September 1, 2015

Plant a Row ends (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

The Observer’s annual Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign ended last week with a successful season.

Local growers brought in 1,663 pounds of fresh produce to the Williston Observer offices, surpassing this year’s goal of 1,500 pounds. Fruits and vegetables were donated to the Williston Community Food Shelf, the Hinesburg Food Shelf and the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington.

Anyone interested in continuing to make donations to the food shelves can do so, but the Observer is no longer accepting donations at its offices.


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Food Shelf seeks holiday donations (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

The Williston Community Food Shelf is hoping to buy 175 turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, and is turning to the community for help. The Food Shelf will accept cash donations, as well as donated turkeys. Those donating turkeys are asked to call the Food Shelf to schedule a drop-off time.

The Food Shelf is also looking to raise $10,000 for the holidays to buy food for what is expected to be a busy season. Donations of canned goods and other items, such as spaghetti sauce, are also welcome.

Call the Food Shelf at 735-6303 for more information.


— Tim Simard, Observer staff


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Sales tax holiday hits town coffers (11/19/09)

Same-quarter revenue falls 8 percent

Nov. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Revenue from Williston’s local option sales dropped by 8 percent, a downturn likely driven by a tax holiday as much as the recession.

The town took in $546,855 for the quarter ending Sept. 30, figures released last week show. That’s $51,000 less than the same quarter a year ago.

The tax is a major revenue source for Williston, funding about 30 percent of the municipal operating budget. The 1 percent local option levy tax is tacked onto the 6 percent state sales tax.

Even though quarterly local option tax revenue was about $43,000 below budget projections, Town Manager Rick McGuire said offsetting factors help ease the fiscal pain.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” he said, pointing to an increase in rooms and meals tax revenue and a future payment from the state to municipalities to offset the tax holiday’s impact.

Still, the steep revenue decline is the largest quarterly drop in a year and a reminder that the sales tax is no longer a dependable cash cow for Williston. The levy, approved by voters in 2004, has allowed the town to greatly reduce the property tax rate.

Since local option tax rules were changed in 2007 to exempt purchases made in one town but delivered elsewhere, Williston has seen revenue steadily erode. In 2006, the tax generated just over $3 million; in 2008, the tally fell to $2.4 million.

It’s unclear how much of decrease in the most recent quarter is attributable to the sales tax holiday in August. The state estimates the holiday in 2008 reduced sales tax revenue by $2.2 million. But that holiday ran for an entire weekend, while this year’s was held on a single Saturday.

The state has set aside $100,000 to reimburse the seven Vermont towns that have enacted a local option tax. The Vermont Tax Department will dole out that money based on the proportion of the local option receipts generated in each town.

Last year, Williston received $22,000 from the state, likely considerably less than the town lost in revenue, according to McGuire. The state will not reimburse municipalities for revenue losses this time until the fiscal year’s second tax holiday in March.

How much the recession is impacting Williston’s local option sales tax revenue is anybody’s guess, although Vermont’s economy is obviously limping.

Ken Jones, policy analyst for the Vermont Tax Department, said sales tax revenue statewide was down 5.9 percent compared to the same period last year. General fund revenue, which includes all sources of revenue, has fallen 10 percent.

Williston economist Jeff Carr, in a report issued last week with fellow economist Tom Kavet, said it could be 2013 before the state recovers fully from the recession. They forecast state revenue will continue to decline in the fiscal year starting in July and Vermont’s unemployment rate will top 8 percent by the middle of 2010.

Locally, McGuire has moved to reign in spending, proposing for the first time in recent memory a municipal budget that freezes expenditures at the current year’s level.

He put a positive spin on the latest sales tax figures, pointing out that the revenue loss will be partially offset by an increase in rooms and meals tax of more than $6,000 compared to the same quarter a year ago.

McGuire also noted that two big-box stores, Linens ‘n Things and Circuit City, now vacant in the wake of their parent company’s bankruptcies, will someday be reoccupied and again generate sales tax revenue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Connecting Youth doles out awards (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Local unsung heroes were honored last week for their tireless work volunteering at area schools and in the community. Connecting Youth’s “Aw Shucks!” Awards were given out on Nov. 10 at Champlain Valley Union High School.


    Courtesy photo
St. George resident Sarah Tischler appears at the ‘Aw Shucks’ Awards ceremony last week, where she was honored for her volunteerism.

The award, now in its 15th year, honors those that have volunteered in local schools in Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Jan Bedard, Connecting Youth’s administrative director, said each honoree has donated countless hours over the years.

“They’ve all been constantly involved,” Bedard said. “That’s the true nature of the award.”

For her work in getting private funding for this year’s CVU auditorium renovation, St. George resident Sarah Tischler earned an “Aw Shucks!” Award. Bedard said her active role with CVU Drama made the renovation possible. Tischler was also a longtime member of the St. George and CSSU school boards.

Longtime Williston Central School teacher Al Myers was also honored with an award. Myers passed away in April after falling from a ladder in the school’s auditorium. The “Aw Shucks” Award honored Myers’ volunteer efforts in the Williston community even though he was a resident of Richmond, Bedard said.

Bedard said Myers was nominated for the award last spring before his death. She said he must have known a large group of Williston Central School staff members were working hard to make sure Myers was honored.

“We’ve never had a nominee come to us that way before with such popular demand,” Bedard said.

Bedard said the awards got their name from the reactions people gave when they learned of the honor and felt they were undeserving.

“We truly do get the ‘What? Me?’ reaction when we tell people they’ve won the award,” Bedard said.


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Vermonters discuss future of health care (11/19/09)

Forum held in Williston

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The health care debate took center stage Tuesday night at the Williston Central School auditorium. A panel of Vermont speakers discussed how current health care reform proposals in Washington D.C. would be detrimental to the country if enacted.

Five panelists, including a lawyer, a family physician and a former legislator, talked about how federal health care proposals could raise taxes on Americans and lead to rationed care.

None of the panelists advocated for the current health care reforms.

“It will be the very old and the very young that will bare the brunt of rationing,” said William Sayre, an economist formerly with the Federal Reserve.

Sayre is also a member of Gov. Jim Douglas’ council of economic advisors.

The nearly three-hour meeting, called the “Rx for Healthcare Reform,” was sponsored by the Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market public policy think tank in Burlington. Vermonters for Choice in Healthcare and True North Radio, a local talk radio program, co-sponsored the event.

Speakers focused mainly on the health care proposals put forth by President Barack Obama and various members of Congress. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, sending it to the Senate and calling for sweeping reform in the health care industry, including the creation of a government-run public option plan.

Several speakers argued the public option was unconstitutional and would lead to a decline in overall health care and standard of living.

“Only if there is a public option can you make rapid advances towards a single-payer, Canadian-style health care system,” Sayre said. “The public option will drive out private insurers.”

“The role of government is to serve the interests of the people, not control them,” added Steven James Howard, a Rutland attorney and interim state coordinator for the Vermont Campaign for Liberty.

Also briefly discussed were two state health care reform proposals that will be brought up in the next legislative session beginning in January. House bill H.100 and Senate Bill S.88 would enact universal health coverage to Vermonters should the federal plan fail, said John McClaughry, former president of the Ethan Allen Institute who also served in the Vermont House and Senate.

Both state and federal proposals would drive up taxes and add billions of dollars to the national deficit.

“It should alarm every thinking American, even those that believe every citizen should have access to health care,” McClaughry said.

Besides listening to the various speakers, the audience, numbering nearly 100, was able to ask questions. A woman who identified herself as a resident of Isle La Motte said she worried about how the proposed health care overhauls would affect her ability to receive needed medication. She said she’s taking a “miracle drug” for her condition and it costs $1,600 a month, which is covered by her insurance plan. She fears Obama’s plan would deem her medication too expensive to be covered.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen. I don’t think the government will pay to cover an illness that may not kill me.”

The panelists agreed with the woman that her medication could become an issue under proposals in what they called “Obamacare.” The speakers offered solutions to the issues raised in the health care reform bills, as well as keys to fix current problems with the country’s health care system.

Sayre and McClaughry said allowing for fuller charge disclosure in health care costs between doctors and patients could help drive down costs, as could insurance companies offering healthy choice discounts and creating more health savings accounts. Health savings accounts act as separate tax-free bank accounts for individuals to spend on doctor visits and procedures.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a Burlington physician, said costs would be lowered if patients stopped paying through third party insurance companies. He suggested that patients, if possible, pay their doctors directly. It drives down health care costs and it’s the way Emmons runs his practice, he said.

“The patient is making the decisions about quality and effectiveness, not someone far away looking at a computer screen,” Emmons said.

Howard suggested people get more involved by telling legislators in Washington, D.C. and Montpelier that the current health care reform proposals are unacceptable. By reminding legislators to hold firm to the constitution, perhaps the federal and state bills can be defeated, Howard said.

“If we held (legislators) responsible to the constitution, they wouldn’t be doing this,” Howard said. “Both sides of the aisle have good intentions, but you know what? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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Court rejects homeowners landfill appeal (11/19/09)

Ruling upholds Williston’s host town agreement

Nov. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld an agreement between the town and the Chittenden Solid Waste District concerning a planned landfill in Williston.

In a unanimous opinion issued Friday, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling and rejected arguments by plaintiffs that the host town agreement illegally delegated municipal authority.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision,” said Craig Abrahams, one of the plaintiffs and a member of Vermont Organized Communities Against Landfills. He vowed that VOCAL will continue fighting the plans for what he and other foes believe is an unnecessary and expensive landfill.

Gwen Blankenheim, another one of the group of Williston homeowners who challenged the agreement, said the ruling might ultimately prove moot because the landfill may never be constructed.

“I think the farther out you push it, the more expensive it becomes,” she said. “And the more expensive it becomes, the less likely it is to be built.”

Tom Moreau, CSWD general manager, said he was pleased but unsurprised by the ruling.

“It’s nice to have an agreement that we put a lot of time and effort into affirmed,” he said. “How else can you plan unless you can put up an agreement that you can go by?”

But Moreau downplayed the ruling’s significance, saying it moves CSWD no closer to actually constructing a landfill. He said the district has put planning for the landfill on hold while it focuses on boosting recycling, an effort that could reduce the size and cost of any future landfill.

In 1992, Williston voters approved the host town agreement, which called for CSWD to close the town’s landfill and construct a new facility. The agreement requires Williston to use its “best efforts” to support permit applications for the landfill and affirm that it complies with the town plan.

The neighbors’ appeal alleged that the agreement “impermissibly contracted away to CSWD its statutory power to participate as an independent party in the permitting process for the proposed regional landfill.”

But the court’s 13-page ruling noted that the Vermont Legislature gave CSWD and other waste districts authority to enter into contracts for landfills. The court said it was only logical that such agreements include pledges of support by towns that host landfills.

“We are hard-pressed to see how a contract between a municipality and a third party would operate if the municipality could withdraw its support for the joint venture at will,” the court said.

Further, the court noted that “the town has not ceded any legislatively derived power.” The landfill would still have to receive state Act 250 and local permits, the court said, and the agreement does not guarantee they will be granted.

The ruling also nixed the neighbors’ argument that the host town agreement is void because it includes no termination date. The court said constructing a landfill “is necessarily a long-term venture,” making it impossible to determine a precise lifespan for the contract. Though contracts cannot be perpetual, the court said they can run for an unspecified “reasonable time.”

Opponents assert there is enough capacity in existing private landfills in Coventry and Moretown. But supporters say a landfill is needed closer to Chittenden County to reduce long-haul truck traffic.

Abrahams said VOCAL will continue its battle against the landfill.

He said the waste district has failed to do enough to encourage recycling and asserts the $94 million price tag for the first two phases of the landfill is far too costly.

Moreau has rebutted those arguments, saying that the original landfill plan has been shelved and that CSWD does a better job of encouraging recycling than any other solid waste district in Vermont.

But the district does agree with its critics’ assertion that more waste could be recycled. CSWD will soon choose a firm to study how to best recycle organic waste, which Moreau said comprises about a quarter of everything collected by the district. The study is expected to be completed by July.

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Kyrgyzstan learns energy efficiency from Williston (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Vermont’s reputation as a leader in alternative and renewable energies is well known in the United States, and its environmental standing has now gone global. When a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked central Asian country, wanted to learn about the best practices in alternative energy, the members chose the Green Mountain State as their destination.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Building Energy owner Scott Gardner (center, wearing baseball hat) explains the concepts of his company’s solar array to a delegation from Kyrgyzstan last week. The Kyrgyz delegation spent three weeks in Vermont learning about energy efficiency and renewable energy. 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Scott Gardner (left) explains to the Kyrgyz delegation how a blower door system can be used to test the energy efficiency of a building. Kyrgyz government official Ulukbek Muktarov (far right) holds a camera.

Since late last month, the delegation of 10 Kyrgyz government officials, educators and energy experts has traveled the state visiting private companies and public utilities. The group members hope to bring back some of the knowledge they’ve gained and put it to use in their home country. Last week, the delegation visited Building Energy in Williston on one of its last stops.

Ulukbek Muktarov, who runs the Department of Industry, Construction, Transport and Communications for the Kyrgyzstan state of Talas, said the Vermont trip has provided a wealth of information about energy efficiency.

“We’ve seen in real life how people can conserve,” Muktarov said in Russian through a translator.

PH International, a cross-cultural learning organization based in Waitsfield, hosted the Kyrgyz delegation. The program was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, also known as USAID. PH International Program Director Renee Berrian said the delegation became interested in Vermont because of the state’s leadership in energy efficiency — and its cold climate, which is much like Kyrgyzstan’s.

“They’ve been fascinated by some of the things they’ve seen,” Berrian said.

Berrian said the group seemed particularly interested in Vermont’s use of wood products for construction and energy. Since Kyrgyzstan lacks timber resources due to its high altitude valleys and 24,000-foot mountain ranges, it’s truly a foreign concept, she said. Most of the country’s energy production comes through aging hydroelectric dams, Berrian added.

Besides the visit to Building Energy, the delegation attended the Vermont Renewable Energy Conference and Expo late last month and visited Green Mountain Power, the Public Service Board and Burlington Electric. Many of the group members were interested in how utilities billed electric customers and dealt with power outages, Berrian said.

The Kyrgyz group seemed particularly interested in a number of energy saving tools and practices that Building Energy uses in its work. Owner Scott Gardner showed the delegation Building Energy’s solar tracker and insulation trucks, as well as infrared cameras used in energy audits.

The Kyrgyz people talked about how they might implement different alternative energies, especially the foam insulation, in their country.

“This (insulation) is about 20 times better than bricks,” Gardner told the group, referring to the Kyrgyz primary housing materials. “It’s expensive, but very, very effective.”

The need for Kyrgyzstan to look outside its border for help came from a crisis that occurred in 2007. A massive drought caused water levels to drop dangerously low and power generation to nearly shut down at hydroelectric facilities. Muktarov explained that some citizens’ lost power and heat during the winter months. He said the Kyrgyz government started exploring other energy resources in hopes of avoiding future crises.

The former Soviet Union country is also experiencing energy troubles due to fading infrastructure and open theft of electricity by some of its citizens. Since gaining independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has struggled to keep up with new technology, but recent government programs and initiatives hope to change that, Muktarov said.

Muktarov said he’s impressed at how much he’s learned about making buildings and homes more energy efficient and using alternative resources. Wind and solar power could work well in Kyrgyzstan’s windy valleys and sunny weather, he said.

“Energy efficiency doesn’t mean just screwing in a different light bulb,” Muktarov said. “It’s all integrated.”

After watching Gardner’s infrared camera demonstration, Muktarov said many homes and offices in Kyrgyzstan would appear drafty and energy inefficient if Building Energy performed audits in his country.

The delegation was scheduled to return to Kyrgyzstan this week, now supplied with Vermont solutions to energy overconsumption. Some of what the group learned will be slow to implement and might not be practical at all, but Muktarov hopes Kyrgyzstan can solve its energy issues and become an efficiency leader in central Asia.

“All of what we’ve seen is good and promising, but at this point it’s something we can’t afford right now,” he said. “But in the near future, it’s very possible.”

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Hunting banned in Five Tree Hill park (11/19/09)

Hiker safety cited in debate over firearm rules

Nov. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Selectboard on Monday ordered a Williston park posted amid worries about the potentially deadly consequence of mixing hikers and hunters.

Signs prohibiting hunting will be placed around Five Tree Hill Country Park. The decision comes in the middle of Vermont’s rifle dear hunting season.

About 15 residents were present during an hour-long discussion of the issue. Most were from the Sunset Hill Estates neighborhood abutting Five Tree Hill.

“It’s a very small park,” Andy Freeman said. “It’s just not large enough to discharge a firearm and know where the discharge is going to go.”

The controversy over hunting in the 57-acre municipal park began a couple of weeks ago when neighbors noticed a town worker taking down signs that forbid hunting.

The signs were taken down in advance of hunting season when town officials realized they were outdated and failed to meet state requirements for posting land for hunting. They worried the signs could create a false sense of security for those who hike through the park while not legally preventing hunting. Town Manager Rick McGuire acknowledged that the situation posed a liability problem for the town.

Neighbors protested the sign removal with e-mails to Selectboard members expressing dismay. They noted the undeveloped park has become an increasingly popular place for families. One resident complained she had cancelled a planned field trip for the local Brownie troop because of safety concerns.

Under a town ordinance regulating firearm use revised last year, hunting is allowed in most areas south of Interstate 89 and forbidden in all but one area north of the interstate.

That meant that hunting was allowed at Five Tree Hill. But the ordinance also allowed the Selectboard to revisit the issue and carve out exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

At Monday’s meeting, residents and board members agreed that banning hunting in the park was the only prudent step given the safety issues. No hunting advocates were present to argue against the restriction.

But there was some debate about how soon the park should be posted and if the town should also consider banning hunting on other town-owned land.

Selectboard member Ted Kenney said with rifle hunting season under way there was no time to waste.

“I think I lean toward posting for hunting forthwith — meaning tonight,” he said.

Kenney added that it was unlikely hunters were heavily using the park anyway because they tend to stay away from areas near homes.

Board member Chris Roy said he supported posting the park, although he preferred to hold a public hearing before making a decision.

“I think there’s some very good reasons to post Five Tree Hill,” said Roy, who also chided neighbors for failing to raise the issue during last year’s debate over the firearm ordinance.

Several neighbors complained about a lack of clarity in the town’s hunting rules. Many said they had long believed the park was off limits for hunting.

“I liked the idea — up until recently — that I was safe walking through those woods,” Nick Hardin said.

He urged the board to at least post a warning sign at the park’s trailhead telling hikers that hunters may be present.

His wife, Sue, said no matter what the board did, it was critical that everyone understand where hunting is and isn’t allowed.

“It’s really important to make clear for people who are going to hike or hunt in that area what the rule is right now,” she said. “If it is that they can hunt there, then there have to be warning signs. There’s a lot of kids in those woods.”

The Selectboard voted unanimously to post Five Tree Hill and directed town staff to place an additional sign at the park’s trailhead warning hikers that hunters may be present on adjacent private land.

The board also asked the Conservation Commission, an appointed board that oversees the town’s undeveloped recreation areas, to review usage of other town-owned parcels and recommend whether or not to post any of those parcels.

McGuire said Five Tree Hill will be posted no later than this weekend. The task will be relatively easy because the town previously plotted the park’s boundaries using a global positioning system.

The Selectboard plans to further discuss hunting on all other town-owned land after completing the municipal budget in late January.


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Back on top

    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Tino Tomasi celebrates after scoring Champlain Valley Union High’s first goal in the Division 1 soccer championship against Burr and Burton Academy. The Redhawks went on to win 2-0 on Saturday, capturing their seventh title in eight years. See story below.

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Former CVU soccer stars make marks in college (11/12/09)

Nov. 12, 2009

Members of the 2007 Champlain Valley Union High boys soccer team, Division 1 champions, have helped two Division III college teams close in on NCAA tournament berths.

Micah Rose, a sophomore midfielder for the Swarthmore Garnets, has been chosen first team All-Centennial Conference. Among his season highlights was scoring the winning goal in an Oct. 9 victory over Ursinus.

Rose has also been placed on the 2009 Conference Academic Honor Roll.

The 14-2-2 Garnets earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament and will be hosts for first and second round matches.

Tyler Macnee, who along with former CVU teammate Carson Cornbrooks is helping fuel Middlebury College’s race to the NCAAs, scored one of the goals Saturday in the Panthers 2-0 victory over Wesleyan in the NESCAC tournament.

Middlebury lost 2-1 to Williams on Sunday in the final, but with a 9-5-2 record, is hopeful of getting an at-large tournament bid.


— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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