June 22, 2018

Recipe Corner1/22/09

Sugars in our diet

Jan. 22, 2009

By Ginger Isham

Sugar is a carbohydrate made up of fructose and glucose so as to create sucrose. Sucrose is found naturally in plants and juices; when refined, it becomes bad for our diet. Our addiction to sugar creates health problems as well as problems for our immune system. Ingesting sugar feeds candida — a systemic fungal infection — creates mineral and vitamin deficiencies, adrenal fatigue, diabetes and obesity.

Even though we have decreased sucrose (table sugar) in our diet, we have increased the amount of fructose in the last 20 to 30 years. The use of high fructose corn syrup in our diet has at least tripled from 19 to 60 pounds per person per year since the 1980s. Honey is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and also can feed candida and raise one’s blood sugar. Molasses is also not good for you and should be used sparingly. It is pure sugar with small amounts of vitamins and minerals added.

Grandmother’s gingerbread

1/2 cup shortening (I use oil)

1 egg

3/4 cup molasses

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

pinch of salt

1/2 cup milk

Cream shortening and add egg and molasses. Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with milk. Beat well and bake in an 8-inch, greased, square pan for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve at room temperature with warm applesauce — homemade is best — or whipped cream lightly sweetened.

My gingerbread

1/2 cup shortening or oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

pinch of salt

1 cup molasses

1 cup hot water

Melt shortening over low heat and remove and cool slightly. Stir in egg and sugar. Beat well. Combine dry ingredients and add alternately with molasses and water. Pour into a greased 9-inch square pan and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. When cool, frost with a butter cream icing and sprinkle coconut on top.

My family’s favorite topping is a lemon sauce, made by mixing 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn starch in a saucepan and stirring in 2 cups of water. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and add 2 to 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Stir and pour over individual servings.

Ginger Isham was the co-owner of Maple Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast in Williston, a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road where she still lives.


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Guest Column1/22/09

Do parents know what their kids are doing?

Jan. 22, 2009

By Steve Hyde

Do you know what your child is doing when you are not around? There is growing evidence that you don’t.

The book “Reality Gap” by Stephen Wallace, executive director of Students Against Destructive Decisions, commonly known as SADD, reflects the findings of his research that clearly indicate that kids are engaging in dangerous and destructive behaviors and activities that parents are not aware of. In fact, he found that many parents believe just the opposite, that their children are engaging in positive and productive behaviors. A few statistics that he cites include the following: the average age for alcohol initiation is now 13 (that is seventh or eighth grade); by 12th grade 3 in 4 teens are drinking; and 53 percent of high school students report having engaged in sexual activity.

Stephen Wallace has my attention now. Does he have yours? The statistics for our supervisory union, as reported on the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, reflect some similarities — 48 percent of 11th to 12th graders had had sexual intercourse and 61 percent of 12th graders had admitted to binge drinking. And there are those specific events like the recent automobile crashes, the criminal drug activities that led to the arrest of a Champlain Valley Union High School student and the tragic events that occurred online and led to a young boy in Essex taking his own life.

There is a lot going on in our teenagers’ lives that we don’t know about or choose not to know about. Either way, our children are at risk. We would like to think that all of the time we invested in developing a trusting and open relationship with our children when they were younger would continue into their teenage years, but sadly that is often not the case. It is hard to acknowledge and accept that our children do not always exhibit the values that we have so arduously tried to instill in them, but we must. This is not a statement of blame, but a reminder that teenagers are still growing and developing and need us to be as engaged with their development now as we were when they were 1 year old and their dependence was so clear.

And while it is very developmentally appropriate for kids to begin to separate from the standard bearers in their lives, the process of doing so may result in behaviors like lying, limit testing and social aggression. With age, such seemingly benign behaviors manifest themselves in more dangerous behaviors like substance use and abuse, sexual activity and even criminality.

We need to get engaged in these young teenagers’ lives and find out what is going on. There is just too much at risk not to know.

To get us started on this road to reengaging our children, CY, Connecting Youth, is bringing Stephen Wallace to our district to speak to parents and students at 7 p.m. on March 17 at CVU. Prior to Wallace’s visit and conversation, all of the schools in the supervisory union will be holding “Dialogue Nights” for their students and parents to begin to lay the foundation to build the bridge that will span this reality gap. For more information, visit www.seewhy.info.

Steve Hyde is chairman of Connecting Youth in Chittenden County’s Parent Education Com


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Liberally Speaking1/22/09

Vermont's New Year's resolutions

Jan. 22, 2009

By Steve Mount

It is time for our state government to make its New Year’s resolutions. Our constitution mandates that legislators meet on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January, every other year. Of course, they end up meeting every year — the age of the true biennial legislature is long gone.

Though it took some time to catch up to Vermont, the bad economic times the nation is feeling are here. Layoffs are happening as we speak and most of us took marked hits when the stock and housing markets tanked.

With this atmosphere, the governor and the Legislature have to be ready to make tough choices, choices that will affect all of us.

The new speaker of the house, Shap Smith of Lamoille, said he was borrowing a page from former Gov. Dick Snelling’s book when he proposed a new stimulus plan. On opening day, Smith was elected speaker and wasted no time in proposing a $150 million plan to bolster the Vermont economy by investing in infrastructure.

To pay for this, Smith would borrow $30 million and finance the rest in bonds, to be funded by higher gas taxes, or something else, a detail to be worked out by Legislative committees. The main point, though — to get Vermonters working, and to have that work produce something tangible and long-lasting — seems sound.

Before we start thinking seriously about a stimulus package, however, we need to think about the forecasted budget shortfall. The revenue shortfall is expected to be $27 million this year. Cuts are planned, but even so, projections are for $21 million in unexpected expenses.

Gov. Jim Douglas has an interesting idea to help fill the hole — federal funds. Douglas says that Vermont should be getting $58 million in the form of extra Medicare reimbursement that the state could use to cover the $48 million shortfall, and have $10 million left over for next year’s predicted shortfall.

The cuts, of course, are going to affect real people. One of the cuts is to the VPharm program, which helps elderly Vermonters with prescription costs. Another is to the Medicaid dental program, limiting covered expenses to $200 instead of $495. Unfortunately, these kinds of cuts are hard to make, since they affect the poorest of us, but it seems like there is little alternative.

Of particular interest to me, and to many across the state, is the governor’s plan to ask that school budget votes be delayed past Town Meeting Day, as part of his plan to freeze education spending. Floated as a trial balloon by an aide, the plan seems to me to be a bad idea. School boards need to know their budgets as soon as possible — and if a budget is defeated, more time is needed to craft cuts for a new vote. Plus, if we’re looking to save money, an off-schedule vote for just the school budget is an obvious waste of money.

All this talk of budgets, revenue, cuts and taxes is exhausting. The machinations that are contrived to move funds from here to there, hopefully trimming slim percentages off as it goes, boggle my non-accounting-oriented mind. My biggest hope is that we get quick agreement from experts on the issues and get it done.

Easier for me to process are some of the other legislative proposals that have been advanced. Prompted by the Brooke Bennett case, the Senate has proposed a bill that features the addition of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for the crime of aggravated sexual assault of a child. I’m not a big fan of mandatory minimums, but I’m willing to set my general objections aside for this particular crime.

One of the Senate’s other bills would extend employment protection to volunteer firefighters, similar to that which members of the National Guard enjoy. Another would strengthen Vermont’s employee protections for testimony given to the Legislature or for serving on a jury.

In the House, one bill is specific to Williston, approving charter changes approved by us at the November election. Another changes fuel taxes to fuel fees, and raises the fee by 6 cents per gallon; the changes help make it easier to implement Speaker Smith’s bonding idea. One more permits the state to seize and sell the car of any person convicted of a DUI with death or injury resulting, even on a first offense.

Hopefully, the Legislature and the governor will work together and agree on reasoned solutions to our state’s problems. I’ll be keeping my eye on them.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.


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Right to the Point1/22/09

Goals for the 2009 Legislative session

Jan. 22, 2009

By Mike Benevento

The 2009 Vermont Legislative session began over two weeks ago. As Gov. James Douglas noted in his inaugural address, although Democrats control the Legislature, Vermonters expect all parties to work together to steer the state through rocky shoals. Given this, please urge Williston’s representatives — Democrats Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough — to advocate on your behalf this session.

Compared to last year, there is $200 million less available for Vermont’s budget. In his address, Douglas explained that there are four primary methods to balance the budget — spending reserves, relying on federal aid, raising taxes and deep spending cuts.

Because no one knows how severe this recession will be, Douglas said that now is not the time to use the “rainy day” fund reserves as a quick patch for the problem. The economic crisis is likely to get worse and — once used — the reserve funds will be gone.

Especially with the economic crisis, the Legislature needs to hold the line on new taxes — striving for tax cuts whenever feasible. Because Vermonters have one of the largest tax burdens in the nation, no tax increases should be at the forefront of any budget discussions.

President Barack Obama and Congress are working on a large federal aid package for states to help stem the national economic slide. Under such a plan, Vermont might receive as much as $350 million over two years. Even if approved, the state bailout plan will not solve Vermont’s budget woes by itself. Besides, unless spending cuts are made, the underlying problems will remain once the money dries up.

According to Douglas, education and Medicaid are the two best areas for saving money. Together, they account for 63 percent of the state’s budget. While other important state services have been feeling the economic pinch, these two seemly grow without restraint each year.

In the last five years, Vermont has experienced an education spending expansion. In his address, Douglas noted that student enrollment has dropped by 10 percent since 1997, yet school staffs have increased by 22 percent. Additionally, education spending for 2010 is expected to grow 6 percent. So, in this era of shrinking revenue, spending on Vermont’s education continues at a boom-time pace.

Douglas called on schools to share the sacrifice being made by other areas of state government in the face of declining revenue. In his inaugural address, he proposed level funding of school budgets for next year while having a task force investigate a new education funding structure.

Like the 49 other states, Vermont’s biggest challenge is surviving the recession. Still, the Legislature cannot lose sight of other important issues while it tackles the budget. The economy is a national crisis. It is too overwhelming for Vermonters to resolve. Therefore, the Legislature needs to take care not to be bogged down by it. Do due diligence, but also pass legislation on other issues.

The Legislature should enact laws to better support parental rights and help protect Vermont families. Legislation should include stiffer penalties for drunken driving — especially repeat offenders.

It is time to pass a parental notification law — requiring abortion providers to inform a parent or guardian prior to performing an abortion on a minor. In rare cases where parental involvement is inappropriate, a judicial bypass provision allows the minor to petition the court to exempt her from the notification requirement.

In order to help protect children from sexual predators, Vermont needs to pass Jessica’s Law and ratify other changes, making it easier to investigate and prosecute sex offenders. Jessica’s Law establishes a minimum 25-year sentence for anyone convicted of sexually abusing a young child.

Vermont needs to re-license Vermont Yankee. The nuclear power plant provides large amounts of clean and affordable electricity. Unlike coal-burning power plants, nuclear energy does not add to global warming. As long as it remains safe, the Republican Party supports Yankee’s re-licensing (Rep. McCullough wants to close Vermont Yankee).

Other recommendations for the state Legislature include streamlining government, providing incentives for green businesses, increasing health care accessibility and improving roads and bridges. Finally, since it was such a success last year, the Legislature should strive to make the Sales Tax Holiday an annual event.

So, while continuing to serve Vermonters despite difficult financial times, the government needs to avoid concentrating too much on economic issues at the expense of other important legislation like education, Jessica’s Law and nuclear power. Please hold McCullough and McCaig’s feet to the fire on these and all other issues important to you and your family.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.


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New practice offers mental health services1/22/09

Jan. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Catamount Center, a mental health center serving Williston, Essex Junction and other towns in the greater Burlington area, opened in October and, now fully staffed, is looking to reach out to people who might need help.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
The staff of the Catamount Center, pictured above, includes (from left) Barbara and Dr. Steve Lewis, Katie Kelley, Steve Earisman and Carol Greenberger.

The center’s goal is to help children and adults who’ve experienced psychological trauma. It offers one-on-one help sessions and group therapy meetings.

Dr. Steve Lewis and his wife Barbara started the practice late last year after moving on from Cedar Brook Associates in Williston. Both have been helping people cope with psychological illnesses for more than 30 years.

“There is a great need and demand in this area for mental health services,” Steve Lewis said. “It’s an area that, for many years, has been underserved.”

Said his wife, “There’s always a need for people to stop and start taking care of themselves.”

Steve Lewis has been in private practice since the 1980s and has a doctorate in psychology. He specializes in child and adolescent psychology. Barbara is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and alcohol and drug counselor who aids people of all ages.

Joining them at the Catamount Center are Katie Kelley and Carol Greenberger, both licensed clinical mental health counselors. Kelley, who helps children and adults with behavioral problems, spent more than 25 years as an elementary and middle school counselor in Essex. Greenberger works with children and adults who have anxiety and depression disorders, among other mental health issues.

Scott Earisman, who joined last month, is also a licensed clinical mental health and alcohol drug counselor. He has worked in Vermont for 10 years as a mental health and trauma specialist and holds group therapy sessions at the Catamount Center.

Dr. Lewis said the Catamount Center is very much a word-of-mouth business. He also said everyone at the center is flexible and works with patients to meet their schedules. He encouraged anyone who believes they may need help to contact the Catamount Center, which also accepts referrals from and works with all insurance companies.

The Catamount Center is located in the Evergreen Family Health building on the corner of James Brown Drive and Park Avenue off Route 2A. The company has a Web site at www.catamountcenter.com and the phone number is 878-0550.


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Study restarts debate over village intersection1/22/09

Solutions sought for accident-plagued corner

Jan. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town officials have long debated what to do about the accident-prone and traffic-clogged intersection where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads. The Selectboard has held hearings, residents have voiced opinions and traffic experts have made recommendations.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Traffic passes through the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill and North Williston roads on Tuesday morning at around 8:30 a.m.

Now a consultant has revisited the topic with a study that shows that converting the four-way stop to a roundabout or a traffic signal would best ensure safe and speedy passage through the intersection.

Representatives of Resource Systems Group presented their findings to the Williston Selectboard on Jan. 12.

The intersection ranks among the least safe in the state, the study found. There were 25 accidents during the five-year period ending in 2006.

Traffic has also been a problem since four-way stop signs were installed as a temporary measure almost eight years ago, although backups have eased in recent years, possibly because of downsizing at IBM and changing commuting patterns.

But traffic volume is still high: the study found that 550 eastbound vehicles pass through the intersection during the afternoon rush hour.

The report concludes that adding either a traffic light or a roundabout would ease traffic and prevent accidents. But some Selectboard members worry that a traffic light would create worse collisions as northbound vehicles travel downhill on Oak Hill Road.

Board Chairman Terry Macaig said in an interview that traffic along Oak Hill Road already moves like “hounds of hell” and might speed up more if motorists were trying to beat red lights.

“A couple of years ago, I thought a traffic light would be the solution,” Macaig said, but now he’s unsure. He noted one option is to leave the intersection unchanged.

Two Williston residents who attended the meeting expressed opposing viewpoints on the situation.

Cynthia Johnson said a traffic light was the best solution, according to minutes from the meeting. Veronica Jordan said she preferred a roundabout.

Roundabouts generally move traffic more smoothly and safely than traffic lights, the study noted. But a roundabout would cost between $935,000 and $960,000, depending on the configuration. A traffic light would cost $230,000.

Because there are so many accidents at the intersection, however, the federal government may cover the entire cost of either option.

Another potential problem with a roundabout is that it would involve acquiring a small amount of land from adjacent property owners, including the Korner Kwik Stop and Williston Federated Church.

The new study is the latest chapter in a long-running debate over the intersection.

Back in 2001, the town granted IBM a permit for expanding its Williston facility. The permit required the company to pay for intersection improvements. But IBM never expanded and has actually downsized in the past few years, so the upgrade was left undone.

The Selectboard back then voted against a traffic signal amid opposition from nearby residents who complained it would hurt the quaint atmosphere of historic Williston Village. A few years later, the Selectboard endorsed a roundabout.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town pushed for the latest study in hopes of deciding the matter once and for all. He declined to say which option he considered best. But he did say that one alternative analyzed by the study — a smaller roundabout that would have less impact on adjacent properties — was impractical because trucks would not have room for certain turning movements.

The board decided to delay a decision on the intersection until it could gather more public input. A hearing on the issue could be held as soon as next month.


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Illuminating the way to a greener Town Hall1/22/09

Audit shows town wasting energy, money

Jan. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston could save thousands of dollars a year by converting historic Town Hall from an energy-wasting structure to a building that efficiently uses heat and electricity, a new report concludes.


    Courtesy photo from Building Energy
This infrared image identifies where heat is leaking from Town Hall. The areas in the brightest yellow indicate the warmest areas. The outside temperature at the time of the photo was about 15 degrees, 8 degrees cooler than the hot spots near the building’s foundation and windows.

A Williston-based company, Building Energy, recently completed an energy audit of the building. The audit studied and suggested improvements to Town Hall’s heating and cooling systems as well as lighting and insulation.

Just replacing insulation could cut the building’s annual natural gas bill by 20 percent, the report concludes. Upgrading light fixtures and replacing the air conditioning system could save even more, reducing electricity costs by up to 50 percent.

It makes sense to spend money for energy upgrades because it not only helps preserve the environment but saves money for taxpayers, said Dennis Bates, who worked on a grassroots group in Williston that has been looking at ways to increase energy efficiency in public buildings.

“We’re trying to make an example of Town Hall, which used $6,000 in natural gas in 2007,” said Bates, who is also the president of Vermont Sun Structures in Williston. “These are tax dollars the town can squeeze out in a tight budget year. You have to spend money to make money, though.”

The audit recommends improvements that combined would cost roughly $65,000. That estimate includes upgrading insulation for $14,000, changing lights and controls for $10,000, replacing the boiler and hot water heater for $21,000 and installing a new air conditioning system for $20,000. Solar panels could cost an additional $80,000.

But those investments would pay for themselves over time by reducing gas and electric bills, said Scott Gardner, president of Building Energy. Costs for some changes would be recouped within a few years; others would take as long as 20 years.

The energy audit grew out of efforts by Williston officials and residents to preserve the environment and conserve energy, said Jessica Andreoletti, a town planner whose work focuses on the environment. The idea for the energy audit came from a conference she attended at Vermont Technical College.

Gardner, who owns property in Williston, volunteered to do the work for free. He said the audit, which included inspecting Town Hall and taking infrared photographs to find heat leaks, would have cost about $1,500.

The audit could help the town win a $12,000 grant that could fund energy efficiency projects, Andreoletti said. The grant would require the town to make a matching contribution of at least $2,000.

The upgrades at Town Hall “would save serious cash because it is leaking like a sieve,” she said.

Williston Town Hall is a two-story brick structure that was built in 1860 and renovated in 1988. But the energy audit found that the renovation left gaps in the attic insulation. The town’s heating and air conditioning systems are also outdated or poorly configured.

The 2009-10 municipal budget includes $15,000 to install new insulation at Town Hall. That funding is subject to the Selectboard’s final approval of the proposed budget.

“Some of the things (recommended by the audit) are very low cost and we can accomplish them through our operating budget,” Town Manager Rick McGuire wrote in an e-mail.

More expensive items would likely have to be funded in future budgets.

Caring for the environment by reducing use of fossil fuels is a worthy goal, Gardner said, but a cold-eyed focus on the bottom line is more important when it comes to gaining public support for energy efficiency projects.

“If it makes sense economically and it’s going to save the town money, let’s do it,” he said. “If it reduces the carbon footprint, great, but you can’t take that to town meetin


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Charges upgraded against mother in sexual abuse case1/22/09

Jan. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The mother of a young victim at the center of one of Vermont’s most well known sexual abuse cases had the charges against her upgraded on Friday by Chittenden County prosecutors — from misdemeanor cruelty to a child to aggravated sexual assault. She could face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

They are the same charges convicted rapist Mark Hulett pleaded guilty to after he repeatedly sexually assaulted the 33-year-old woman’s daughter when the girl was between the ages of 6 and 10. Under new state prison sentence minimums, the mother could go to jail for more than three times as long as Hulett if convicted.

The misdemeanor cruelty to a child charge carried a maximum sentence of two years in jail. The new, aggravated sexual assault charges carry a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life.

The Observer is not releasing the mother’s name to protect the identity of her daughter.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said the state is charging the mother under a law that punishes individuals for aiding in felonies. While Donovan said the state doesn’t believe the woman assaulted her daughter, it can charge her as if she committed the crimes herself.

“It is the charge that we’ve all been talking about down in Montpelier in the Legislature, regarding Megan’s Law,” Donovan said. “The Vermont law allows us, under the enabling stature of aiding in the commission of a felony, to charge one who aids as a principal.”

According to police and prosecutors, and allegedly backed up by statements made by the daughter last year, the mother knew and witnessed Hulett abuse the girl.

“At the end of the day, parents have the responsibility to take care of their kids,” Donovan said.

The Hulett case made national headlines in January 2006, when Judge Edward Cashman initially sentenced the rapist to only six months in prison so he could seek sex offender treatment, which would not have been available to him while incarcerated. After the Vermont Corrections Department quickly changed its policy, Hulett was sentenced to three years. His sentence ended earlier this month, but he remains incarcerated in Springfield as he looks for a place to live.

Hulett’s case led to further changes in sex offender cases. There are now mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison. A bill is also being considered in Montpelier this year in the wake of the sexual assault and slaying last year of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett.

Shielding herself from the news station television cameras at Vermont District Court on Friday, the mother did not enter a plea to the new charges because she’s awaiting the counsel of a court-appointed public defender.

The woman’s arraignment is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 26 at 8:30 a.m. at Vermont District Court.


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Patriotic pupils eye inauguration1/22/09

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Swift House student Izacco Lozon sports his patriotic best during President Obama’s inauguration Tuesday. See story below.

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Does anyone care about the budget?1/22/09

Few citizens attend sessions to discuss spending

Jan. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Mike Mauss and his neighbor Welby Reynolds were the only citizens watching as the Selectboard debated how to spend millions of dollars of the public’s money earlier this month.

They sat side-by-side on thinly padded metal chairs in the stuffy meeting room at Town Hall, first listening to a discussion of a liquor license and complaints from a local developer before talk turned to the $7.8 million municipal budget. Mauss and Reynolds finally took the floor, each critiquing spending by the Williston Fire Department.

Their seemingly routine participation was actually an uncommon act of civic involvement. At most, only a handful of residents provide input into the budget each year.

This year has been no different. Even after the town tried to encourage attendance by holding meetings at various venues around Williston, Mauss, Reynolds and one other person were the only ones who attended any of the half-dozen sessions held to date.

Mauss said he wished he had more company but understands why so few attend meetings.

“People get home after a long day at work and the last thing they want to do is listen to one of these things drone on for three hours,” Mauss said. “I don’t.”

Nonetheless, he did attend the Jan. 5 public hearing on the budget, stubbornly insisting that the Fire Department’s 10 percent spending hike should be pared. Reynolds echoed his neighbor’s criticism.

The Selectboard listened intently. Board member Ted Kenney even offered the men a thick black binder containing his copy of the proposed budget so they could better understand spending minutiae.

Kenney and other board members said they would welcome more input but they, too, realize that not many residents are motivated enough to sit through long, often arid discussions of municipal spending when they have dinner to cook and kids to supervise.

“I understand why people don’t go,” Kenney said. “I never did until I was on the Selectboard.”

Months in the making

The process of formulating the annual municipal budget starts in the fall, when department heads propose spending plans. Town Manager Rick McGuire then considers each budget request and formulates a town-wide budget.

The public part of the process begins in early December, when McGuire presents his budget to the Selectboard. The board then meets several times before finalizing the budget in late January. Each meeting is open to citizens.

Residents vote on the municipal and school budgets in early March. In Williston, there is one last chance for citizen input the day before the vote. But because Williston years ago decided to move budget votes to secret balloting, that session is a formality because spending cannot be altered.

Frank DeVita is the other resident who attended a budget meeting this year. To prepare, he spent about three hours poring over the budget, marking up the document with suggestions and commentary about expenditures he thought were excessive.

Being the only resident to speak out at a meeting can be a lonely feeling, said DeVita, who both lives in town and operates TimberNest, a Williston-based furniture manufacturer. And with little public input, he said, the Selectboard is left guessing.

“You feel like you have got no backup,” he said. “And you feel like the Selectboard has no backup. They have got to make a decision on their own.”

Board members say public participation is most effective during December and January, when the budget is still in flux. But they also note that empty chairs at public meetings don’t mean the Selectboard is making budget decisions in a vacuum.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said residents occasionally send him e-mails or call.

“I think we have some kind of sense of what the public wants,” he said.

Sometimes the communication is more personal. Board members say citizens they encounter in the grocery store, the school or the library sometimes offer opinions on spending and taxes. Kenney recalls being buttonholed by a resident on Halloween. His costume — Superman — didn’t fool the person.

“We do get input,” he said. “It’s a lot more helpful if we get input at the beginning of the (budget) process, and have a good cross-section of people showing up for our meetings.”

Mauss said he took pains to be both polite and informed when he spoke to the board, lest he come off as just another resident peeved about high property taxes.

“There’s a difference between being a crank and someone who is simply interested in being part of the process,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like a crank, and sometimes you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.”



Flat spending appears likely

A proposal by Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs to tighten the town’s belt enough to maintain municipal property taxes at their current level appears to be gaining traction.

Town Manager Rick McGuire proposed a $7.8 million budget in December that would have raised the property tax rate by 2 cents. The increase would have boosted annual taxes by $60 on a $300,000 home.

But Fehrs said in tough economic times the town should share the pain. He proposed spending be shaved enough to prevent a rise from the current property tax rate of 20 cents per $100 in valuation.

Other board members were originally noncommittal on that proposal. But now at least some board members have indicated they support the cuts needed to keep the tax rate level, McGuire said.

Ted Kenney, for example, said he was leaning toward supporting Fehr’s proposal. He said that would mean cuts to some services, in particular a reduction in salt usage that would leave some residential streets more slippery.

Other proposed reductions include elimination of partial funding for a new position in the town manager’s office and a scaled-back contribution to the environmental reserve fund, money set aside for buying development rights on land the town wants to preserve as open space.

The Selectboard is scheduled to finalize the budget Monday. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

— Greg Elias, Observer staff


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