July 23, 2019

Now hiring: Local companies increasing staff despite recession (8/27/09)

Aug. 27, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The economic recession has brought a difficult year for many in Williston and the  Champlain Valley. While Vermont has escaped some of the recession’s worst effects, many people have been affected by layoffs, salary cuts and a lack of high-paying jobs.

Though the job market has been slow to rebound, there are companies in Williston looking for employees. In fact, a few businesses are expanding quickly enough that they’re having trouble filling positions in a timely manner.

Across Vermont, unemployment is still high, but it’s showing slow signs of decline. On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Labor released its July unemployment numbers. Currently, 6.8 percent of the state’s workforce is unemployed, down 0.5 percent from the previous month. While some of the rise in employment can be attributed to seasonal summer jobs, some of it also comes from a growing number of permanent jobs in the state, said department spokesperson Andy Condon.

Searching through online job sites, such as craigslist.com and www.jobsinvt.com, will show several Williston businesses are looking for employees.

In Williston, hiring managers for local companies said they’re receiving higher-than-average numbers of resumes for open positions. And the message they’re sending is, “Keep them coming.”

American Income Life

The international insurance company American Income Life set up a Vermont office earlier this year in Blair Park and has been busy filling available positions. The company hired 10 people in recent months and is looking for more.

“We need to be have at least three managers and 25 employees by December,” said John Cochrane, the Vermont office’s manager.

American Income Life, or AIL, is one of the largest insurance companies in North America. It handles customers strictly within unions and other member-only organizations.

Cochrane explained the company is looking for individuals interested in what he described as “entrepreneurial opportunities.” Employees earn money through performance and by the number of families that sign onto one of AIL’s insurance policies, he said.

Cochrane said the ideal candidate for the job is someone who’s not afraid to take risks and work hard.

“As long as you go to work, you will make money,” Cochrane said. “We want people who want more out of life.”

After an extensive interview process, AIL employees must then earn a Vermont insurance license before going through company training.

Cochrane said there is high potential for growth within the company, especially since the AIL Vermont branch plans to open offices in New Hampshire and Maine in the future.

For more information, visit www.aillife.com or call the Vermont branch at 264-9755.

Hampton Direct Inc.

After moving to its new headquarters in the former KBA North America building on Hurricane Lane last month, Hampton Direct Inc. is hiring for six positions; plans are also in place to open up six more positions in the coming months.

Hampton Direct is an international distribution company, famous for its Wonder Hanger and Draft Guard products.

According to the company’s Web site, Hampton Direct is looking for a customer service specialist, a retail sales manager and a supply chain manager. Human Resources Director Mary Wylde said last month the company routinely receives resumes from around the country, but has hired Vermonters much of the time.

“We’re seeing a high quality of candidates apply, which hasn’t always been the case,” Wylde said.

For more information and job descriptions, visit the company’s Web site at www.hampton-direct.com.

U.S. Census

There is also short-term and part-time work available throughout Williston. The U.S. Census office in the White Cap Business Park is looking to hire close to 800 people statewide starting early next year. But those interested in census positions should contact the office soon to schedule a mandatory exam this fall.

The census office’s recruiting manager, Ellen Biddle, said the majority of those hired will be field operatives. The position will require people to visit homes of individuals who did not return a census form through the mail. Next year’s job will help give the government the most accurate population count for 2010.

To qualify for a census job, applicants must first complete a 30-minute, 28-question test. Biddle said the test is a “general knowledge” exam and that Vermonters have a very high pass rate. Once the test is passed, census managers will assign the employee to a certain position.

Pay rates range from $13.50 to $17 an hour, depending on the position, Biddle said.

“That’s terrific pay for work in this area,” she added.

Census operations are due to wrap up by December 2010.

For more information, visit www.2010.census.gov.


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Champlain Oil wins DRB approval (8/27/09)

Aug. 27, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Champlain Oil Company Inc. presented improved plans for a new office center and fleet fueling facility to the Development Review Board on Tuesday night. The South Burlington-based company is looking to move its main operations to Marshall Avenue in Williston in the near future.

After Champlain Oil’s presentation, the Development Review Board unanimously approved a pre-application permit for the site. The company will bring more detailed plans to the board for a discretionary permit at a later date.

At a meeting in April, the board expressed concern over the proximity of the fueling tanks and pumps to an area of wetlands and an unnamed tributary of the Muddy Brook.

In the new plans, architects modified the site plan to allow for the pump locations to move slightly away from the wetlands. The pavement around the fleet fueling facility will be “warped” to ensure any stormwater runoff will flow into the company’s own management area and not into wetlands or tributaries, said project engineer Scott Homsted of Krebs & Lansing Consulting Engineers.

Members of the board seemed in favor of the changes and the efforts undertaken by Champlain Oil to design a site sensitive to wetlands issues. Members of the Conservation Commission, however, still expressed reservations about the project.

Senior Planner Matt Boulanger told the board the commission wanted to have the wetlands at the site professionally delineated again, and that Champlain Oil should enhance the buffer zone around the tributary and wetlands. Company spokesperson Paul Wamsganz said much of what the commission recommended could be enacted.

The proposed commercial complex for Champlain Oil would be located off Marshall Avenue near the entrance of Shunpike Road. According to plans, the site takes up two lots totaling a little more than eight acres.

Besides the fleet fueling facility, the site would feature a two-story office center, storage and maintenance buildings, according to plans. There would also be onsite parking for office workers and fueling truck storage.

Champlain Oil currently has a smaller fueling facility on Avenue C off Industrial Avenue for use by its trucks and other commercial trucking companies.

The fueling facilities allow Champlain Oil trucks to fill their gas tanks at wholesale costs. The company also allows other commercial operators to use the station for wholesale fuel, Wamsganz said at the April meeting.

Champlain Oil, which has been in business for more than 50 years, serves homes and businesses throughout Vermont and parts of New Hampshire and New York.


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Town wins $101,000 paving grant (8/27/09)

But economic stimulus funding rejected

Aug. 27, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Motorists will have a smoother cruise on Oak Hill Road in coming months, thanks to a six-figure state paving grant. But no money for roadwork will be forthcoming from the federal economic stimulus program.


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Cracks spread across Oak Hill Road, which is expected to be repaved this fall.

The town recently learned it would receive $101,481 from the state to repave a 1.1-mile stretch of Oak Hill Road, which links Williston Village to Hinesburg. The segment to be paved runs southward from the Interstate 89 overpass to near the intersection of Old Creamery Road.

The money will fund 70 percent of the project, with the town picking up the remaining $44,000, said Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

Paving is expected to take place this fall. Boyden said the town has already rebuilt culverts along the route.

The project continues the process of repaving Oak Hill Road, parts of which have received fresh asphalt in previous years. It is one of a number of roads that have been or will be repaved this summer and fall, including Industrial Avenue, Marshall Avenue and Mountain View Road.

Plans for improving or building other roads, sidewalks and recreation paths, however, will await additional funding after the town’s efforts to obtain federal economic stimulus money were rejected.

The town had sought a total of $3.9 million in stimulus funding for building new sidewalks along Vermont 2A and Mountain View Road, paving parts of Mountain View Road and Marshall Avenue and constructing a new street named Trader Lane near Taft Corners.

Some of the projects, like the new street, were eliminated early in the review process, which weeded out proposals that could not be completed within 180 days. More recently, the town was informed that the remaining projects were not selected by a committee comprised of legislators, state agency representatives and municipal officials.

State officials had said that many projects would fail to make the cut because there was not nearly enough money to go around. Roughly $130 million in federal stimulus funding received by Vermont had been set aside for transportation projects, but requests for funding exceeded $500 million.

Boyden acknowledged that failing to secure any federal money was a letdown, noting the “hours and hours” spent preparing applications.

But he also said that other grants, combined with town funding, will allow some of the projects to move forward anyway.

For example, on Vermont 2A, a length of recreation path north of James Brown Drive will be funded in part by one state grant the town has already received and another it hopes to win next year. On Mountain View Road, the town will use a voter-approved bond to build a recreation path between North Williston and Old Stage roads.


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Final year for Allen Brook trailers (8/27/09)

DRB approves plan to remove temporary classrooms

Aug. 27, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

After a year of frustration, debate and various master plans, the fate of the Allen Brook School modular classrooms has finally been decided.


    File photo
Temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School, which are housed in trailers pictured above, will be removed after the upcoming school year.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Development Review Board approved a final master plan that will ensure the temporary classrooms be removed from the school next August.

“This is the master plan we’ve been waiting for,” board Chairman Kevin McDermott said.

District Principal Walter Nardelli presented the plan to the board, highlighting how the school will shift student populations between Allen Brook and Williston Central School next summer. The configuration changes will make the modular classrooms obsolete, Nardelli said.

As part of the master plan, the Development Review Board extended a temporary building permit for the site. The permit was due to expire in February, but the board agreed to extend it until August 2010 to finish out the school year and to allow for site improvements.

“They wouldn’t want to do this in the middle of the school year,” said Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning director.

Once the trailers are removed, plans call for returning the site to previous conditions. The ground will be top soiled, seeded and mulched. An existing sidewalk will be extended to improve student access from the school to the bus stop.

The school district hopes to have a buyer for the temporary classrooms before they’re removed next year. Nardelli said Charlotte Central School is working on renovations beginning next year and that town’s School Board has expressed interest in the trailers.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Nardelli explained how the final configuration option voted on by the Williston School Board in June, called Option A, will allow for the removal of the modular classrooms.

Option A will place pre-kindergarten through second grade students at Allen Brook, while grades three through eight will be at Williston Central. Nardelli told the board the move would reduce the population at Allen Brook from 474 to 385 students. Allen Brook’s capacity without the trailers is 400 students, Nardelli explained.

Williston Central currently has 692 students, Nardelli said. Speaking to the DRB, Nardelli estimated there will be 741 students when Option A takes effect next year. The building’s capacity is 950 students.

But numbers provided by Nardelli at the meeting show there will be 781 students at Williston Central for the 2010-2011 school year. Reached for clarification after the meeting, Nardelli stood by the number of 741, saying that he expected enrollment to decline.

The final student population numbers were “part of the reasoning for Option A,” Nardelli told the board.

Although McDermott questioned the administration’s math after the meeting, he said this master plan will do.

“This is what we’ve been telling them for years,” McDermott said. “Work within the space you have.”

The modular classrooms have a “long history” in Williston, as Belliveau said Tuesday night. Allen Brook students moved into the modular classrooms during the 2002-2003 school year. The classrooms were meant to be a temporary solution for increasing enrollment until another wing of Allen Brook could be built.

As enrollment leveled off and then decreased, the district decided against building an Allen Brook addition. Instead, the Development Review Board granted a second temporary building permit for the classrooms in 2006.

According to the 2006 permit’s conditions of approval, school officials were to return to the board in February 2008 with a master plan of what to do with the site. Administration and School Board members did not meet with the Development Review Board until September of last year.

At previous Development Review Board meetings, members of the board said several times they did not intend to renew a temporary building permit for the classrooms. As a result, the administration formed plans to make the classrooms more permanent, moving them to another location at the school and building a new wing.

As Nardelli told the board Tuesday, Option A ends the debate of the modular classrooms.

“It solves our problems,” he said.


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Policy restrains town workers online behavior (8/27/09)

Selectboard considers new rules on technology use

Aug. 27, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

New rules that would regulate municipal workers’ use of e-mail and cell phones and limit off-color communication on social networking sites are being considered by the town of Williston.

The town’s first technology use policy was discussed at length during Monday night’s Selectboard meeting before being sent back to staff for revisions.

The four-page policy casts a wide net, addressing old-school telephone communication and newer technology such as Facebook and YouTube. Much of it formalizes rules already familiar to most private and public employees.

For example, the policy limits telephone and e-mail use to work-related matters, except for brief personal calls and occasional e-mail messages from home. When using the town’s computer system, employees cannot distribute confidential data, illegally copy software or send sexually explicit images or messages.

But the policy also includes a separate section governing use of social networking sites and blogs.

Employees who identify themselves as town workers on Facebook, for example, must be respectful and avoid vulgar language, the policy states. Personal Web sites and blogs cannot be used “to disparage the town, employees/officials of the town, or the public,” nor can they be used to discuss drug use or other illegal activities.

Such a policy has long been planned but kept getting delayed by more pressing matters, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. Work on it finally started when Beth Nolan, a Williston resident and University of Vermont graduate with a master’s degree in public administration, inquired about internship possibilities. McGuire suggested she draft a technology use policy.

McGuire said there has been no major online embarrassment or security breach — yet.

“I like to anticipate things if I can and maybe prevent them,” he said.

Most of the policy would likely pass legal muster, said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, who reviewed a copy of the policy.

“I don’t think there’s anything here out of the ordinary,” Gilbert said.

Still, he said a couple of provisions raise concerns.

The section dealing with social networking could be interpreted as forbidding speech that would otherwise enjoy First Amendment protection, he said. Such rules restricting off-duty activities are only constitutional when an employee clearly states his place of employment.

One part of the policy does say that it applies to those who identify themselves as town employees, but Gilbert said later language leaves open the possibility that such conduct is prohibited whether or not the employee says he works for Williston.

Also troubling are enforcement provisions, he said. The policy allows the town manager or his designee to review violations “on a case by case basis.” Gilbert said such open-ended language can lead to arbitrary enforcement.

McGuire said anticipating every possible situation is difficult, so the policy was written broadly to allow discretion. He said the policy tries to ensure employees don’t engage in private conduct that compromises their ability to carry out public duties.

The policy also addresses an issue that has become settled case law in the computer age.

“Employees should have no expectation of privacy regarding anything created, sent or received on the town computer system, including work related items sent on the town computer system through personal laptops,” the policy states.

“It’s almost quaint these days for employers to set up rules saying they have access to data,” Gilbert said, noting that courts have repeatedly ruled that employees have no privacy rights when using work computers.

The Selectboard, however, did not discuss the privacy and free-speech issues raised by the policy. Members instead focused on safety, debating a provision that requires the use of hands-free cellular phones when driving town vehicles.

The rule was strongly opposed by some department heads, Nolan told the board. They felt that cellular phones were essential tools for some employees.

Judy Sassorossi argued for an even stricter rule that would forbid all cell phone use while driving. She said evidence shows that talking on phones — hand-free or not — is unsafe.

“It looks pretty bad if a town employee driving a town vehicle … is distracted when talking on a cell phone,” she said. “And the liability is huge.”

Other board members, however, were not willing to ban cell phone use while driving. The board instead agreed to add language saying the practice should be avoided when operating a town vehicle.

The board directed staff to make other minor revisions to the policy. Those changes would give the town manager or his designee authority to review software additions to the town’s computer system and to permit individual departments to adopt additional technology policies.

McGuire said the board will consider the revised policy at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 21.


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Teacher contract negotiations imminent (8/27/09)

Aug. 27, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The current economic climate may play a significant role in teacher contract negotiations, which are due to start this school year. When the Williston School Board meets on Sept. 2 for its first meeting of the school year, contracts will be one of the main topics discussed, board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said.

The current Chittenden South Supervisory Union teacher contract expires in June 2010 and Worth said negotiations could take much of the school year. It’s a process she said is important for the benefit of teachers and the community.

This year’s negotiations come in the face of an economic recession. With money tight for residents as well as schools and municipalities, Worth expects people to pay close attention to what is agreed upon in a new contract.

“I think everybody realizes these are very difficult times,” Worth said.

CSSU Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said the recession will be a major factor when school board and Chittenden South Education Association representatives sit down later in the school year to discuss contracts.

“I think we’re all hoping this goes smoothly,” Pinckney said. “I think if we can stay focused on what’s best for the kids, then I don’t believe we’ll have any major problems.”

The Chittenden South Education Association is the union to which teachers in CSSU belong. No one from the association could be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Contract negotiations last took place during the 2006-2007 school year. Negotiations at that time took more than a year and extended beyond the previous contract’s expiration date of July 1, 2007. Teachers then worked without a contract until the current one was ratified in October 2007.

Disagreements over salaries and health care proved to be the biggest stumbling blocks two years ago. Worth believes those two issues will again be the most discussed topics in the coming months.

“Health insurance especially is still one of those big, key issues,” Worth said.

Worth and fellow board member Keith Roy were the Williston School Board’s representatives during CSSU contract negotiations in 2006 and 2007.

Under the current contract, teacher contributions to health insurance plans are 12 percent.

As for salaries, individual pay increases vary depending on educational background and experience. But CSSU’s budget for salary increases has hovered around 4 percent since ratification of the current contract.

Worth said she’s been carefully watching contract negotiations in other districts, notably Winooski and Chittenden East Supervisory Union. Teachers in CESU said they may strike after the district’s school boards imposed a contract in June after negotiations broke down.

“These are hard times and it’s important to see how other districts around us are handling it,” Worth said.

Pinckney is hopeful that CSSU’s negotiations don’t break down the way Chittenden East and Winooski’s have.

“We certainly don’t anticipate that’s going to happen,” Pinckney said, referring to imposing a contract.

Worth said she expects to receive a letter from the Chittenden South Education Association in November detailing what the teachers want in a new contract. Meetings will then begin and likely last into 2010.


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Board OKs lower speeds on U.S. 2 (8/27/09)

State approval still needed for 30 mph limit

Aug. 27, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Selectboard on Monday signed off on a lower speed limit in Williston Village, despite concerns the change could collide with efforts to improve a traffic-clogged intersection.

The board unanimously agreed with a recent traffic study’s recommended 30 mph speed limit on U.S. 2 between Old Stage Road and Johnson Lane. In addition to the 5 mph reduction, there would also be a “transition zone” east of Johnson Lane where the limit would be 40 mph before finally changing to 50 mph. The changes need state approval before going into effect.

The speed limit decision grew out of the controversy surrounding the board’s vote to install a roundabout at the village’s central intersection, where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads. A majority of the board felt the roundabout would best reduce frequent commute-hours backups.

The nearly $1 million project would be eligible for federal funding because of the high number of accidents — 25 during a five-year period — at the intersection.

But many residents were aghast, saying the change was unnecessary and would hurt the historic character of the village. Hundreds signed a petition opposing the decision.

The board refused to backtrack on the roundabout but agreed to a traffic study to determine whether speeding was contributing to the high accident rate.

Board member Chris Roy worried about “shooting ourselves in the foot” because the new speed limit could reduce accidents and thus eliminate funding for the roundabout.

“Either we’ll find out it’s still not safe and we just delayed things for two years, or we’ll find out safety is improved and we just lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that would help alleviate the congestion at the intersection.”

Roy later added, “I’m not going to root for lots of collisions in order to maintain funding. But the unintended consequence is that we’ll be looking at footing a lot more of the bill.”

Other board members seconded his concern. Judy Sassorossi noted a similar situation occurred at Vermont 2A and Marshall Avenue. When right turns were prohibited, she said, the accident rate fell and intersection improvements were no longer considered necessary.

Jeff Fehrs wondered if the next logical step would be to rescind the roundabout decision. He said the “dialogue” with opponents was not yet finished.

“How can we have a dialogue when we don’t have any more information than we had in the past?” asked Chairman Terry Macaig, an apparent reference to the idea of waiting to see if a speed limit change would improve safety before reconsidering the roundabout. “If we have the same information, we’d make the same decision.”

The traffic study conducted by the Agency of Transportation looked at vehicle speeds and accident rates on U.S. 2 in the village. It found there had been 50 crashes from 2004 through the end of 2008 despite the fact that most motorists were traveling at or near the speed limit.

Speed limits are primarily based on the speed at which 85 percent of all motorists actually drive. But the study concluded that because of other factors — the high accident rate, traffic volume and the presence of pedestrians — a lower limit was merited.

The study also recommended moving the 40 mph speed limit sign on the westbound side of U.S. 2 to the corner of Old Stage Road. But board member Judy Sassorossi said it made more sense to have that speed limit increase occur after the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, where vehicles enter and exit a parking lot located on a steep hill.

The board, as part of its approval of the reduced speed limit, agreed to ask the state to consider that departure from the traffic study’s recommendations.

Now the three-member Vermont Traffic Committee, headed by Transportation Secretary David Dill, will decide whether to approve the speed limit reduction. The committee has the final say on speed limits on state roads.

The proposal could be heard as soon as the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 3.


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Bloomin’ summer days

    Observer photos by Stephanie Choate
Sunflowers bloom at Paquette Full of Posies.

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Sports Notes (8/20/09)

Aug. 20, 2009

Vermont Lightning goes 2-3 at girls U.S. National Championship

Vermont Lightning U14 Girls Basketball team concluded its 2009 season by earning an invitation to attend and compete in the United States Nationals in Hampton, Virginia.

The girls finished the tournament with 2 wins and 3 losses, competing against some of the finest talent from throughout the country. Defeating teams from both Florida and Virginia, the team lost to eventual champion Maryland Storm by 12 points.

The Lightning team finished the season with an overall record of 31 wins and 11 losses.  Together they captured 4 Northeast Regional AAU tournaments and for the second consecutive year the Vermont AAU State Championship played at UVM in early May.

Team members include Isabella Esposito, Ali Wells, Liz Maglione (Essex), Kari Lavalette, Sofia Lozon, Taylor Goldsborough (Williston) Elana Bayer-Pacht (Hinesburg), Sara Sayles (Bristol), Lydia Stearns (Lincoln), and Caroline Limanek, Lazrin Schenck (Shelburne). Coaches are Mike Wells and Jessie Brosseau.

CVU football gold cards on sale starting Aug. 21

The 2009-10 CVU Football Gold Cards will be on sale Aug. 21 through Sept. 1. These valuable discount cards provide significant savings at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Mexicali Restaurant and twenty other local local participating businesses. Cost of the card is $20 and they are valid from Sept. 1, 2009 through Aug. 31, 2010. Parents with children participating in sports will find the card valuable year round.

 Proceeds from the sales of these cards go to support the football program at CVU high school, with over 85 student-athletes participating this fall.  

 To get your CVU Gold Card, contact a CVU football player in your neighborhood; or you can request that a player bring one to your door by e-mailing your name, address and phone number to booster@cvuredhawksfootball.com. Another option is to call and leave a message at 233-4322.

 For more information about the CVU football program, visit www.cvuredhawksfootball.org.


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Smith makes semifinals in Stone Tennis Tournament (8/20/09)

Aug. 20, 2009

Cassie Smith graduated from Champlain Valley Union High last spring after taking a second consecutive Vermont high school girls’singles crown and helping the Redhawks to the Division 1 team title.

 This past weekend, Smith was front and center in the prestigious Jeff Stone Memorial Tennis Tournament and made it through two rounds to the women’s open semifinals before bowing out.

In Saturday’s semis, Smith lost 6-4 and 7-5 to Danika Robison who is a South Burlington native now playing tennis for Skidmore College.

–Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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