November 22, 2014

Letters to the Editor

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Thank you, voters
I want to sincerely thank the people of Williston for your support in the recent election. Since my first election to the Senate six years ago, I’ve done my best to represent each Chittenden County community with the same enthusiasm and close attention as my own hometown. I will continue to keep you posted on my Senate efforts with updates in the Observer and in direct calls and e-mails with you. Please stay in touch and thanks again.
— Tim Ashe
State Senator
Chittenden County

Sustainable healthcare
I disagree with Mr. McCullough’s statement that the results of this election didn’t reflect clear opposition to Mr. Shumlin’s plan to provide Universal Health Care, or UHC (“Local legislators weigh in on vote, look to future,” Nov. 13, 2014). Peter Shumlin attempted to ride on the coattails of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act with the expectation of gaining notoriety of being the first to provide a UHC program. Though our present system needs reform, the answer is not another unsustainable system.
The term UHC implies healthcare for all regardless of the reason. We need a system that rewards responsibility and penalizes irresponsibility. Preventable diseases and disorders — like type 2 diabetes and heart disease from obesity caused by poor diet and lack of exercise and lung disease from smoking — should not be covered. Accelerating costs make it unrealistic to think that unlimited services can be provided. When our society begins to create laws and services based on holding the individual responsible for what they do, we will be on a sustainable path for healthcare reform.
Current high property taxes, cost of living and socialistic policies will continue to prevent existing businesses from growing and hiring or entering Vermont at all. Many more tax-paying residents will leave our state placing an even greater burden on those that remain. (Another point to which Mr. McCullough disagrees.) We need to raise the bar on accountability and the level of expectations we have for ourselves, our children and employees. The same model of making people responsible for what they do needs to exist for education and employment. Regarding education, the “No Child Left Behind Act” has placed the bar so low that every child is being left behind when compared to other countries. We cannot afford this in today’s global economy.
—Craig Bechard
Williston

Shumlin interview
On Sunday morning, Nov. 9, I was watching a portion of an interview on the WCAX program “You Can Quote Me” in which our governor was being interviewed after the election. I was stunned to hear him critical of students who choose not to attend college. Is this fair? How does it make our young people and families feel who are struggling with high costs of education?
—Ginger Isham
Williston

Watershed groups need help

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By Ann Ingerson
Vermont’s community-based watershed groups have worked hard to improve watershed health over several decades. Now they need your help to face two pressing water issues that demand sweeping action.
Issue number one: Worsening algae blooms in Lake Champlain have inspired a new-and-improved plan to clean up Lake Champlain. (Similar but lesser-known plans target Lake Memphremagog and Long Island Sound and encompass the rest of Vermont’s waterways draining north, south, east or west into these impaired water bodies.)
Issue number two: Intense storms have become more common in recent years, including tropical storm Irene, which brought us graphic images of flood damage and we expect more extreme floods in future years.
Beyond the fact that both issues involve water, a connection might not be obvious. But trace the immediate crisis back to its cause and you find an intimate connection. Solving both of these problems requires changing the way we manage the landscape, which means acting locally—reaching out to thousands of landowners and managers and convincing them to take action. Local watershed groups speak directly to decision-makers about the value of clean water and healthy streams and they can use your help.
Why is grassroots action so important to address Vermont’s water pollution and flooding problems? As a rural state, Vermont has few direct discharges from factories or waste treatment plants where we can use “end-of-pipe” treatments to filter out pollutants. Instead, most of our water pollution comes from runoff across the landscape. Polluted runoff flows from eroding dirt roads and ditches, slumping stream-banks that lack natural wooded buffers, corn fields left bare of cover before planting or after harvest, poorly-sited woods roads or stream crossings, dirty urban pavement draining directly into nearby streams… See the pattern?
Reducing these “non-point” pollution sources is much more complicated than upgrading an urban waste treatment plant or filtering an industrial outlet pipe. Solutions include rain barrels and rain gardens that retain rainfall on suburban properties; no-till, cover crops, manure injectionand vegetated stream buffers on farms; dirt roads that resist washouts to keep sediment out of streams; water bars and portable skidder bridges for logging operations; and diverse other measures that reduce or filter runoff one small step at a time.
Many of these measures have the added benefit of reducing flood damage by slowing runoff or giving rivers space to move as they like to do.
Unfortunately, solutions rarely involve quick fixes and it’s not always easy to sustain attention—and investment—over the long haul. Yet, sustained effort is what it will take to help our waterways regain health and become more resilient to severe storms.
Big environmental problems like these can seem overwhelming. Joining a team of dedicated like-minded can-do volunteers is a great antidote to despair. Many hands make light workand improving watershed health certainly requires many hands. Volunteers are needed to:
plant streamside trees and rain gardens
educate school children and shoreline landowners
sample water quality in streams
inventory storm drains
haul trash out of rivers
develop websites and newsletters and Facebook pages to involve and inform more people
raise funds and do mailings to support and expand this important work
Whatever your particular talents and interests, your local watershed group has a job for you.
Watershed groups operate in most parts of the stateand a network called Watersheds United Vermont was founded a year ago to support them.
Please check out the map at www.watershedsunitedvt.org/about/members to see who is active where you live, or contact Ann Ingerson, program coordinator for Watersheds United Vermont, at [email protected] about starting up a new effort in your neighborhood.
Remember these inspiring words from Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Ann Ingerson is the program coordinator for Watersheds United Vermont.

Families keep Trinity Baptist school going

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By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
Two years ago, the school board at Trinity Baptist School made the tough decision to shutter the school’s high school segment, due to declining enrollment and tight budgets.
But parents weren’t willing to let that happen, said school board member and parent Jennifer Anair.
“Once parents were notified, it was clear that they were willing to do whatever it would take to keep the school open,” she said. “Thankfully, we never did close our doors.”
That meant cutting costs and pitching in. Now, volunteers clean the school, help out in the administrative office and cafeteria and even teach art and music.
“We realized that we had to be creative to make things work and that our families were willing to make it happen,” said Anair, who has four children in the school and said she values the strong teacher-student connection and the school’s Bible-based approach.
Williston resident Erika Mellman, who has two students in the school, teaches choir and hand chimes to older students and general music to those in kindergarten through grade 5.
Mellman, whose family does not belong to the church, said she and her husband decided to send their children to Trinity Baptist for the strong science and math curriculum and because her daughter had some behavioral challenges they were looking to meet more thoroughly.
She said she found out about the intended closure slightly after the fact—parents who attend the church were notified a day earlier than parents who are not members—and she and many parents were “alarmed.”
Anair said that after parents were notified, they held a meeting with the school board and immediately began offering ways to help.
“We came together and talked through it,” Mellman said. “Parents stepped up said, ‘Wait a minute, we really value this and we’ll do pretty much anything to prevent this. What would it take?’”
Now, the school, which has 68 students enrolled in preschool through 12th grade and 15 in high school, is celebrating 41 years and inviting the community to come see what it has to offer.
The school is hosting a Thanksgiving lunch on Nov. 21, which is open to the public. For more information, call the school at 879-9007 or visit www.tbsvt.org.

A food budget, stretched thin

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Fran Stoddard prepares dinner in her home Monday night. She and her husband are participating in Hunger Free Vermont’s 3SquaresVT Challenge this week.

Fran Stoddard prepares dinner in her home Monday night. She and her husband are participating in Hunger Free Vermont’s 3SquaresVT Challenge this week.

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
Halfway through a week of sticking to the average benefit amount of a 3SquaresVT recipient, Williston resident Fran Stoddard is more tuned into the constant stress facing those who don’t always have enough good food to eat.
“I’ve been made more aware that I’m so blessed to not be burdened on a daily basis with having to make all of these tricky decisions about basically the essentials of life,” she said. “Food is our fuel. Good nutrition is so essential for health and wellbeing. Children who don’t have proper nutrition can’t learn, the elderly who don’t have proper nutrition get sick or sicker.”
Stoddard and her husband, Harry Grabenstein, are among the 115 Vermonters—ranging from business leaders to college students—taking Hunger Free Vermont’s 5th annual 3SquaresVT Challenge as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
Participants have been asked to spend the week eating on the average 3SquaresVT—Vermont’s food stamps program—budget, which clocks in at $36, or $1.72 per meal, for one person, $54 for two people, $82 for three and $95 for four.
Alida Duncan, development and marketing director with Hunger Free Vermont, said the challenge doesn’t exactly emulate the experience of a food insecure Vermonter, but it is a window into what they deal with.
“We want to draw attention to the experience of living on a really strict food budget and how that changes your daily life,” she said. “It makes you think about hunger throughout the day and how hungry you are what you’re going to eat next… When you’re on a strict budget it’s a different story and you have to make hard choices.”
When Stoddard and Grabenstein decided to take Hunger Free Vermont’s 3SquaresVT Challenge it was obvious that they would have to give up some things they were used to, like a weekly tradition of eating out.
“My husband said, ‘If we have $54, there’s no way we’re going out to eat unless we save up for a month,’” recalled Stoddard. “I said, ‘Yup, I think you’re right.’”
Meals out and indulgences would obviously be on the chopping block—but a grocery cart full of vegetables and healthy staples is also unfeasible.
Stoddard and her husband are packing lunches every day, eating all meals at home and making tough choices in the grocery store.
“This is all about awareness and empathy and really understanding that this is not a lot of money, and yet it is profoundly important for those families and those people who need it,” Stoddard said. “It’s so easy for us that are doing just fine to not think about that.”
Stoddard said it was interesting shopping for the challenge. They picked up eggs, peanut butter, pasta and tuna fish. The couple has Brussels sprouts and parsley left in their garden, as well as some tomatoes they froze—though Stoddard said that felt a little like cheating, since not everyone has the land or time to garden.
“We’ll see how much is left by the end of the week and see if we can get a $5 bottle of wine,” Stoddard said. “Though that’s a tenth of our whole budget, so maybe not.”
Skipping a bottle of nice wine and the luxury of going out is easy, but it’s less easy to make a choice when it comes to buying the healthy and often local and organic foods she and her husband normally buy.
“You really have to think twice about whether you can afford it,” she said.
Spend your limited means on the food you know is healthy and good, or the food that will fill your belly but may not provide the nutrition you need? It’s a choice that faces thousands of Vermonters each week.
Currently, more than 87,000 Vermonters—one in seven—receive 3SquaresVT.
“3SquaresVT makes a difference in the lives of thousands of Vermonters every day, but in many cases, the benefits are too low to allow households to purchase nutritious food and feed their families healthy meals on a consistent basis,” said Angela Smith-Dieng, 3SquaresVT advocacy manager at Hunger Free Vermont. “The challenge helps raise awareness about the program’s importance in alleviating hunger and then asks challenge participants to advocate for hungry Vermonters in their community.”
Stoddard said the challenge has made her realize what goes into tightening a food budget.
“It’s certainly possible to do, but boy it just takes more time, and who has that kind of extra time when there are so many other stresses when you’re living on the edge?” she said.
Earlier in the week, she didn’t have time to pack a lunch, and picked up a quick stop sandwich for $2.39. Though her coworkers gave her an apple, she found herself wondering whether her meeting that afternoon would have snacks.
“It’s just a very different awareness of where the next meal is coming from,” she said.
Stoddard said taking the challenge has allowed her to have conversations about hunger and food insecurity in Vermont.
“This is just an exercise really for those of us who are privileged, but it’s an important one and good one,” she said. “It makes one really appreciate how important food is, and how important good food and good nutrition is.”

Selectboard supports school tax resolution

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Measure seeks two-year freeze on education taxes
By Greg Elias
Observer correspondent
The Selectboard on Monday dove into the school funding debate, agreeing to send a resolution urging state lawmakers to halt rising property taxes that fund education.
The board had previously considered resolutions approved by neighboring towns and a model produced by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. With three of its five members present on Monday, the Selectboard by consensus decided to use a customized version of the VLCT resolution that requests a two-year freeze on property taxes. Town Manager Rick McGuire will bring the modified resolution back to the board for a vote at its next meeting.
Monday’s session featured a lengthy debate about education funding that included comments from Williston School Board members Kevin Mara and Josh Diamond. That board was unable to reach a consensus and decided not to sign a resolution.
“The School Board felt that its core issue really is to ensure our children receive a quality education and value for our local taxpayers,” Diamond said. “We will remain focused on that issue and I think at this stage the board officially really does not want to enter the political fray as to potential solutions.”
Diamond, emphasizing that he was not speaking for the board, outlined his opinion on the issue. The state has nearly reached the limit of reliance on property taxes, he said, and some think the education formula is overly complex. But he noted the formula aims for fairness by limiting total taxes based on household income.
A two-year cap on property taxes could have negative consequences on students by forcing drastic school budget cuts, Diamond said. “There’s a lot of folks looking for a quick fix, and I don’t think that exists.”
Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig, who also represents Williston in the Vermont House, said most of the town resolutions ask lawmakers to use other taxes to fund education. Doing so won’t be easy, he noted, because increasing sales or income taxes will just cause other problems.
Selectboard member Debbie Ingram said controlling education spending needs to be part of the solution. She said the Williston School District did well to produce a level-funded budget this year, but education expenses in Vermont as a whole are too high.
“School spending has gone up astronomically throughout the state,” she said. “I certainly think it’s time to send a signal, along with the other towns, that something needs to be done, the red flag needs to be waved, somebody’s got to work on this very seriously.”
Board member Jeff Fehrs said he agreed with the principle behind Acts 60 and 68, laws that aim to equalize education funding among towns with wildly varying tax bases. He wondered if the state was contributing enough general fund revenue to supplement money generated by local property taxes.
The VCLT resolution calls for a two-year cap on education property taxes. It states that lawmakers should plug the budget gap using other revenue while they create a system that relies less on property taxes.
A two-year cap on the education property taxes would cause a $42 million funding shortfall, according to a report from the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office.
Selectboard members expressed reservations about a straight-out cap, presumably because of that shortfall. Fehrs said “freeze” better described the board’s position on what should happen to education taxes.
Like many other states, Vermont has long wrestled with school funding. Legal battles have driven major changes to the formula as the state tried to tweak laws to meet court mandates for educational equity.
The debate has intensified in recent years as enrollment dropped but local property taxes that comprise the majority of school funding kept rising. The VCLT resolution notes that enrollment has dropped by 10 percent over the past decade while education spending increased by 33 percent.
Local school officials assert that they have at least kept expenses level in recent years. For example, the Williston School Board last year approved a level-funded budget and Champlain Valley Union High School increased spending by just 1.7 percent.
Property taxes still increased. Williston’s homestead property tax rate jumped 4.7 percent. That works out to an additional $360 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home.
The Selectboard will further discuss and possibly vote on a finalized school funding resolution at its Dec. 1 meeting.

Local dancers bring ‘The Nutcracker’ to life

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Williston dancers (from left) Isabella Nash, Cassidy Frost and Emma Richling will peform in ‘The Nutcracker’ Thanksgiving weekend at the Flynn Theatre.

Williston dancers (from left) Isabella Nash, Cassidy Frost and Emma Richling will peform in ‘The Nutcracker’ Thanksgiving weekend at the Flynn Theatre.

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
The classic holiday tale of dancing mice and the sugar plum fairy will have a local spin on Thanksgiving weekend.
Thirteen-year-old Williston ballerina Cassidy Frost will perform as Clara in the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s presentation of the “The Nutcracker,” backed up by several Williston dancers.
The production comes to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 29-30, featuring more than 120 local dancers from 33 Vermont towns.
“It’s a good way to get into the holiday spirit,” Frost said.
Frost, a seventh-grader at Williston Central School, is one of three students who will take the stage as Clara. Her turn comes on Sunday at 1 p.m. Frost has taken part in “The Nutcracker” for several years—both with the Albany Berkshire Ballet and Vermont Ballet Theater and School, where she takes classes.
“It was surreal,” Frost said of getting the part. “I didn’t really think I got it.”
Helena Sullivan, rehearsal mistress of the performance and director of the Stowe Dance Academy and Mad River Dance Academy, said Frost stood out among the girls auditioning for the part.
“She has good ballet technique and beautiful facial expressions and arms,” she said. “She’s a beautiful dancer and has a really great personality, very nice and respectful.”
Four other Williston dancers—Charlotte DeSantos, Bella Margi, Isabella Nash and Emma Richling—will take part in the production.
Sullivan said the performance is a Vermont tradition, suited to everyone from young kids to grandparents.
“It starts off the Christmas season on a really nice note,” she said. “Usually it’s the first weekend Church Street is decorated. There’s nothing like going to the Flynn with your kids all dressed up, then walking down Church Street…. It’s kind of magical.”
Students in the “Nutcracker” also get a taste of the professional ballerina life, since they perform alongside professional dancers under the guidance of Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo.
The Frosts are hosting two of the dancers in their home this year, as they have in past years. They’ve hosted professional dancers from the U.S., Brazil and Spain.
“That’s been very fun, to get to know a professional ballet dancer and have them stay with us,” said Christine Frost, Cassidy’s mother.
Frost began dancing when she was 3 years old.
“It’s a good way to express yourself, and it sort of just helps you feel better about yourself,” she said.
It also teaches her time management skills, said Christine Frost.
Between “Nutcracker” rehearsals and classes at the Vermont Ballet Theater and School, Frost spends nearly a dozen hours spread over six days each week  dancing.
She said she’s a little nervous for the performance, but also looking forward to it.
“I’m excited, but I don’t want to get too anxious for it because I know it goes by so fast,” she said.
She’ll take the stage for the iconic performance again—this time as a Chinese dancer, Spanish dancer and candy cane—when the Vermont Ballet Theater presents its version of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 20 and 21.
Watching her older counterparts, both in the performances and at her ballet school, makes her want to keep going with her studies.
“You can see all older girls doing bigger parts, and that makes you want to be able to do them someday,” she said.
Performances of “The Nutcracker” are set for Nov. 29 at 3 and 7 p.m. and Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at www.Flynntix.org or by calling 863-5966.

POPCORN: “Nightcrawler” Uneasy Does It

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3 popcorns

3 popcorns

“Nightcrawler”

Uneasy Does It

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

Whether you deem director Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” a tale of unbridled American ambition or a study of the gray area between sociopathy and psychopathy, the sheer chutzpah of its title character will have you mesmerized. He is Jake Gyllenhaal’s superbly etched Louis Bloom, a petty thief when first we meet him, but about to make an epiphanic vocational discovery. It happens one night while out stealing. He observes a freelance reporter filming an auto accident for potential sale to the local TV station. Hmm, I think I’d be good at that, surmises the loner.

[Read more...]

PHOTOS: Girls Volleyball Championship

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282 [Read more...]

Recipe Corner: Fine Fish for Dinner

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By Ginger Isham

A saying goes “show me a fish hater and I’ll show you a person who has never tasted properly cooked fish.” I, for one, do not like all fish but these are favorite dishes of mine. These recipes come from a 1974 American Heart Association cookbook.

Alice’s Quick & Easy Baked Scallops
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup dry white wine
juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 pound scallops
Heat butter, wine, lemon juice and thyme. Pour over rinsed scallops. Marinate for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook.

Baked Cod
1 pound cod fillet, cut into 2-inch squares
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 medium carrots, scraped and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese (made from skim milk)
black pepper
1- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Place fish pieces into a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Place potato and carrot pieces between fish pieces. Place dabs of butter over all. Season with pepper. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.

Poached fish with sauce
2 pounds fish fillets, no skin
oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 bay leaf
1 cup hot water or white wine
sprig of parsley
Saute onion and celery in oil. Place fish fillets on top, add water or wine and seasonings. Cover and simmer about 8 minutes. Serve with one of following sauces.

Lemon Parsley Sauce
Heat 1/2 cup butter and juice of one large lemon in sauce pan. Add some lemon rind and chopped parsley and pour over fish.
Horseradish Sauce
Melt a tablespoon of butter in pan and stir in 4 teaspoons flour and cook briefly. Add about 2 tablespoons horseradish and 1 cup fish stock or clam juice. Cook until thickened.
Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.

Grant to help vulnerable people with Medicare

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The National Council on Aging was recently awarded a grant from the Administration for Community Living to continue its efforts to help thousands of low-income people with Medicare to get help enrolling in programs that make their health care affordable.
As the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act  Resource Center, the council will provide technical assistance and support to state health insurance assistance programs, area Agencies on Aging, and Aging and Disability Resource Centers for outreach and enrollment activities that help struggling Medicare beneficiaries receive the Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) and Medicare Savings Programs (MSP). Since 2009, these state agencies have helped nearly 700,000 seniors and adults with disabilities to save over $2.1 billion on their prescription and health care costs.
Funding to NCOA also supports outreach to low-income Medicare beneficiaries via web-based technology and person-centered assistance. Grant funding also will be used to expand NCOA’s network of Benefits Enrollment Centers, which provide comprehensive enrollment assistance into a wide variety of programs that help low-income Medicare beneficiaries achieve economic security.