February 12, 2016

Places I’ve Played

My Dad the preacher

Jan. 20, 2011

By Bill Skiff

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, small town churches in rural Vermont fell on hard times. Many, including places like the Northeast Kingdom, could not afford to keep a minister during the summer. That’s where my Dad came in.

Dad graduated with the University of Vermont class of 1929 and was always a literary man. He had been a farmer, librarian, teacher and coach — but most of all a student of the English language. Dad had a gift when it came to putting his ideas into meaningful sermons. He was active in the Second Congregational Church in Jeffersonville and so, when needed, filled the pulpit.

As word went out regarding the quality of his sermons, other churches’ officials asked if he would help fill their pulpits during the summer months. He traveled to places like Craftsbury, Greensboro, Eden or wherever else he received the call.

Mother was busy with her own church work and my brother and sister were too young to go with Dad, so I was elected to travel with him on his preaching missions those summer Sundays. For the most part I didn’t mind, except it meant I missed seeing my girlfriend at our youth service.

I said I didn’t mind, but that was before Dad began preaching three services on the same Sunday! That’s three different churches in three different towns, all in one morning. At the end of one morning, as we were riding home, Dad asked, “Well, Bill what did you think of my sermon?”

“Dad,” I replied, “the first time it was pretty good, the second time it was OK but by the third time I could give it myself.”

I was impressed with the congregations at these services; many times there were only seven or eight people in attendance. They were mostly elderly ladies who had been attending the church since they were little girls. The size of the congregation never made any difference to Dad; he said whoever was there was there because they believed, so he always gave his best effort.

On one of these Sundays, after Dad had given his sermon, a deacon asked what they owed him. Dad replied, “Just give me what you think it was worth.” They gave him 72 cents. I was shocked and hurt to think they thought so little of Dad’s sermon. But he smiled and told me how much that 72 cents meant to him because he knew it was half the collection plate. It was in that moment that I began to realize how much Dad’s work meant to these people — and I began to understand the value of giving from the heart.

Looking back on those Sunday mornings I realize what a special time it was for me. I learned a lot about my Dad, a lot about myself and a lot about the meaning of community service. Those lessons still guide me today.

During this period in Dad’s life, he also wrote poems, many of which expressed his strong belief in the value of Vermont’s rural churches. This is one of my favorites:

Abandoned church

By Glenn W. Skiff

Just an old country church am I,

All alone on a wind-swept hill.

For you and your friends pass me by,

And my calm deep voice is still.

No longer do I see you come,

From out the valley and the hill,

Bringing your children, one by one,

That they may know the Master’s will.

You have forgotten; I remember well.

Holding her you proudly stand,

And reverently her name you tell

As on her curls he lays his hand.

The pattern of her faith takes form;

In Sunday school she travels far.

In places of darkness, doubt, and storm,

Her questing heart finds one bright star.

Seated there in the family pew,

In her bright blue dress new pressed,

She dreams the dreams that all girls do,

When filled with childhood’s vague unrest.

The shy, sweet years slip through her hands,

Fast flown on time’s eternal wings;

A child no longer, she now stands

In the entrance while the choir sings.

The organ breathes one last soft prayer.

She, radiant as a springtime dawn,

Now waits before the altar there

To say, “I Mary, take thee John.”

My doors you’ve closed. Why close them now?

She still may need my guiding light.

And you, yes even you, somehow

Will need it when there comes the night.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he will share his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

Little Details

Message received

Jan. 20, 2011

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

In January 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen — Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — issued “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.” The letter, published in a Montgomery area newspaper, acknowledged the plight of black people, yet dissuaded them from their peaceful protests.

The signatories commended the police for maintaining “order” while encouraging blacks to pursue “proper channels” in their quest for civil rights. This public statement from bishops, pastors, moderators and a rabbi served to discourage their Caucasian brethren from supporting black neighbors asserting fundamental human rights.

Montgomery was a nice enough place to live and raise a family in the early 1960s — if you were white. Rigid segregation in schools, stores, movie theaters and restaurants prevailed. Skin color dictated the caliber of school you attended, the neighborhood in which you lived and the social currency you held.

Non-violent protests and acts of civil disobedience persisted in the face of unyielding racism. Activists endured verbal abuse. Physical assaults were carried out by water cannons, attack dogs and police wielding clubs.

In April 1963, the religious leaders issued a second letter, “A Call for Unity.” The signatories, possessing enormous societal influence, criticized demonstrations “directed and led in part by outsiders” — a reference to Martin Luther King Jr., who descended on Montgomery to support the movement for racial equality.

King’s response arrived in his April 12, 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The eloquently written epistle addressed his fellow clergy. King’s letter offered a passionate, well-articulated explanation for his actions.

Earning a Ph.D. at Boston University, King could have easily settled in the more liberal — though still imperfect — North. He instead chose to take on the Jim Crow South with its legally codified segregation. King assumed the gauntlet, dodging death threats, FBI investigations, wire taps and the bombing of his home, pressing for incremental steps to dislodge the cement segregating lunch counters, buses, schools and theaters.

Sitting in a dank Alabaman jail, King read, prayed and reflected before resolving to pen a response to his fellow clergymen. He was not alone. He shared incarceration with several hundred protesters. King drew strength from those who, like him, recognized the inherent injustice of denying access to individuals simply because of skin color.

King’s letter challenging people to question injustices resonates today. I offer several quotes from King’s cellblock communiqué.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Living in a somewhat privileged perch that is Williston, I reflect on individuals and families who frequent Williston’s Community Food Shelf. Working neighbors, single parents and seniors among us make the pilgrimage, stopping in for a bag of groceries. Choosing between sustenance and the heating bill is a decision no one should have to make. I will never forget the Williston youth who, years ago, during a World of Difference presentation at Williston Central School, acknowledged his feeling that it was “hardest” socially for the kids in town whose parents lacked resources.

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny

Is our future economic well-being linked to whether we create pathways to financial security for the less affluent among us? I think so. An educated, productive, healthy populace seems our best defense in a world of shifting geopolitics.

Privileged groups seldom give up their privilege voluntarily

Vermont faces a deep, dark, cavernous budgetary shortfall; our federal government runs on a deficit. Just as we must consider reductions in government services, we must reevaluate our tax structure. Eliminating tax credits and loopholes for the most wealthy is not about freedom, it’s about fairness.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will

King’s statement reminds us it is not enough to talk about inequality. We must confront inequities where we find them — with our actions and our pocketbooks.

Forty-eight years later, true equality remains elusive for many on the economic periphery. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter retains its relevance. We are the addressees.

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

Letters to the Editor

Jan. 20, 2011


Town Meeting Day is Tuesday, March 1. Please note the Observer will not run any Letters to the Editor pertaining to the elections on Feb. 24, the edition prior to Town Meeting.

All Letters to the Editor written in regards to Town Meeting MUST be received by 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 14, and will appear in the Observer on Feb. 17.

Please be aware that normal guidelines will apply, including a 300-word limit for all letters.

E-mail letters to editor@willistonobserver.com.

Recognition for mentors

Twelve years ago, a group of eighth grade students from across Williston Central School came together to plan a new “mentoring initiative” that was made possible by funding from Connecting Youth in Chittenden South. They envisioned strong youth-adult relationships based on trust, listening and caring.

Today, Connecting Youth Mentoring has blossomed into a thriving program that serves 125 middle school youth throughout the district. The reason this program has the impact it does is the support it enjoys from all of you. I see every day that this community of support fuels students’ connection to school and their motivation to learn.

On the back page of this week’s Observer, you will find a poster honoring the 55 dedicated community volunteers in this program at Williston Central School. They are trusted, nurturing friends who give their undivided time and attention to their student “mentees” each school week, conveying an attitude that says, “I believe in you and I’m thrilled to be with you!” In turn, our mentors gain a wonderful friend with whom they get to take time out of their day just to hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

Of all the indicators of success of WCS Mentoring, the one I am proudest to share is that 17 of our mentors have volunteered in the program for at least five years. Each of these individuals will be recognized on Jan. 25 at a National Mentoring Month breakfast to be sponsored by MOBIUS, the Mentoring Movement. I hope you will have the opportunity to congratulate them: Eric Adler, Justine Benoit, Nancy Colbourn, Sally Dattilio, Debbie Donnelly, Zoe Erdman, Bill Grover, Anne Marie Humbert, John Joachim, Cheryl Lalancette, Polly Malik, Shona Mossey-Lothrop, Nadine Paffett-Lugassy, Steve Page, Mike Thomas, Micaela Wallace and Charlie Wolf.

I am proud to be a part of this caring community.

Nancy Carlson, Mentoring coordinator, Connecting Youth Mentoring, Williston Central School

Community efforts sustain Food Shelf

We are writing on behalf of the Williston Community Food Shelf to say thank you to the generous people of our area who have supported the Food Shelf over the past year.

In 2010, we had more than 1,680 family visits representing over 4,300 people. More than 65 volunteers have donated hundreds of hours keeping the Food Shelf running. Volunteers have been busy sorting, checking, stocking supplies, shopping with customers and at fund-raising events throughout the Williston area.

We wish to thank Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, churches, school student groups, businesses and individuals who have donated money and thousands of pounds of food. Our holiday campaign to raise funds for rent, perishable food and gaps in food donations is very close to its goal.

Many of our neighbors are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. Families are trying to feed and clothe their children without missing fuel and rent payments. Seniors and disabled individuals are facing increasing costs on fixed incomes. The Food Shelf is able to help people to meet those financial needs by helping with their food bills.

Meanwhile, children are asking for food donations for birthday parties, high school students are collecting food for school projects, businesses are raising funds through work-related events and individuals are coming in with produce from their gardens in the summer. The Food Shelf is a true reflection of the kindness and sincerity of this wonderful community. Thank you all.

Williston Community Food Shelf Board

Boy Scout mystery solved

As a follow-up to my letter last week (“Skeptical of ‘scouts’”), I would like to let the people of Williston know that I had a call from Williston Boy Scout Leader Bill Burbank to apologize for the misunderstanding described in my letter published in last week’s Williston Observer.

It turns out that it was not a scam; they were actually Boy Scouts and they were asking for donations in return for collecting Christmas trees and recycling them. The misunderstanding arose because our association had planned to collect Christmas trees for residents and we needed to have our trees out front by a certain date.

The Boy Scouts had left a flyer next to our mailboxes the previous week letting homeowners know that they would collect trees if we left them by the road for Saturday, Jan. 8. I did not read the flyer so was unaware of the plan. Because my tree was out in front, the Boy Scouts assumed that I had left the tree out for them and so did not explain what the donation was for. They put the tree in the road so that it would be easier for the truck following to pick it up and not as an act of mischief. The flyers they took from the mailboxes were the flyers they had placed there last week.

I am very happy to report that this incident was just a misunderstanding and not a loosening of Boy Scout principles or a scam. The Boy Scouts were providing a service and cleaning up after themselves, as Boy Scouts have always done.

Mr. Burbank said they would use this incident as a training tool for better communication. I realize that I also need to ask more questions before jumping to conclusions.

Elaine Lawrence, Williston

Guest Column

Entertaining children and grandchildren on the farm

Jan. 20, 2011

By Ginger Isham

I don’t know if children today have enough creative play or use their imaginations enough with all the modern technology and games.

My children — now ages 41 to 50 — used to play outside a lot. They played such games as Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I and Red Rover Come Over. One time they made a hammock in the woods from old baling twine. Baling twine had many uses in those days.

In winter, there was sliding and making forts and snowmen. They once made an icehouse out of a large snowdrift in back of the house and wanted to sleep in it all night. This was their exercise.

When the weather was bad they would play Hide and Seek in the house, along with Hide the Button (the button being the red rooster from the Fisher-Price barn), a Color Guessing Game and lots of board games.

I would cover one end of an empty toilet tissue roll with a piece of wax paper or clear plastic and punch a few holes on the side of the roll; my children placed their mouths over the other end and blew in it to make a sound. A block of wood with a few rows of nails with rubber bands stretched over them became a guitar.

When I wanted to clean the kitchen floor and keep the children occupied I would move all the kitchen chairs into the living room and line them up to become a train. There was a large chair for the caboose.

I showed them how to make paper airplanes and throw them from a step near the top of the stairs. This is a favorite pastime for the grandchildren today.

I made play dough clay from flour, salt and water.

The girls made May Baskets out of empty 1-pound cottage cheese boxes. They made their own valentines for school. Sometimes, heart-shaped cookies of different sizes that were frosted or decorated became the valentines that could be eaten. Nothing was very costly in those days.

When my grandchildren came along, I had fun making things for them to play with out of recycled items. I have trouble throwing some things away. One winter, we had an empty refrigerator box in one of the living rooms. The box had windows, a wheel on top to drive as a car, truck, boat or airplane. Empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls were used for peepholes or spyglasses and pictures were drawn inside the box.

Another winter, I brought the Little Tikes slide inside. I placed a large sheet over the top so they could go up the three or four steps and sit under the roof or hide under the platform. Sometimes we made a cabin with chairs back-to-back in a circle and a sheet spread over the top.

I used three old sap buckets and marked each bucket with numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the sides. The kids used paper balls or bean bags I made to toss into the buckets from a distance and see who could get the highest score with a limited amount of throws.

I set up empty plastic soda bottles for bowling pins and they used a ball to bowl. Sometimes I’d pull the children around the house in a plastic clothesbasket.

When the new basement was added, I painted a Hop Scotch on the floor with black paint.

And now, for the last two years, I have been collecting large oatmeal boxes. I like the store brand as I can remove the outside paper so they all look alike. I think I have about 22 large boxes and a few smaller ones stored in a large black garbage bag. The grandchildren like to stack them up or make a wall to hide behind and knock them down, sometimes by rolling a ball. Later, I may number each one to help them learn their numbers. Recently, a friend’s 9-year-old son stacked them one on top of the other almost to our 9-foot ceiling! He had to use a chair to get the last ones on top. My youngest grandchild loves to watch them roll along the floor. I have even put small blocks inside so he could shake them.

One cupboard in the kitchen always has plastic refrigerator containers for the toddlers who have learned to open doors.

My latest toy I am excited about is making tops that spin from old CDs. I read about this idea in a parenting magazine at a pediatrician’s office in November. Glue a large marble over the hole on the underside of the CD. You need a glue gun for this. I had to use 1-inch wooden balls as I could not find marbles at this time of year. Then, glue a cap from a liter soda bottle over the hole on the other side. One could paint the topside with glitter glue or come up with other ways to decorate it. They work like a charm! I am going to call them “Whirlies.”

Outdoor fun is having a play barn and a playhouse next to a sand pile under a 160-year-old maple with branches that provide shade like an umbrella.

Lastly, I must not forget to mention the hours of fun a plastic pail of bubble water will give the old and young. I bought six large bubble wands at a dollar store a couple years ago. Why buy six of them? Because they are not easy to find. All at little cost!

As a mother of six and grandmother of 13, children have enriched my life!

Williston resident Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.


Jan. 20, 2011

The “Community Calendar” in last week’s issue of the Observer contained the incorrect date for an event. The Williston Historical Society’s potluck supper was scheduled for Jan. 18. The Observer apologizes for any confusion caused by the error.

Around Town

Jan. 20, 2011

Mentoring breakfast on Tuesday

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, Connecting Youth and Mobius, The Mentoring Movement will hold the annual “Thank Your Mentor” Breakfast on Jan. 25.

Mobius establishes mentoring relationships in Chittenden County. The breakfast, which takes place at the Burlington Hilton from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., will feature mentor appreciation awards and a talk about mentoring.

CY-Connecting Youth is a community-based organization that helps youths in Charlotte, Hinesburg, St. George, Shelburne and Williston make healthy choices. According to a press release from CY, mentoring programs can help young people stay in school and avoid substance use, as well as improve self-esteem, social skills and career development.

For more information, contact Connecting Youth at 383-1230 or MOBIUS at 658-1888, or visit www.seewhy.info or www.mobiusmentors.org.

Valentines for soldiers

Vermont Soldiers’ Angels is organizing a valentine collection for soldiers.

Valentine’s Day cards will be sent to the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and to soldiers stationed elsewhere overseas.

Barbara Greck, a Williston resident and captain of Vermont Soldiers’ Angels, said valentines can be dropped off through Feb. 7 in collection boxes at Williston Town Hall and Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

Soldiers’ Angels is a national nonprofit organization that offers help and support to all branches of the military. Vermont Soldiers’ Angels supports the organization’s national efforts as well as local Guard soldiers and families.

As part of the effort to collect valentines, Vermont Soldiers’ Angels has partnered with Creative Habitat in Burlington. The crafts store will supply a table and materials so that people can drop in to make valentines. Valentine’s Day cards can also be dropped off at Creative Habitat, located on Shelburne Road in Burlington, between noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Local optometrist patents invention

Jan. 20, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Dr. Thomas Clark (right) fits a pair of bifocals for his wife, Anni. Clark, an optometrist with an office in Blair Park, developed a patent in 2009 for better-fitting progressive lenses and recently completed work on a prototype. (Observer photo by Tim Simard)

For years, Williston optometrist Dr. Thomas Clark ran into the same frustrations time and time again, with some patients continually encountering blurred vision with their eyeglasses despite having the correct prescription. Now, after years of research, Clark believes he has found an answer that may make the lives of millions of bifocal wearers a lot easier.

Clark, a Burlington resident, received a U.S. patent in December 2009 for an invention that he calls the Visual Access Alignment Device. The device can better measure a patient’s vision and ensure an exact prescription. For the past year, Clark has developed the invention to the point where he now says major eyewear companies are interested.

“It gives the correct answer to the question, ‘Where do I put the bifocals in a frame?’” Clark said.

Clark, who specializes in most fields of vision, has found that patients who need progressive bifocal lenses sometimes encounter difficulties seeing clearly when new glasses arrive. Progressive bifocals allow near-sighted patients to have better vision, but the lenses must be placed precisely for the patient to see clearly.

“I was struggling for six or seven years trying to figure out why these accurate measurements were not accurate,” Clark said. “It got to the point where I realized it wasn’t me making a mistake.”

Using the traditional method of measuring one’s vision did not work for all patients, Clark learned. He believed there had to be a way to correctly calculate vision the first time and avoid the time-consuming and costly eyewear revisions.

Clark decided to take matters into his own hands. He learned that most devices for measuring progressive lenses only gauge the pupillary axis — the line where a patient’s pupil meets an object — then focuses on it for clarity. He found that in some instances, the best clarity came when he measured a patient’s visual axis, or direct line of sight.

The difference between the pupillary axis and the visual axis is small for most bifocal wearers, but others have a much larger separation between the two lines of vision, Clark said.

“That can make all the difference,” Clark said.

Entering the world of inventions and patents proved challenging, Clark said; he relied on several experts to help him work through the complicated process. Receiving the patent turned out to be only the beginning. With patent in hand, he spent much of 2010 creating a workable device.

By tinkering with vision equipment, Clark transformed a traditional bifocal measuring device into one that measures visual axis. In a typical setting, a patient will look through a device operated by an optometrist and let the doctor know when the image in the mechanism becomes clear. In Clark’s version, a patient holds the measuring device and looks through it like a pair of binoculars. The patient then adjusts the settings to make the image sharp.

Clark said approximately 10 percent of progressive bifocal wearers encounter difficulties in getting a correct fit that doesn’t equate to traditional measurements. But Clark believes that small population could translate into significant savings for vision companies that spend millions of dollars annually refitting progressive lenses. He said the invention might also help people who have been turned off by the lenses because of poor experiences.

Clark said he has received interest from an international vision company that’s reviewing his patent and invention. He said the company may decide to redo the look of the invention, but the conceptual properties would remain his idea. Clark doesn’t know when he will hear back from the company or if it will want to manufacture the product.

“This is all new to me, so we’ll see,” Clark said.

Clark is also looking for more people to try out his alignment device for a study to back up his findings. He has already tested his patients, but wants additional subjects to help pinpoint more accurate results. Anyone interested in participating in the study can call Clark at his office in Blair Park at 862-1947.

CVU Board approves reduced budget

Taxes still expected to increase

Jan. 20, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Members of the Champlain Valley Union High School Board said the decision to cut positions and services next school year was one of their hardest tasks in recent memory.

The board unanimously approved a $21.11 million budget proposal for the 2011-2012 school year, requiring administrators to reduce staffing hours and cut some positions in half. The proposal comes in less than the current budget, but by using money from the school’s general fund—essentially a rainy day fund—per pupil spending remains the same.

Residents in towns served by CVU — Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston — will vote on the budget on Town Meeting Day on March 1.

The cuts in the proposed budget could have been much worse, board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said. She said the promise of federal funds helped to stave off even more reductions.

“We took quite a bit of money out of the school without cutting too many services,” Jensen said.

Under the proposal, next year’s budget will drop 1.14 percent from existing levels. But even with a decrease, property taxes will likely climb, said Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union’s chief operations officer. That’s because the Vermont Legislature received a recommendation from state assessors to raise this year’s homestead base rate — a number that factors into property taxes — by 1 cent. Currently, the base rate stands at 86 cents.

Mason said all tax numbers are in limbo.

“I think there’s a possibility it’ll stay the same, but in the same sentence, I think there’s a strong possibility it could go above 87 cents,” he said.

The exact amount each CVU member town’s taxes will increase remains undetermined until other school districts approve their budgets, Mason said. The Williston School Board was scheduled to finalize its budget proposal on Thursday.

The fact that CVU’s budget is shrinking while taxes may still increase disheartened some board members, but further eliminating staff and services became an undesirable task, Jensen said.

With the smaller budget, some teachers and staff members will see their hours reduced. The budget halves the full-time driver’s education instructor position, and eliminates some music, English and world languages classes. A full-time library assistant position will disappear and three paraprofessionals will work fewer hours.

Supply upgrades and professional development take a hit in next year’s budget as well, with more than $80,000 being trimmed in those areas.

In budget discussions earlier this month, the board had considered further staffing cuts before learning the school would receive $292,000 in federal money through the Education Jobs Fund. The board decided to split that money evenly between the next two budgets in order to control spending and prevent further teacher and staff reductions.

Mason told the board the state asked schools to apply for the money through a grant, avoiding the need to obtain voter approval of the federal funds.

In addition to the CVU budget, voters will be asked to approve $94,000 for a new school bus as part of the district’s annual fleet update, Mason said.

At the end of the meeting, Jensen thanked the board members for working hard on the budget, asking pointed questions and making tough decisions throughout the process. Board member Jeff Parker praised Principal Sean McMannon for helping to determine which cuts would hurt the least.

“I really appreciate Sean’s efforts through this and I know it must have been really hard for him,” Parker said.

Target likely in Williston?

Jan. 20, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Since he started working in Williston in 2008, Planning Director Ken Belliveau has been asked continuously when a Target store is coming to town. Whether the inquiry comes from Williston residents or reporters from elsewhere in the United States, he often fields the same question: “So, when’s Target coming?”

Williston, home to big box store retailers including Wal-Mart, Best Buy and The Home Depot, seems like a natural fit for Target, another megastore chain, Belliveau said. But while land is available in Williston and Chittenden County communities continue to grow, Target has yet to make any official overtures to town officials or to Belliveau.

“My assumption is that if they’re looking to build in the greater Burlington area, they’d like to build here,” Belliveau said. “We have proximity to the interstate, an established infrastructure in the Taft Corners area — it would make sense, wouldn’t it?”

Belliveau isn’t the only person who sees Williston as a potential landing spot for a Target store. Last month, the planning director received a call from a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune — Target headquarters are in Minnesota — for an article about Target’s absence in Vermont. Belliveau said the reporter had done enough research to believe Williston would be the most likely Vermont location for a Target. The journalist asked Belliveau about the procedures that large retailers must follow to build in the state.

With more than 1,700 stores in 49 states, Target announced last week it plans to open 100 to 150 locations in Canada. Yet Vermont remains the last untapped U.S. market for Target, the nation’s second largest discount retailer behind Wal-Mart.

In speaking with the Observer, Target officials did express a desire to open in the Green Mountain state. Target spokesman Antoine Lafromboise offered no specifics on the retailer’s future plans in the state, but said, “I can tell you that we would love to open a store in Vermont.”

Meanwhile, Champlain Valley residents looking to shop at Target have to travel across Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh, N.Y. Other Vermont residents may choose to visit one of the eight Target stores in southern New Hampshire or eight stores in the Albany, N.Y. area.

Lafromboise said Target doesn’t generally announce store launchings until at least one year before an opening date is set. Considering Vermont’s stringent regulatory process in regards to development, any Vermont venture for Target is probably years away, said Jeff Nick, president and co-owner of Williston-based J.L. Davis Realty.

“You’ll probably see them open a store in (West Lebanon, N.H.) before they open one here,” Nick said, referring to the New Hampshire border town that features several big box retailers across the Connecticut River on Interstate 89.

Nick said he has had conversations with Target officials over the past eight years about opening in Williston. They have on several occasions flown out from the company’s headquarters in Minneapolis to survey the area around Taft Corners. Nick said the officials like the area, but nothing has come from initial discussions.

Target may not want to invest countless dollars into a potential project if there’s no certainty of earning a permit at the end, Nick said. He noted that Vermont’s environmental permitting process, Act 250, continues to be a stumbling block for many developers, especially ones from outside the state.

Opposition to similar projects in other parts of the state has made Target wary, Nick believes — the 16-year battle to get a Wal-Mart in St. Albans being a prime example.

“They’re kind of scared off by the regulatory process,” Nick said.

Belliveau said it’s certainly demanding for large retailers to get a foothold in Vermont and Williston, but not impossible. By following the town’s bylaws, Target might need to consider building a structure with underground parking, Belliveau said. Other design requirements would need to be met, and the retailer would have to consider impacts on traffic patterns in Taft Corners, he said.

“We’ve set the bar at a fairly high standard here,” Belliveau said.

Lafromboise said 85 percent of Target’s stores are in buildings and on land the company owns, but more than 100 stores are located in already established shopping centers and strip malls. Belliveau said the company might need to adjust the way it initiates its new store process if it ever comes to Williston. While Williston’s construction standards might prove more expensive for Target in the beginning, Belliveau said the greater Burlington market could justify the cost.

“This is where the growth is in the state of Vermont,” Belliveau said.

Rescue service exceeds revenue expectations

Jan. 20, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A Williston ambulance responds to a call on Tuesday. Since its launch in July, the ambulance service has brought in more money than estimates had projected. (Courtesy photo)

To call Williston’s ambulance service busy would be something of an understatement, says Fire Chief Ken Morton.

Since its inception on July 1, 2010, Williston emergency medical technicians responded to more calls than originally projected, meaning revenues for the town are higher than expected.

“The first six months went really well,” Morton said. “My staff has worked very hard to make this work.”

The most important change resulting from the addition of Williston’s ambulance service is the reduction of response times, meaning patients get to the hospital much faster than before, Morton said. Average response times for Williston’s former primary ambulance responder — St. Michael’s College Rescue Service in Colchester — hovered around 11 minutes, Morton said. That didn’t include the time it might take for Williston first responders to inform an ambulance crew about the status of a patient before transportation to the hospital.

Williston’s rescue service has cut the average response time to 4.34 minutes and has also ended the time-consuming patient updates, Morton said.

Getting patients to the hospital more quickly means the potential to save more lives, Morton said. For example, when Williston rescuers responded to a person suffering cardiac arrest at the Christmas Tree Shops this fall, they were able to get the patient to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington in 13 minutes. Morton said the patient survived and is now home from the hospital.

“At the end of the day, that was why I was so adamant about making this service happen,” Morton said.

When the fire department proposed the service in late 2009, it projected that EMTs would respond to roughly 375 calls within the first six months. That turned out to be a low estimate. By Dec. 31, 2010, Williston rescuers had responded to 424 calls; 281 of those calls required transporting a patient to the hospital.

September was the busiest month, with Williston rescuers bringing 60 patients to Fletcher Allen Health Care. December was almost as busy, according to figures provided by Town Manager Rick McGuire.

Like most ambulance services, Williston bills its patients — mostly through insurance companies — for the cost of transportation. Since July, the town has billed $325,450 in transportation costs. Of that amount, Williston received $260,360, with the difference remaining uncollected for various reasons. That’s roughly $28,000 more than the cost of implementing the ambulance service in the current municipal budget. Earlier this month, Morton said the town charged Medicare patients roughly $100,000, which was not included in the six-month revenue figures because it has yet to be collected.

He said towns that have rescue services generally expect to recover 80 percent of transportation costs and the Williston service is on pace to do the same by the end of the fiscal year in June.

The rescue rates, set last year by the Selectboard, are $550 for transports requiring advanced life support and $450 for basic life support. The town also bills a transportation fee of $10 per mile.

Voters approved the rescue service last year on Town Meeting Day when it was included as part of the municipal budget. Several residents complained that the Selectboard included the service without allowing people to vote on the measure separately, as had been done in the past.

After receiving voter approval in March 2010, Morton said the fire department worked a “hectic schedule” to bring the rescue service to fruition. The department bought a brand new ambulance, as well as a used one for backup. A few volunteer firefighters who were not certified as EMTs underwent further training, he said.

“It was hard, but gosh darn it, by July 1, we were ready to go,” Morton said.

Currently, the fire department has eight full-time firefighters who can also serve as rescuers. Of the 52 volunteer firefighters, 38 can work on ambulances as EMTs.