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Beware of wild parsnip (7/23/09)

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July 23, 2009

With the emergence of wild parsnip in Vermont, poison ivy no longer stands alone as the number one plant to avoid this summer.

Wild parsnip is a tall, yellow, flowering plant that causes severe blisters and rashes and is found along roadsides and in abandoned fields. Master Gardeners from the University of Vermont Extension have identified the plant in Vermont, including in Williston.

The effects of wild parsnip set in when juice from the plant makes contact with skin and the infected area of skin is then exposed to sun. In mild cases, affected skin reddens and feels sunburned. In more severe cases, the skin turns red and then blisters rise, leaving the area feeling as if it’s been scalded. Wild parsnip can leave a dark red or brownish discoloration of the skin that can last up to two years in the area where the burn occurred.

In Williston, Master Gardener June Jones said there is wild parsnip growing along U.S. 2 and at the intersection of Oak Hill Road and U.S. 2.

— Ben Portnoy, Observer correspondent

 

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Town water and sewer bills to jump (7/23/09)

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Selectboard approves big rate hike

July 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard has approved a hefty hike in water and sewer rates, passing on a price increase by regional suppliers that are coping with rising costs or falling revenue.

Water prices will rise 8.8 percent and sewer charges will go up 11.3 percent. The new water rate will be $2.40 per 1,000 gallons and the sewer rate is set at $3.45 per 1,000 gallons.

The rate hikes will increase the water and sewer bill for an average Williston residential user by $3.20 a month, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

With little discussion, the Selectboard on Monday night unanimously approved the rate hike. Board member Jeff Fehrs said the rate-setting exercise was a formality because the town’s water and sewer budgets were approved months ago.

“I’m not happy with these increases, but we don’t have a choice,” he said. “In order to fund the budget that was approved, we have to raise rates.”

Water rates have been driven up by decreased usage, primarily due to cutbacks at IBM, one of the state’s largest employers and the water district’s biggest customer.

IBM was using 4.8 million gallons a day at its peak nine years ago, according to the Champlain Water District. Now the company is using only about 3 million gallons a day.

It all adds up to a dramatic drop in income for the water district. Though CWD says it produced a level-funded budget for this year, fixed costs still need to be covered with less revenue.

“CWD’s budgeted water sales revenue is continuing to dramatically decline due to major changes to industrial water sales that have occurred,” Jim Fay, the water district’s general manager, wrote in an April memo.

He has said that 85 percent of the rate increase can be attributed to reduced usage by IBM.

Essex Junction originally wanted to raise sewer rates by 31 percent, but that increase was nearly halved after Williston officials complained that the village was shifting expenses from the municipal to sewer budgets. Expenses were also up, with a major breakdown at the treatment plant.

Williston urged village officials to change how they accounted for expenses and to pay off the plant’s repair bill over several years.

“The sewer rate could have been much worse than it was,” Boyden said.

The town has over the past few years kept water and sewer rates down by reducing the amount budgeted for infrastructure upkeep, Boyden said. He acknowledged the bill will one day come due for the deferred maintenance, noting that many underground pipes are decades old and sewer pump stations are nearing the end of their useful life.

The rate increase was set in motion when the Selectboard approved water and sewer budgets earlier this year. Those expenditures are funded entirely by user charges and kept separate from the municipal operating budget.

At the time, both the Champlain Water District, which supplies 11 Chittenden County municipalities and fire districts, and the village of Essex Junction, which owns the sewage treatment plant that serves Essex and Williston, had announced big rate hikes. Payments to those suppliers account for more than half of Williston’s water and sewer expenditures, with much of the remaining budget paying for infrastructure such as underground pipes and pump stations.

Water and sewer bills have risen steadily over the past few years, but the new rate increase is particularly steep. Sewer rate hikes since 2004 have ranged from 12.5 percent to 2.1 percent, although the rate remained stable last year. The water rate hike this year is the largest during that period, with the per-gallon price rising by 4.6 percent last year.

This year’s rate increase will be included when the next monthly bills are mailed in late August.

 

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Fiske to oversee Vermont Library Association (7/23/09)

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July 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The next few years will become quite a bit busier for local librarian Marti Fiske. The director of Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library recently became vice president of the Vermont Library Association after a nomination in May. With the appointment, she begins a three-year “progressive term” that will see her become president of the VLA next year.

 


    File photo
Library Director Marti Fiske stands outside Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. Fiske recently became vice president of the Vermont Library Association.

“I’m essentially a president in training right now,” Fiske said.

The VLA is a volunteer organization run by professional librarians across the state. Its goal is to promote and highlight the importance of libraries, as well as improve how they are run.

“We act as a sort of mouthpiece for librarians to the state library association (the Vermont Department of Libraries),” Fiske said.

The VLA has been lobbying in recent years for automatic state funding of libraries, which Vermont does not currently offer. But Fiske’s duties will mostly involve the VLA itself. She said the organization is reworking its conference model in order to cut costs and become more effective.

In past years, the VLA has hosted two-day conferences at local hotel ballrooms, complete with seminars, speakers and exhibitors. The exhibitors, generally organizations selling library materials and books, paid for space, which offset the costs of the conferences, Fiske said. But fewer and fewer exhibitors have signed up for VLA conferences due to evolving business strategies and the changing economy, so the organization needs to rethink its strategy.

As president next year, Fiske will likely organize a different type of VLA conference — one that retains the importance of bringing members together and finding new ones to join. Current members include librarians, professors and various members of the public.

Fiske will work with current president John Payne, director of library and information services at St. Michael’s College. After her term as president, she’ll finish off her three-year cycle as a “past president.”

 

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Candidates helped by family donations (7/23/09)

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Secretary of state race off to early start

July 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Secretary of state candidates started a long campaign with modest bankrolls that include contributions from family members, according to finance disclosures filed last week.

 


   
Charlie Merriman

 


   
Chris Roy

Republican Chris Roy of Williston and Democrat Charlie Merriman of Middlebury are the two declared candidates in the race. Both seek the position held by longtime Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, a Democrat who is running for governor.

The financial disclosures are the first to be filed in the long run-up to the November 2010 election. They show Merriman taking the early lead in fundraising by about a 3-1 margin.

Merriman has raised $6,610 and spent $1,512. Of the money raised, $3,419 was contributed by relatives or came out of his own pocket.

Roy has raised $2,260 and spent $2,388. Of the contributions, $1,500 came from family members.

Roy said the early, unsolicited contributions from his sister and his in-laws have allowed him to get the campaign off the ground without using his own money.

Merriman, who detailed $1,319 in out-of-pocket expenses, said he won’t continue to spend a lot of his own money. He said his commitment to financial disclosure meant many expenditures are listed as his own.

“I don’t expect to spend an inordinate amount of my own money on the campaign,” said Merriman, who also received a total of $750 from his mother and father.

Roy’s largest expense was $1,540 for Web site design and hosting. He also spent money on dinners, postage and mileage. Merriman lists dozens of small expenses, including several lunch meetings with advisors and mileage to numerous functions.

Roy is a partner with the Burlington law firm Downs Rachlin Martin. He was elected to a two-year term on the Williston Selectboard in March 2008.

Merriman is also a lawyer, a partner at the Montpelier law firm Tarrant, Marks & Gillies. Before working for the firm, he served as a Vermont assistant attorney general and worked for the state Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration.

Merriman said he expects to spend about $100,000 during the campaign; Roy puts the number at around $200,000.

The amount they’ve raised to date is paltry compared to the higher-profile governor’s race, where Markowitz and two other Democrats reported about $300,000 in contributions between them in the new campaign disclosures. Gov. Jim Douglas raised $1.2 million during his 2008 re-election campaign.

Roy said he’s not concerned that his presumptive opponent has raised more money because the election is still more than a year away. And he feels optimistic he will not face a primary, while there have been rumors of other Democrats interested in the secretary of state post.

“There may be a primary on the Democratic side, so he needs to raise and spend money earlier,” Roy said of Merriman.

Merriman said he does expect a primary. But he thinks he will prevail because he plans to campaign harder then any future foe.

Merriman said he needs enough money to conduct a credible run for statewide office, but he’s not trying to outspend opponents.

“That certainly isn’t my goal,” Merriman said. “But I want to win the election.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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Board mulls $37 million question (7/23/09)

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Hearing held on shopping center’s tax appeal

July 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town Assessor Bill Hinman used gentle sarcasm in explaining why he opposed reducing the tax value of Maple Tree Place to $37 million less than the shopping center’s owner paid for it four years ago.

 


    File photo
The owners of Maple Tree Place, the shopping center pictured above, have appealed the property’s $80.9 million appraised value.

“The fact of the matter from my perspective is they paid a lot of money for it,” he said. “There had to be a reason, there had to be some really, really smart people putting out all this money to buy this property.”

His comment drew chuckles during a hearing Monday night before the Williston Board of Civil Authority. The board listened to arguments in a tax appeal filed by the shopping center’s owner.

Illinois-based Inland Western disputes the town’s $80.9 million appraised value of Maple Tree Place. Williston listers last month denied Inland’s request to drop the appraisal to $65 million, prompting the appeal.

If successful, the appeal could have a significant impact on tax revenue. Maple Tree Place is valued at more than double the next highest-valued property in Williston. Inland Western would pay $1.3 million in local taxes this year based on the current value.

Attorney Richard Wulsin represented Inland at the hearing. He said the $102.3 million price the company paid for the shopping center was “somewhat irrelevant” in establishing the present value.

“The sale in June 2005 bears very little resemblance to the fair market value of the property in April 2009,” he said, noting commercial loans have dried up and so have the number of potential buyers.

Wulsin presented a chart listing the value of other large shopping centers. The chart showed that Maple Tree Place’s appraised value is more than double that of University Mall in South Burlington and Burlington Town Center. Property taxes per square foot of retail space are considerably higher at Maple Tree Place than the other four retail centers included in the chart.

Wulsin also said Maple Tree Place has a significant number of vacancies, reducing income and hence value. One of its largest stores, Linens ‘n Things, went bankrupt last year, and there is other vacant space.

Hinman rebutted those arguments. He asserted there really is no shopping center in Vermont comparable to Maple Tree Place. As for vacancies, he said the rate is around 10 percent, not an extraordinarily high number.

Board members appeared skeptical about both sides’ arguments. They wondered how the wildly differing values were determined.

Hinman said individual buildings were individually assessed, as was the land. He said top-quality construction and desirable location drove up the appraisal.

But Hinman agreed with Wulsin that the sale price didn’t accurately represent the current market value.

“There was no way in my mind this property could be worth $102.3 million,” he said, adding that sales of other commercial properties around the state simply don’t support such a high number.

Much of the discussion revolved around the two broad ways commercial property is valued: prices of comparable properties and income potential.

Wulsin argued for an income-based method of determining value. He said companies that buy and sell property look to income potential when deciding how much to pay.

Hinman acknowledged that using the income approach would yield an appraisal close to what Inland claims the property is worth. But he said when he tried using that method he could not come up with a figure that represented the true value of the property. He said Maple Tree Place is unlike other shopping centers in Vermont because of its prime location, unique configuration and high-quality construction.

Near the end of the hearing, board member Tony Lamb expressed frustration about the conflicting evidence. “How is the board supposed to make a decision?” he asked.

But under state law the board must make a decision within the next 30 days. Chairman Herb Goodrich appointed a three-member committee to inspect the property. The committee will compile a report that the board will review before ruling on the appeal next month.

 

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Schools to tackle equity issues (7/23/09)

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Board’s decision marks end for Frameworks Committee

July 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston School District administrators will pick up where the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee left off this past spring. Administrators have already begun working on how to best create and maintain equity within the district’s house system.

House equity was one of three issues the Frameworks Committee, a group of parents, teachers, students and community members, was asked to research beginning last year.

In a special School Board meeting on July 7, board members voted to let the administration handle the equity issue rather than bring the Frameworks Committee back in the fall. The board’s decision effectively puts an end to the committee, which began its work on school communication and configuration last July.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said it “made sense” to turn the equity piece over to the school administration.

“The timing is right,” Worth said. “They see these issues every day.”

While the Frameworks Committee met frequently on communication and configuration, the issue of house equity intertwined frequently in the group’s conversations. Through detailed notes and minutes from the committee’s meetings, administrators have picked out equity issues to address this fall, according to District Principal Walter Nardelli.

“The committee has already done a nice job on some of these issues,” Nardelli said.

Some concerns of equity brought up by the committee included perceived inequalities in core curriculum between houses, Nardelli said. Issues also ranged from class sizes and gender balances to the number and type of field trips in houses.

Nardelli said public input would be crucial to the administration’s work in the coming months. He said there would be opportunities, starting in September, for parents and teachers to weigh in on equity via the school’s Web site, www.wsdvt.org. He said he wants the public to help determine the administration’s goals.

“We’re asking, ‘How best do you see us meeting these goals?’” Nardelli said.

The administration has a deadline of late December to present the changes it wants to see for house equity to the School Board.

“If there’s some budgetary issues, it has to be done by December,” Worth explained.

Another reason the board asked the administration to look at the equity issue dealt with “fiscal responsibility,” according to Worth. She said she’d heard from community members that taxpayers should no longer fund the cost of the Frameworks Committee now that configuration has been decided.

Since last July, the district paid $42,855 to Frameworks Committee facilitator Mary Jane Shelley’s business, TriFocal Consulting, said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Shelley’s work with Williston might not be finished. Worth said she could be utilized in an advisory role as the administration works on the equity piece. Shelley had no comment to the Observer about the committee’s work over the past year or on the board’s decision. She did say she “absolutely loved working with the committee and the board.”

Worth was quick to heap praise on the committee and its members for their hard work and the amount of time they volunteered.

“We would not be where we are now without their efforts,” Worth said.

During nearly 12 months of meetings and forums, the Frameworks Committee devised recommendations on how best to improve school communication and structure. The committee was also asked to recommend changes for improved school equity. The group planned to visit the issue this spring, but the configuration debate took longer than anticipated.

In the end, the committee recommended several changes to improve communication and highlighted different configurations for the school district. Ultimately, the School Board chose to pursue so-called Option A — a configuration the committee looked at only briefly because it had been considered unfeasible earlier this year.

Option A places pre-kindergarten through second grade students at Allen Brook School and third through eighth grade students at Williston Central School.

 

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Wet summer frustrates local farmers

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    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Dairy farmer Waldo Siple Jr. (right) and his daughter, Mary, take a break from work. They and other farmers and gardeners have been dealing with the above-average rainfall and below-average temperatures in what’s turning into an atypical summer. See story below.

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Sport Notes (7/16/09)

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July 16, 2009

Reichert, Soll gain lacrosse honors

Seniors Tim Reichert and Ben Soll have earned High School Lacrosse Coaches Association awards for the past season.

Reichert was named a U.S. Lacrosse All-American, one of five players in the state so honored. He was also selected for the National Senior All-Star game.

Soll was one of five Vermonters named a Green and Gold Outstanding Player of the Year. He was also chosen for the Division 1 All-State First team, along with Reichert.

CVU hockey player in national team tryouts

It may be the middle of the summer, but last week Eric Robinson, a defensive stalwart on the Division 1 champion Champlain Valley Union High boys hockey team, was lacing up the skates in Rochester, N.Y. as one of 145 players on eight teams trying for positions on the U-17 national team.

Robinson was the only Vermonter and one of three players from northern New England named to the 10-member New England team taking part in the summer camp. Last winter he was an All-State first team member.

Stars of summer

Williston’s 9- and 10-year-old Little League All-Star Team jumped out to a fast start in the District 1 Little League All-Star Tournament. The team went undefeated through its first four games, guaranteeing a top seed going into the upcoming double elimination tournament. Williston defeated North Burlington 10-0, Center City 11-1, South Burlington 11-8 and Burlington American 5-4 in extra innings.

 

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Errors ruin Dillos hopes for undefeated season (7/16/09)

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July 16, 2009

On Sunday, the Williston Armadillos’ defense turned a ninth inning, one run lead into a two run lead for their opponent, the 7-3 Killington Saints, though Killington did not record a single hit.

“In the Armadillos’ first season (2003), we had an inning like this. Once the first error was made, it had a cascading effect. Hopefully, it will be six more years before we have another one,“ player/manager Dennis Johnson said.

To make matters worse, the Armadillos, now 10-1, continued to struggle at the plate. Only four players enjoyed multiple hits: second baseman Pete Picard (3-3, 1 RBI), center fielder Ray Danis (2-2, BB, 1 run), third baseman Pookie Martin (2-4, 1 run 1 RBI) and pitcher Bill Supple (2-4, 2B, 1 run).

Things went sour early, as the Saints plated four in the first inning. After Supple got the first two batters, the ump seemed to tighten the strike zone, calling balls on various pitches that the Dillos felt were strikes. After a walk, the next batter tapped a soft grounder to the left of the pitcher. While first baseman Johnson fielded the ball, Supple was late getting to the bag, allowing the runner safe passage. After another walk to the next batter, the next three batters singled as Supple, searching for the strike zone, grooved the ball down the center of the plate.

The lead was cut to 4-1 in the second as Bambino Fitzgerald (1-4, SAC, 2 runs, 1 RBI) reached on an error, moved to third on Picard’s single and scored on Dann Van der Vliet’s (0-2, SAC) sacrifice fly.

In the fourth, the Dillos took a 5-4 lead. Danis singled, Supple doubled and shortstop Greg Bolger (0-2, SAC, BB, 1 RBI) brought home Danis with a sacrifice fly. The Bambino, Jesse Stein (1-3) and Picard then singled, the latter two scoring runners.

Meanwhile, Supple settled into pitching and, after the first inning, shut out the Saints for the next five innings.

“After I allowed a single to the first batter in the second inning, Johnson told me to throw my game, not to change my pitch selection or location, and let the cards fall where they may,” Supple said. “That was good advice.”

Supple pitched six innings, allowing four unearned runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out three. Bolger took the hard luck loss, lowering his record to 3-1, though he gave up just two hits and one walk and all three of the runs he rendered during the three innings he pitched were also unearned.

The Dillos saw their 5-4 lead evaporate in the ninth. The first two batters reached base on a walk and an error by Stein, then playing third. The next batter bunted to sacrifice the runners ahead. When Bolger threw to third in time to get the lead runner, Stein dropped the ball, loading the bases. The score was tied when the next batter grounded into a force play at second. The following batter hit a slow grounder toward third and Bolger fielded it and threw home from his knees. Catcher Darby Crum dropped the throw, however, allowing the runner on third to score. When the ball rolled behind Crum on the slide, the runner from first attempted to take third. Crum threw to third, but Stein again misplayed the throw and the runner scampered home to put the Dillos into a two run hole.

On July 19, Williston takes on the Colchester Lakers (6-4) at Williston Central School at noon.

League standings and individual and team statistics are online at www.scorebook.com. Enter “Vermont Senior Baseball League” under league name search.

 

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Donnelly helps Vermont triumph in twin state hoop match (7/16/09)

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July 16, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Former Champlain Valley Union High basketball star John Donnelly and his 13 Vermont teammates were all smiles late Saturday afternoon, and for good reason. They had just soundly whipped the New Hampshire stars 96-85 in the Annual Merchants Bank-Rotary Twin State Classic at the University of Vermont’s Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium.

 


    File photo by Ben Sarle
John Donnelly (left), who represented Champlain Valley Union High School on Saturday in the Annual Merchants Bank-Rotary Twin State Classic, puts up a shot against North Country Union during a game on Feb. 14. The recent CVU graduate scored seven points in Vermont’s win over the squad from New Hampshire.

It was the second straight year that the Vermont team has won the boys event for graduated seniors. New Hampshire still holds an 18-11 advantage in the overall series.

“I just heard they (New Hampshire) are up something like 18-11 in the series,” a skeptical but grinning Donnelly said after the game.

For the former CVU frontcourt operator and his mates, this game was not as close as the final score and series numbers might indicate.

After holding a four-point (42-38) lead at the half, the Green Mountain gang roared out to as much as an 18-point edge late in the second half before New Hampshire, with some late three-pointers, got to within single digits with less than two minutes to go.

Donnelly was in Vermont’s starting lineup and played 15 minutes, seeing action in both halves. Early on he hit an inside hoop and follow-up free throw as Vermont opened a quick eight-point lead.

After intermission, Donnelly hit two inside shots after getting slick passes from his mates. He finished with three buckets in six tries and seven points.

“Our team was really unselfish and moved the ball very well,” Donnelly said. “We got up and down the floor. We wanted to go right at them.”

Led by Burlington High’s 6-foot-8 Clancy Rugg, Vermont held a 50-39 edge in rebounding. Rugg led everybody with 12 boards and also chipped in with 14 points, including 10-for-13 from the free throw line.

“Rugg was tough and also huge on defense,” Donnelly said.

Fast moving forward-guard Mark Comstock of Rutland High led Vermont scorers with 18 points and was named the team’s Player of the Game.

Jason Chevrefils, a 6-foot-3 inside operator from Manchester Memorial High, paced the Granite Staters with 23 points. He had 18 in the first half when he muscled his way effectively down low around the basket.

“He was really strong and very clever,” Donnelly said. “But we were able to control him in the second half.”

This fall Donnelly, who averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game for CVU last season, will attend Vassar College, where he will continue his basketball career.

N.H. girls beat Vermont’s squad

In the first game, New Hampshire’s girls tripped Vermont, 65-56, to gain a 17-12 edge in the series. There were no ex-CVU players on the team.

Former South Burlington High star Kelsey Beynnon, a familiar figure at CVU these past four winters, was the Vermont Player of the Game. She scored 12 points and hauled down three rebounds in 20 minutes. Former Spaulding High of Barre star Marissa Valez scored 10 points in 21 minutes.

 

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