July 18, 2019

Little Details (9/24/09)

Chasing dinosaurs

Sept. 24, 2009

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

There’s a dinosaur in my mailbox. It’s not a tyrannosaurus rex or a brontosaurus. My dinosaur has grown lighter, smaller over time with less “meat” clinging to its fossilizing bones. Blemishes appear with increasing frequency on its remaining bits of skin. I consider myself a paleontologist among a dying breed. My dinosaur is a printed daily newspaper.

I grew up in a house with limited newsprint. My sisters and I read cereal boxes at the breakfast table. I devoured the scant text, including ingredients, on Cap’n Crunch and Cheerios boxes, scrounging for words long before my bowl emptied. Books were discouraged at the breakfast table.

My dad sometimes bought a Boston Herald at Chet’s Corner Store after church on Sundays. I inhaled the comics — Peanuts was my favorite — along with fresh bulky rolls slathered in butter while “Litwin’s Polka Hour” blared on the AM radio.

In high school, my Contemporary Affairs teacher, Mr. Oleks, collected enormous stacks of tattered Boston Globe newspapers. Each day, upon arriving to class, we received one to read for homework before passing it on to a classmate the next day. “Current news” morphed into “recent history” depending on the age of the copy unearthed from the pile. It didn’t matter. Mr. Oleks simply wanted to get us in the habit of reading a daily newspaper.

I’d skim and zero in on two sections: obituaries and a column penned by Mike Barnicle. Reading obituaries proved a logical extension of my interest in history and biography. Lessons can be culled from other people’s lives. Obituaries offer a snapshot of a life lived — with gentle quietness or extravagance — instructive to readers.

Mike Barnicle drew me in with stories of Bostonians’ struggles to make ends meet. I vividly remember one on the plight of seniors living in a high rise with a broken elevator. Images of elders lugging grocery bags up multiple flights of stairs made a strong impression on me. I felt betrayed when, years later, Barnicle resigned amid charges of plagiarism. My challenge, in writing this column, is to offer words reflecting my honest perception without compromising truth.

By college, newspapers accompanied me on early morning jaunts to the cafeteria. I’d set the morning news aside when later-sleeping dorm mates surfaced for their share of corn flakes and toast. Later, in graduate school, the professor I worked for kept referencing New York Times articles, assuming I read them. I remember thinking, “I guess I should be reading that newspaper.” And so, I did.

My family receives several newspapers, including this one. Breakfast finds us sleepily hunched over weather and world events. Sundays we gather up our stash to linger over in a Burlington coffeehouse after church. I leave out articles or tear out photos that may be of particular interest to my daughter. I remember a story of a young girl in Afghanistan during Taliban rule who dressed as a boy when girls were forbidden to attend school. I want my daughter to learn of such stories.

Early morning, while still in bed, I sometimes listen for the “stop go, stop go” rhythm of our delivery person’s car or the reassuring tap of a Boston Globe landing on my front porch. I creep downstairs and scoop up the tangible time capsule. I like the smell of paper, the newsprint that clings to my fingers. I’m a visual, tactile learner. Interacting with the newspaper and tearing out articles helps me remember. Each edition is like a box of chocolates, each page revealing a new story.

Newspapers are experiencing a major paradigm shift. Some are successfully riding the Internet wave, enhancing online presence as they reach for younger audiences where print newspaper readership has fallen. Others, squeezed by declining advertising revenue, produce smaller, slimmer copy while operating with skeletal staffs.

Ernest Hemingway and Nellie Bly were supported by their editors to engage in time-intensive, costly investigative journalism that revealed deeper truths. Hemingway went to war. Bly checked into an insane asylum, exposing inhumane treatment of the mentally ill that led to reforms. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke Watergate. Will we see less of that over time? I wonder. It’s cheaper to pick up homogenized news from wire services.

As daily newspapers change, enhance online presence and, in some cases, disappear, I fear I’ll be the dinosaur at the breakfast table, reading by the blue glow of my laptop, longing for the spirits of newspapers past.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com or editor@willistonobserver.com.


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Letters to the Editor (9/24/09)

Expediting the Circ

I would like to suggest changing the name of the Circ Highway to Leahy/Sanders Highway. This might speed up the build process.

Rod Hood, Williston


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Guest Column (9/24/09)

Recognizing a health care victory

Sept. 24, 2009

By Judy Bevans

It has been a tough summer for reasoned debate, the democratic process and health care. Many of us are worried that the president will not be able to keep one of his major promises: affordable health care accessible to all. We worry that conservatives will demand more and more compromises on major elements of the health care package.

For most of us, this fight is not so much about policy or politics — it’s personal. And if we’re disappointed on health care this fall, that disappointment will be personal, too.

It’s personal for the 72 percent of Americans who understand that the patchwork of profit centers posing as a health care “system” isn’t working for anyone except the insurance companies. It’s even personal for the protestors screaming at legislators in Town Hall meetings: They’re afraid they’ll lose the little they’ve got.

We ask each other, “How can Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress fail us on health care? How can there not be universal access, single payer, a public option, tighter regulation to prevent insurance company abuses?” We are looking in the wrong direction in assigning responsibility for obstruction and being too shortsighted to recognize a victory when it is within our grasp.

As Samuel Adams said, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.” The sickness profiteers have been setting those brushfires so they can continue to make obscene incomes from denying health care to people who have paid their premiums in good faith. They are responsible for whatever degree the health care bill does not measure up to our highest hopes for real change.

But we must look beyond assigning responsibility for obstructionism to the Republicans and their corporate allies.

First, we ourselves need to do everything we can do to show our support for health insurance reform and for President Barack Obama, who put it on the national agenda. We need to mobilize so that the 72 percent of us who want reform are not out-shouted by the 28 percent frightened by it. We are the only cure for Congressional “spine flu.” We need to participate in meetings, e-mail our senators and congressman and talk to our neighbors armed with real information to counter the myths propagated by reform opponents.

Second, we must remember that the democratic process always produces compromises. When Social Security finally passed in 1935, it didn’t cover many teachers, nurses, hospital workers, librarians and social workers, among others. It wasn’t implemented for two years. And by the way, the first recipient of monthly Social Security benefits (in 1940) was Vermonter Ida May Fuller of Ludlow.

The Social Security Act of 1935 was the beginning of a program now seen as essential to any civilized society caring for its elders. It has been modified almost 50 times since then, including the addition of Medicare in 1965, 30 years later.

Whatever health care reform bill passes Congress this year, even when it falls short of our most serious needs and strongest ideals, is a victory — and we Democrats need to claim it as a victory. That bill will be the foundation that will allow us to build something better as time goes on. By shepherding an insurance reform bill through Congress this year, President Obama will have achieved something that eluded Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

And that, friends, is a victory.

President Obama has stood up for the America we want to live in, and now we need to do the same. We won’t give up on getting the best bill possible, we’ll work without ceasing, and we’ll recognize and claim victory when it comes.

And later on, we’ll make the Health Insurance Reform Act of 2009 a program that comes closer and closer to meeting America’s real health care needs.

Judy Bevans is the chairwoman of the Vermont Democratic Party.


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Truck totaled in Oak Hill Road accident (9/24/09)

Williston Police, Williston Fire and rescue personnel responded to Oak Hill Road Tuesday morning after a pickup truck left the road and crashed into nearby trees.


    Photo courtesy of Williston Fire Department
Williston firefighters respond to a car accident on Oak Hill Road on Tuesday morning.

The Chevrolet Silverado’s driver, Jake Sessions, 20, of Essex, sustained multiple injuries from the accident and was transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care by St. Michael’s College Rescue, according to reports from the police and fire departments.

Fire Chief Ken Morton said it appeared Sessions became nauseous while driving north on Oak Hill Road and lost control of the vehicle. After crashing into numerous shrubs and trees, the truck sustained heavy front-end and back-end damage.

“The truck was absolutely trashed,” Morton said.

Fire crews and emergency responders extracted Sessions from the vehicle by removing the driver-side and passenger-side doors.

Twelve firefighters responded to the call, which came in at 7:47 a.m. In a press release, Williston Police said the accident remains under investigation. Police do not believe alcohol was a factor.

— Tim Simard, Observer staff


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Companies complaints prompt lower utility fees (9/24/09)

Town wants to charge for buried lines

Sept. 24, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Amid opposition from utility companies, town staff has reduced proposed fees for installation of underground lines.

The fees are intended to defray costs incurred by the town and its contractors when they work around utility lines buried in the public right-of-way next to roads and highways. Officials say dodging underground electrical wires and gas pipelines can increase municipal costs for building new sidewalks or laying water and sewer pipes.

But Vermont Gas Systems, the state’s only natural gas supplier, complained that the fees would drive up rates and could make extending service to some new locations financially unfeasible. Green Mountain Power, which supplies electricity to about a quarter of the state’s population, has also opposed the fees, which the company said would be passed on to ratepayers.

Their opposition caught the ear of the Williston Selectboard, which must approve the ordinance regulating underground utilities. After considering the original proposal in July, it asked staff to further consult with utility companies to ensure the fees were reasonable. Public Works Director Neil Boyden then talked again to utilities, consulted with an engineering firm and reviewed the fees. He concluded that charges should be lower for so-called directional boring, where lines are installed parallel to the ground to minimize surface disruption.

“This fee was reduced to encourage more utility companies to move toward the directional boring method of construction,” Boyden wrote in a memo. “The end result remains the same; we have an underground utility to deal with in the future. But there is far less disturbance to the right-of-way surface during the construction phase.”

In an interview, Boyden acknowledged that the town’s costs remain the same regardless of how utility lines are installed. But he said directional boring is worth encouraging because it creates fewer problems during installation, such as muddy stormwater runoff into area streams.

The revised proposal keeps the $1.75-per-linear-foot charge for burying utility lines the traditional way by digging a trench, but reduces the fee to $1 a linear foot if directional boring is used.

Williston now charges a refundable deposit of $600 each time a utility company installs a new line along public rights-of-way, roughly a 12-foot strip bordering each side of town roads.

Under the new rules, utilities must pay a $100 permit fee and a $100 inspection fee, which are not refundable, in addition to the excavation charges.

The Selectboard considered the revised ordinance and fees on Monday. Jim Condos, a spokesman for Vermont Gas Systems, told the board that his company had no problem with the permitting and inspection fees but still opposed the lower excavation charges. He also asserted that the town failed to prove that buried lines increase the price of town projects.

But a letter distributed to the board from the Essex Junction engineering firm Forcier Aldrich & Associates indicated otherwise.

Wayne Elliott, the company’s vice president, wrote that working around buried lines can slow repairs to culverts, for example, driving up costs by as much as 50 percent. When a new water or sewer line needs to be installed, he said, it can cost 25 percent to 50 percent more if underground utilities are present.

In his memo, Boyden cited a sidewalk project on Vermont 2A just north of Taft Corners as one example of increased costs. He said that dealing with underground utilities drove up the project’s price by $6,240.

Another revision to the ordinance as originally proposed allows utility companies to pay fees on a monthly or annual basis, a change Vermont Gas had sought.

Condos told the board that the provision conflicted with another section of the ordinance that requires excavation to halt until fees are paid when it moves beyond what was permitted in advance.

Because that conflict could prompt further changes to language in the ordinance — and also because of the earlier fee revisions — the town is required under state statute to hold another public hearing before the Selectboard can vote on the proposal. The hearing will take place at a future board meeting.


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Selectboard approves technology policy (9/24/09)

Rules govern town workers’ online behavior

Sept. 24, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town employees must minimize cell phone use while driving and watch what they say online under a new technology use policy passed Monday by the Williston Selectboard.

The policy sets rules for both well-established means of communication such as telephones and e-mail and newer technology such as Facebook and YouTube. It governs their use while municipal employees are at work and even in some cases during off-duty hours.

The Selectboard briefly discussed the policy before approving it. Board members had reviewed a draft of the four-page document last month and asked for minor revisions and one weightier change: stricter rules on cell phone use while driving.

“To the extent possible, Town employees should avoid the use of cell phones or undertake activities that might distract attention from the road while driving town vehicles or a personal vehicle on town business,” the revised language states. “If it becomes necessary to use a cell phone, employees must use a ‘hands-free’ feature of the phone while driving.”

The revision, which added the language encouraging employees to forgo cell phone use while driving, represents a compromise. Some department heads opposed restrictions, saying that cell phones are essential tools for employees. Board member Judy Sassorossi wanted an outright ban on cell phone use when driving, asserting that studies show it is dangerous.

Board member Jeff Fehrs raised new concerns on Monday about provisions of the policy governing use of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Employees who identify themselves as town workers on the Internet must be respectful and avoid vulgar language, the policy says. Personal Web sites and blogs cannot “disparage the town, employees/officials of the town, or the public,” nor can they be used to discuss illegal activities. The rules apply even to off-duty hours.

But Fehrs said the policy should also strongly discourage if not forbid use of social networking sites when at work.

“Social networking is what I view my kids do for far too long, and what I view as having very dubious value,” he said, drawing chuckles from the board.

“Now they get a huge value out of it for sure,” Fehrs added. “It is the way a whole generation communicates. I just want to make sure we are condoning only professionally related use.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the policy, by regulating what is said and done online by town employees regardless of whether they are off-duty or not, avoids inappropriate or embarrassing conduct.

“There’s a limitation on what they can be doing,” McGuire said. “Because they are essentially representing themselves as an employee, there’s a different standard.”

Nonetheless, Fehrs said he could not vote for the policy without further restrictions on social networking. He abstained, but the policy still passed with a 3-0 vote.

Much of the policy mirrors long-established rules in other workplaces in the private and public sectors.

For example, employees “have no expectation of privacy” when it comes to e-mail or other content on town computers, the policy states. It notes that e-mail and other information stored on town computers may be open to public scrutiny under Vermont’s Public Records Law.

Employees are supposed to limit e-mail use to an occasional message to or from home. They cannot distribute confidential data, illegally copy software or send sexually explicit images or messages.

The policy allows the town manager or his designee to review violations. Employees who break the rules are subject to undefined penalties determined by the town manager “up to and including termination.”


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Alleged molester could face additional charges (9/24/09)

Sept. 24, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

More charges could be coming for the Williston resident accused of drugging and molesting a 13-year-old girl.

Robert Kolibas, 50, allegedly drugged the girl, a friend of his daughter, then fondled her during a sleepover at his house in May. Kolibas is charged with three felonies: lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, second degree unlawful restraint and giving a drug to a minor. He has been held without bail since July.

“We anticipate filing more charges,” Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said Tuesday.

Donovan remained tight-lipped regarding the details of the possible charges, but did say they might involve more victims. He would not comment if the possible charges were related to an investigation into the contents of cameras and computers seized from the Kolibas home before the suspect’s arrest.

In the alleged victim’s statement, she says Kolibas may have been taking pictures of her during the alleged molestation.

Donovan did not say when the additional charges may be filed.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kolibas’ public defenders and the prosecution had a status conference before Judge Michael Kupersmith. Margaret Jansch, one of Kolibas’ attorneys, told the judge she was lining up experts, including a psychologist and pharmacologist, to testify if the case goes to trial.

The state is lining up similar experts for a possible trial, Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Hardin told Kupersmith.

In an effort to move the case along, Kupersmith set due dates for both sides, hoping to get a trial under way no later than January. The prosecution and defense must disclose the identities of the experts in two weeks, Kupersmith said.

“This is a high-priority case,” Kupersmith told the court.

Police allege that Kolibas molested the teen during a sleepover at his house on May 30. The girl told police the fondling occurred in the middle of the night while she slept next to Kolibas’ daughter. Earlier in the night, the alleged victim said, Kolibas made her and his daughter a smoothie drink that tasted “funny,” according to the police affidavit.

After the girl and her mother alerted authorities to the alleged assault, the girl tested positive for benzodiazepine, a sedative, in a urine test at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Kolibas fled to Maine on May 31 before charges were filed. A Maine police officer apprehended Kolibas on a Chittenden County warrant the next day.

Kolibas is listed on Florida’s sex offender registry for four cases of providing and attempting to provide obscene material to a minor in 1995. According to Florida court documents, Kolibas had adjudication of guilt withheld in the cases. He did not tell the state about the offenses when he moved to Vermont in the past decade..


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Company forced to downsize following suspected embezzlement (9/24/09)

Sept. 24, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

After discovering that a former employee allegedly embezzled tens of thousands of dollars over a four-year period, a local sporting goods company has decided to shut down the retail portion of its business.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
New Horizons in Sports, pictured above on Adams Drive, plans to cease retail operations this month following charges of embezzlement against a former employee.


    Courtesy photo
Patrick Taze Huntley allegedly embezzled more than $44,000 from New Horizons over a period of more than four years.

New Horizons in Sports, located off U.S. 2 on Adams Drive, is closing its athletic clothing and equipment retail store this month, but will continue as an embroidery and screen-printing business, according Nancy Johnson, who co-owns the store with her husband, Les Johnson. The store’s Internet business, located at www.newhorizonssoccer.com, will also continue, she added.

According to Williston Police, Patrick Taze Huntley, 56, of Underhill, stole more than $44,300 during four-and-a-half years of employment. Nancy Johnson said Huntley was the company’s controller and had access to all of New Horizons’ bank accounts.

Police charged Huntley with felony embezzlement, which carries a minimum of two years in prison with a conviction. He is due to be arraigned in Vermont District Court on Oct. 6.

The company sells athletic clothing and equipment to local schools and community teams. It also embroiders and screen-prints team names and logos on clothing. The business has been around since 1973, when the Johnsons started the screen-printing side of the business with a focus on soccer. The company has been located in Williston since 1989.

“I’m devastated with the fact that I couldn’t trust someone who was so much a part of this company,” Nancy Johnson said.

Huntley could not be reached for comment.

Williston Police officer William Charbonneau said Huntley was arrested in April after a preliminary investigation. Charbonneau said an employee approached the Johnsons with concerns that Huntley may have been misappropriating funds. After looking at credit card statements, the Johnsons noticed “a pattern” of missing money, Charbonneau said.

Charbonneau said Huntley confessed to skimming money from credit card payments when questioned by police in April.

“The investigation concluded that it wasn’t just credit cards,” Charbonneau said.

After nearly five months of investigating, police allege that Huntley stole money from numerous store accounts. He used the money to pay for dinners, fuel and RV loan payments, among other things, according to police.

Johnson said she considered Huntley a friend and good worker until her “trust was shaken” by the alleged embezzlement. The missing money left the store in debt, and now the Johnsons will try to reclaim some of the lost funds through a lawsuit against Huntley.

In the meantime, New Horizons will close its retail store as the company significantly downsizes.

“We just don’t want to deal with employees anymore,” Johnson said. “This has just taken our confidence away.”

Johnson said her company has employed up to 18 workers. With just the screen-printing and embroidery operations remaining, she said she’d retain only two or three employees. New Horizons will not stay at its current Williston location and will move in October, although Nancy Johnson was unsure where the company would relocate.


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Mystery novelist coming to Williston (9/24/09)

Archer Mayor to speak at library on Saturday

Sept. 24, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

For avid readers of Vermont author Archer Mayor, autumn is the best season.


    Photo courtesy of archermayor.com
Vermont mystery author Archer Mayor, pictured above, visits Williston on Saturday.

Every fall for the past 20 years, Mayor has released a new mystery novel centering on his fictional Vermont detective, Lt. Joe Gunther. On Sept. 29, the tradition continues with Mayor’s newest novel, “The Price of Malice,” published by Minotaur Press.

“I’m as predictable as the flu,” Mayor joked during a phone interview with the Observer on Monday.

Currently on a New England book tour in support of his 20th Joe Gunther mystery, Mayor will stop by Dorothy Alling Memorial Library on Saturday at 1 p.m. The event is hosted by the Friends of Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

Mayor said he’s looking forward to meeting with his readers. Meeting new fans is a constant thrill, he said.

“I get a kick out of chatting with people and finding out what they’re most interested in,” Mayor said.

Instead of reading passages from his books, Mayor said he prefers a period of open discussion and questions. Every audience is different and his fans tend to ask pointed, intelligent questions, he said. Mayor added he would also leave time to sign books.

Mayor, a Newfane resident, has been writing his Joe Gunther series since 1988, with many of the books taking place in Brattleboro. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including the 2004 award for best fiction from the New England Independent Booksellers Association. It was the first time the award was given for crime literature.

Mayor said he’s particularly excited about his newest novel, “The Price of Malice,” because he challenges his protagonist more than ever. The story follows a thread started in his previous novel, “The Catch.” Gunther must help his girlfriend solve a family mystery in Maine, while also trying to crack a case in Brattleboro. The cases cause conflict between his personal life and his professional life with the Vermont Bureau of Investigations.

While Mayor’s stories mostly take place within Vermont and New England, he said he has a devoted following outside the region. Newspapers, from The New York Times to The San Diego Union Tribune, have praised Mayor’s writing. A Chicago Tribune review even said Mayor writes the best procedural police dramas in the country.

Mayor said he credits much of his success to his experience with law enforcement. He’s a deputy sheriff in Windham County and a death investigator for Vermont’s Chief Medical Examiner. He also finds time to volunteer for his local fire department and rescue squad. Having real world credibility gives his books more relevance, he said.

“People like to learn, even as they’re reading a murder mystery,” Mayor said. “I always try to put together scenarios that could happen in the real world.”

He said many of the cases in his books are involved, but he tries not to confuse his readers with too much explanation and overt details.

“I find that writers who put in too much detail don’t trust their readers,” Mayor said. “I trust my readers are smart and have a good imagination. I see my readers as co-conspirators with me.”

Besides “The Price of Malice,” Mayor recently reprinted the first 12 books in the Joe Gunther series, as well as his 16th book, “St. Albans Fire.” Mayor was given the rights to the 13 books after his former publisher, Hachette Book Group, stopped producing reprints. He recently started his own publishing company, AMPress, and now sells the older books through his Web site, www.archermayor.com.

He’s also looking into making his older novels downloadable through his Web site. Currently, he’s looking to obtain the rights of other older books for resale, including “The Sniper’s Wife” and “Gatekeeper.”

Mayor, who also occasionally writes travel articles for AAA, said he’s a busy man and finds time to write whenever he can.

“Portable laptops were invented solely for me, I’ll have you know,” Mayor said.

Even in the days before “The Price of Malice” is released, Mayor is working on the 21st Joe Gunther book. Tentatively titled “Red Herring,” Gunther said he researched parts of the book at a DNA crime lab on Long Island in New York.

And when book number 21 is done, he’ll be on to number 22. He said he has no plans to slow down.

“My father lived until he was 99 years old, so if that’s any indication, I’m fated to write Joe Gunther stories for many more years,” Mayor said with a laugh.


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Court to hear shopping centers tax appeal (9/24/09)

Maple Tree Place owner wants value reduced by $15 million

Sept. 24, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The corporate owner of Maple Tree Place continues to dispute the tax value of Williston’s highest-priced property.

Inland Western filed an appeal earlier this month in Chittenden Superior Court. As of Monday, a hearing date had not been scheduled.

The appeal follows a decision last month by the Williston Board of Civil Authority to reject the company’s claim that the retail center is worth less than the town’s $80.9 million valuation.

Inland has argued that falling commercial property values should prompt a lower appraisal. An attorney for the company said during the Board of Civil Authority hearing that Maple Tree Place was worth $65 million.

But the board voted unanimously to deny Inland’s appeal, which could have reduced its annual tax bill by more than $200,000.

In its written ruling, the board said the town determined the value using the cost approach, which considers the quality of construction, the age and size of buildings and other factors.

That method of valuation is used with all commercial property in Williston. Town officials have noted that using another method for Maple Tree Place could prompt tax appeals from many companies in Williston.

“I don’t see how you can change it,” said Herb Goodrich, chairman of the Board of Civil Authority. “It’s what we do for the rest of the businesses.”

Bill Parks, Inland Western’s vice president for property management, did not return telephone messages. Robert Gensburg, the St. Johnsbury attorney who filed the court appeal for Inland, did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Throughout the appeal process, which included a review by the Board of Listers and the Board of Civil Authority hearing, Inland has argued that the slumping real estate market and numerous vacancies make the property worth much less than the town’s appraised value.

That claim was greeted with skepticism from some Board of Civil Authority members, who noted that Inland paid $102.3 million when it bought Maple Tree Place in 2005. Inland’s attorney argued that the number is no longer relevant because the recession has driven down prices for commercial real estate.

Goodrich said the purchase price is an inescapable fact sure to be raised during the court hearing.

Maple Tree Place is by far the highest-valued property in Williston. IBM’s facility on Redmond Road is the next most expensive property, with an appraised value of $31.6 million.

Inland Western is a real estate investment trust affiliated with Illinois-based Inland Real Estate Group of Companies, which owns one of the nation’s largest portfolios of commercial real estate.

Absent a successful appeal, Inland Western will pay $1.3 million in local property taxes during the 2009-2010 fiscal year. If the appraisal was reduced to $65 million, the company’s tax bill would fall by about $241,000.

A devaluation would have a relatively minor impact on Williston’s $7.6 million municipal budget. Town Manager Rick McGuire said it would reduce revenue by about $30,000.

A ruling in Inland’s favor would have no effect on local school funding or education taxes, said Bob Mason, chief operations officer with the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Property taxes earmarked for education go into a statewide fund, then are disbursed using a complex formula, Mason said. Any revenue reduction would therefore be spread out among all school districts in Vermont.


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