. Unemployment is rising. It seems nearly everyone is paring budgets, waiting for the economic storm to blow over.

Is it time for the town of Williston to cut back too?

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs thinks so. He has proposed freezing municipal spending at current levels in the 2009-10 fiscal year budget.

The idea represents a radical departure from recent years. Driven by infrastructure demands caused by rapid growth, town budgets have far exceeded the rate of inflation over the past decade.

Fehrs said in hard times the town should share residents’ pain.

“Pretty much everyone in Williston is looking at some kind of spending they can reduce or even eliminate,” he said. “We should do everything possible to keep taxes down.”

His proposal colored the debate as the Selectboard mulled departmental budgets during a pair of meetings earlier this month.

Town Manager Rick McGuire’s proposed $7.8 million budget represents a 2.8 percent spending hike. He said the budget adds no personnel or programs, with the modest increase — the smallest in years — only enough to maintain the status quo.

Fehrs, the longest-serving member of the Selectboard, said he usually supports McGuire’s budget proposals and thinks town services represent a good value for taxpayers. But with the economy in worse shape than any other time in his 10 years on the board, Fehrs said town spending needs to shrink.

At least one resident agrees. Mike Mauss, a former history teacher who operates a horse farm on Old Stage Road, believes the economic downturn will be severe.

“When I look at history and the shambles the economy is in right now, I think of the 1930s and it’s very worrisome,” he said. “I think history shows we need to be very careful with our consistent lending.”

Every department should painstakingly justify each expenditure, he said. Increases should be approved only when the expense is an “absolute necessity.”

Looking for support

Other board members have remained noncommittal on Fehrs’ proposal. Chris Roy came closest to backing him, noting that residents struggling with their own finances are likely to balk at government spending hikes.

Roy pointed out that McGuire’s modest budget increase would actually produce a much larger 9 percent property tax hike for residents, largely because other revenue is expected to drop.

“We’ve got to find a way of enhancing revenue or finding additional cuts,” he said. “And by that I mean down to if not a 0 percent increase. That’s going to be more palatable to people because they are going to scream bloody murder if we come out with a 9 percent increase.”

But finding places to reduce expenses won’t be easy. Department heads warn of service reductions and program cuts if their budgets are frozen.

In years past, department leaders proposed budgets, which were usually pared by McGuire. Then the Selectboard would consider whether to restore some departmental funding.

This year, department heads are still making their cases to the board. But then they are asked what they would slash if their budget was frozen.

A case in point was the Williston Police Department. Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, the acting chief, told the board his department is responding to more crimes and calls for services but has not added an officer for four years.

“I understand taxes are going up and the economy is terrible,” he said. “But at some point we really need to figure out what we’re going to do in terms of adding people.”

Chamberlain said he would struggle to cut his department’s proposed $1.6 million budget, which bumps spending by 5 percent. In tough times, he said, crime tends to rise, making it even harder to reduce spending without imperiling public safety.

Fire Chief Ken Morton faced many questions about his budget. Spending for fire and emergency medical services rises by 11 percent, the biggest jump for any department.

Morton said much of the new spending was driven by factors out of his control, particularly pay for overtime and on-call firefighters. Making matters worse, Essex recently said it will no longer provide free dispatching, so Williston will have to pay an estimated $20,000 for the service.

If his budget was level funded, Morton said he may have to reduce staffing. He warned that could increase response times, which in a worst-case scenario could mean more property damage in fires and lost lives in medical emergencies.

Mauss, who was there for Morton’s presentation and grilled him about fire expenditures, said he was disappointed he was the only citizen to speak out during the meeting.

Fehrs said ideally the budget passed by the Selectboard would prevent an increase in the current municipal property tax rate. He acknowledged that would require even greater reductions in spending than a level-funded budget.

He’d prefer to decide departmental spending on a case-by-case basis rather than using the blunter approach of an across-the-board budget reduction.

The town should first look for savings that don’t impact essential services, he said. The last resort should be employee layoffs.

Beyond Williston

Fehrs’ proposal comes as other towns and the state of Vermont struggle with revenue shortfalls and budget cuts. Gov. Jim Douglas and legislative leaders have proposed tens of millions of dollars in budget reductions. Hundreds of state jobs will either be left unfilled or cut.

Fehrs, who works for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said he feels little security himself these days.

“There’s no guarantee I will have a job soon,” he said.

The Selectboard is scheduled to finalize the budget by the end of January. Voters will decide whether to approve the municipal and school budgets in March.

Fehrs vowed to stubbornly advocate for his proposed spending freeze when the Selectboard resumes its budget deliberations next month.

“I’m going to push for this,” Fehrs said. “I don’t know what we’re going to end up with when the budget is finished.”

 

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