Letters to the Editor (2/18/10)

Feb. 18, 2010


Town Meeting and elections will be held on Tuesday, March 2. Please note the Observer will not run any Letters to the Editor pertaining to the vote on Feb. 25, the week prior to the election.

All Letters to the Editor written in regards to Town Meeting and the March 2 election were to be received by Feb. 15, and appear in this issue of the Observer.

School Board explains budget

The Williston School Board, the administrative team and community members have been working to create a budget that is sensitive to difficult economic times while maintaining high quality programs for our students.

On Jan. 21, the Williston School Board adopted a budget for the 2010-11 school year of $16,478,314. This is a 0.18 percent increase to our operating budget and a 0.95 percent total increase, including the Early Learning Partnership tuition and interest. The expenses of the Early Learning program are recovered in the following two years.

Even with a very fiscally responsible budget, our school will be able to improve in several areas to continue to better the education of our students. Some examples of these improvements are: increased student access to technology, continuing to provide intensive training for math teachers K-8 as well as adding more instructional resources to our science program to improve student learning.

Recently, our school implemented a new Web site to further strengthen our communication for parents as well as students.

Williston schools continue to lead the way in providing cost efficient, high quality education with our per pupil spending at $12,649.

The School Board would like to thank the community members Polly Malik, Anne Smith, Kevin Mara and Ruth Magill, along with student Kyle Roy, who participated in the budget process. Their viewpoints were vital in developing this budget. The School Board would also like to thank the administration for always thinking first of the students and their education while still being extremely considerate of the taxpayers of our community.

We hope that our community will continue to recognize the excellent achievements of our school and support this budget. The Williston School Board, along with Jeanne Jensen of the CVU board, will host a budget forum on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Williston Central School dining room.

Chairwoman Darlene Worth, Deb Baker-Moody, Laura Gigliotti, Holly Rouelle, Keith Roy, Williston School Board

Cost too high for NECAP scores

I applaud the Williston Observer for bringing to the community’s attention the poor student test scores at Champlain Valley Union High School. I am shocked, but not surprised, at those scores.

If the school (the teachers and the administrators) got grades, the grades would have been C for reading, F for math and F for writing (I don’t grade on a curve).

Considering the fact that over 15 percent of my family’s gross annual income goes to pay the school tax every year, I am more than upset — especially since the scores have gone down! Frankly, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been some sort of taxpayer revolt about this obviously poor use of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Of course, the school administrators and the teachers’ union will simply say the problem is that they don’t have enough money. How much of my family’s annual income do they need? Is it 20 percent? Is it 25 percent? When will we finally admit that we are obviously wasting a good part of the money we are forced to give to the public schools?

I would love to be able to send my children to private a school where students are excelling, not just getting by. How can I do that when over 15 percent of my family’s annual income is already being taken from me to fund schools that produce these abysmal results? Unfortunately, looking at the declining CVU scores, I can’t afford to send my children to CVU, either.

J. Meyers, Williston

Williston ambulance a good idea

As a taxpayer, I have done some research into the proposed Williston ambulance service. Having done that, I fully support it.

This proposed ambulance service will not add any new expense to the town’s operating budget. It will be fully paid for by ambulance transport fees. Every year, Williston has nearly 800 ambulance transports, all provided by ambulances from other towns. Some folks are under the mistaken assumption these ambulance transports are free, but they are not. Each transport costs the individual, or his or her insurance, at least $450. A Williston ambulance service would keep that money here in our own town.

Currently, when you call an ambulance in Williston, the Williston first responders arrive within minutes. Then you wait for an additional period of time for the ambulance to arrive from another town. If traffic is heavy, you will wait even longer for that ambulance coming from another town. If you are having a life-threatening emergency, those lost minutes can make a difference between life and death. If you survive the medical emergency, the future quality of your life may be adversely impacted by the length of time it takes to get you into the ambulance and finally on your way to the hospital. Not to mention the time it takes for the first responders to transfer your information to the ambulance crew. Valuable time is lost. With a Williston ambulance service, you could be in the ambulance and on your way much quicker than you would when relying on an ambulance from another town.

Faster service and potentially better medical outcomes — all paid from fees which ambulance users now pay to other ambulance services. All this at no additional cost to the town’s operating budget. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Mary Carlson, Williston

Stop debating and support the ambulance

Ambulance, no ambulance, separate line item, ballot vote, add it to the budget, Selectboard debate and “back-door” Fire Department approach, let the voters have a say; WOW, what debate over a much needed public safety function for a town that really needs it.

Williston adding an ambulance service would add revenue to the general fund, thereby reducing taxes, which is a benefit to all of us. Williston is a community that needs an ambulance service for the benefit of care for the people who live and work here. The numbers support the added expenses and the proposal is a good one. We have been serviced for a long time by some really great EMTs from other communities who provide great care, but the time has come to move forward toward our own ambulance service.

If I could ask one thing of the voters of Williston, please take a moment to learn the facts about the proposal presented to the Selectboard. Call the Fire Department and ask some questions, attend one of the informational meetings held by the Fire Department or attend Town Meeting. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision about adding this much-needed emergency service.

Barbara Young, Williston

Support ambulance

As both a Williston resident and physician, I am writing to ask your support for beginning an ambulance service here in Williston.  With our current system, I have been witness to fairly long wait times for out-of-town ambulances to respond to Thomas Chittenden Health Center, whereas the WFD EMTs arrive quickly.  Once one of the variety of different transporting ambulances comes on scene, information is transferred to this new team who then transports the patient to the hospital. This extra “hand-off,” per the Institute of Medicine, plays a role in increasing medical errors. Both the wait time and hand-off issues are addressed by having our own rescue service.

As for affordability, simple math documents that the number of calls times the representative insurance reimbursement will cover the costs.  Nobody can predict future payment trends but this is well addressed by the leasing of a rig rather than buying one.

This proposal seems well thought out, is affordable, and deserves our support.  Thank you.

Don Weinberg, MD, Thomas Chittenden Health Center, Williston

Say no to budget

As a taxpayer, I am urging voters to say NO to our budget

Every year, the Williston Fire Department comes to the town asking for more money. First it was paid staff, then it was a new fire station, last year it was a new fire truck and this year it’s a new ambulance and additional staff. How deep are our pockets?  

In the past couple of weeks, WFD has been presenting voters with information about the ambulance proposal. We’ve read the same information in local papers.  

Some information as initially given was misleading and incorrect. Many townspeople reviewed this and did their own research. Only after people at a recent forum pointed out inaccuracies did WFD change its published presentation as evidenced on their Web site. When Chief Morton was asked about the accuracy of his budget, he acknowledged some figures were incorrect, some expenses budgeted too low, and could cost as much as 30 percent more. 

Williston Selectboard made the decision to take away our vote and put this into the budget, based on incorrect information they were given by WFD. If WFD is asking the town to add this service, shouldn’t they have put in the time and thought to make sure the budget as presented was accurate and correct? If WFD was going to put out public information, shouldn’t it have been factual and not misled the Selectboard and voters? 

Now is not the time to take a chance that WFD might not be able to provide this service as presented to the town. If WFD already knows its budget is incorrect, then before we pass it, I believe we should know all the facts and have the true figures. If not, WFD will be back asking for more. Vote NO on town meeting day!

Renee Davies, Williston

Ambulance will cost more

Three years ago the voters of Williston overwhelmingly made the decision to vote down an ambulance and six paid staff. In the time since that vote, nothing within Williston Fire Department has changed. Why now can it be done for so much less, with less staffing?  The answer is it cannot.  

While Chief Morton has stated that the EMS call staff has more than doubled, he fails to mention that at any point in time, that same call staff can drop in size very quickly. In just the past two years, the department has lost 16 call EMTs and FFs.  

If the town adds just one person initially to staff the ambulance, how will both fire and EMS calls be covered at the same time? Of the paid staff, the Chief and Captain only work Monday – Friday. There are three additional paid staffers who rotate 24 hours on and 48 hours off. How will one more full time person fit in the rotation? The ambulance requires two certified personnel to be in service. If there is a fire call or EMS call that the staff responds to, and then there is a second call for either, will not the coverage to respond be very short? Will response to a fire call be delayed, or will a resident in town be waiting for another ambulance to come? I predict we will soon be asked to add more staff to the department. 

I predict that should this go through, next year, the Fire Department will be back looking for more. I urge the residents of Williston to vote NO on the town budget, and send a message to the Selectboard that we want to have a say and we want our questions answered.  

Scott Jacobs, Williston

Say no to Williston Rescue

I am writing to urge the voters of Williston to vote NO on the town budget. If we don’t do it now, we will regret it next year. 

There may be much emotion being thrown at us about waiting for ambulances, but the truth is, if this goes through now, the WFD will be back next year looking for a lot more money. 

Let’s take a look at the budget: $78,000 for one person? The police department is losing a position. According to Town Manager Rick McGuire, “Now is not the time to consider adding personnel when residents are struggling in a stagnant economy.”

Next year, when the volunteers are unable to keep the ambulance in service, we will be asked for those six paid positions that were needed three years ago. Chief Morton’s favorite neighbor, South Burlington Fire Department, needed six when they added an ambulance.

Why an additional cost of $3000 for physicals for 1.5 FTE? And dispatch services for $10,000?  Where will the dispatching be done from? Currently Williston pays Essex Police for their services. If Williston were to go through another dispatch agency, perhaps Shelburne Police, the cost will not be $10,000 for 700 calls. It would be more than double this.    

In leasing an ambulance, the Selectboard thinks this will be a good opt out if the department does not receive the revenues as predicted. How many people leasing a car can get out of that lease early?    

To be clear, the services of Saint Michael’s Rescue work very well. Having an ambulance in town will not make the significant difference promised. Chief Morton has under-budgeted expenses and over-estimated revenue. If we don’t say NO now, we’ll pay for it next year. 

Karen McCarthy, Williston

Bring ambulance to town

I am a volunteer EMT/Firefighter with Williston Fire Department. I live with my wife and two children up the street from the fire station. My position is as one of the on-call medical personnel on the night shift.

I am the first person who shows up after you call 911, even in the middle of the night, in all types of weather. I respond regardless of the call – medical or trauma.

But 5 percent of those calls will be calls that I would wish on no one. It is then that every action I take and every minute that passes counts. When you are pacing back and forth hoping the ambulance would come for your loved one more quickly, my heart is in my throat wishing I could do more. Those are the calls after which I go back to the fire station frustrated and emotionally drained.

While I believe the current ambulance services that cover Williston are competent and professional, it is an indisputable truth that the time required to travel the distance from their out of town stations can make or break a call, especially for rescue calls on the eastern side of town. Bringing an ambulance service into Williston would allow access to all areas of town in a more timely fashion.

The cost to the users of this vital service would be the same, while service would be more timely. In fact, with the addition of this item, the Fire Department portion of the operating budget goes DOWN by 1 percent, since the revenue more than offsets the cost of operating the ambulance.

In closing, please remember to have your 911 address visible from the road (on your building or at the end of your driveway), and leave a light on at night if possible so the building and pathways are clearly visible to responders.

Rik Robert, Williston

What’s the downside?

As a new resident of Williston I am a bit confused by the letters to the Observer questioning the need for an ambulance. If I read the Williston Fire Department’s Fact Sheet correctly, the proposed ambulance service is projected to not only pay for itself (and all associated costs) but could possibly generate additional revenues ($25,000) to be put back into the town’s operating budget. Right now, according to the Fact Sheet, Williston residents are being billed for ambulance transports by all transporting ambulances who serve this town. These outside services are billing the insurance companies of Williston residents who are transported by ambulance – “Williston, by having its own ambulance service will simply shift the revenue stream to the town.”

In addition to adding no cost to the Williston taxpayers, the ambulance’s response time would improve because the ambulance would be housed at our Fire Department. Faster response times would mean better emergency care to our citizens.

No cost to the taxpayer, helping with unemployment, and faster response times – what’s the downside?

Shawn Willis, Williston

Thanks Chief Morton

I have been in the medical field for 30 years and for the past 10 years I have managed the largest private cardiology practice in the state. We have over 40,000 patients and we deal with cardiac disease every single day. There are over 300,000 cardiac arrests a year in this country, but the good news is that the death rate between 1996 and 2006 has declined over 36 percent due in part to highly trained EMS services that assess and transport the patient to the hospital within the “golden hour.”

Chief Ken Morton has brilliantly developed a budget to provide faster and more efficient EMT services to the citizens of Williston. These services will decrease response time from over 11 minutes to just less than 5 minutes on average. Additionally, there will be significant time saved by having the EMTs arrive at the scene, assess the patient and transport without having to “hand the patient” over to St. Miichael’s Rescue, which requires precious time as they too are required to do their own assessments, receive report form the EMTs that arrived on the scene first, and then finally transport the patient to the hospital.

I remain puzzled by those that threaten to vote an entire budget down over a proposal that will provide a service that is budget neutral, has a lease escape clause included in it, and will provide faster and more efficient emergency services. Are we so polarized by far-right and far-left thinking that the majority of us in the middle will not be heard? 

Thanks Chief Morton for your dedication, wisdom and commitment to the citizens of Williston in finding a way to provide these services to the community – you can help me with my budget anytime! 

Karen Rounds, Williston

Urge you to vote no on budget

I am writing to urge a NO vote on the town budget. The reason is simple — if we don’t, it is going to end up costing us all more in the end.  

In proposing an ambulance, the WFD has under budgeted this endeavor, and over promised revenue. In the three years since this was last proposed, nothing has changed to explain how it can be done now for so much less.  

At a recent forum, Chief Morton was asked whether he had ever asked Saint Michael’s Rescue if his budgeted revenue was on target. SMRS would know best the actual dollar amounts, on average, that are collected from calls in Williston. Fact is he never asked SMRS. Fact is they do not collect close to the revenue Chief Morton has budgeted. 

Some of those in attendance at the forum were members of South Burlington Fire Department, more specifically paid firefighter/EMTs from SBFD, who promised to help in the transition. Fact is, when SBFD added an ambulance years ago, they hired at least six new full time staffers. Fact is, those who were present were union members there to support the WFD union members.  

Equipment costs are up, and expensive equipment that the department does not currently have will need to be purchased. One AED alone is $16,000 and that is not in the budget we have seen. The $10,000 for dispatch is under budgeted. No local dispatch agency has told WFD they will dispatch 700 calls for this amount.

At a time when “residents are struggling in a stagnant economy,” as stated by our town manager, we should have all the accurate facts before we commit to such an expense. If we don’t, next year we will be asked for more money.

Chris McCarthy, Williston

Please support ambulance

I am a Williston resident and a full supporter of having an ambulance service in our community.

Our town needs an ambulance and would benefit greatly from its faster response and transport times. It is clear to me that there will be no additional financial burden to the residents of our community, so there is no question that this is the right choice for Williston.

I dread the thought of ever needing to call 911 for my family, but would feel better knowing that we could have an ambulance only a couple of minutes away, if necessary. I can only hope that other families feel the same way and vote yes to this crucial, life-saving item.

Sarah Rock, Williston

Roundabout issue

I have travelled the intersection several times a day over the years and have never seen an accident. Yes, there is the occasional driver who shoots the stop sign but all that is needed  to put a halt to this is one policeman watching  the place one hour per week and handing out hefty tickets to the sinners. Trust me, the word would get around in a real hurry. In short, there is no need for a roundabout and the present situation is perfectly satisfactory. However, also think of the traffic nightmare the construction of a roundabout will create. It would make things ten times worse than what they are today, and this not for weeks but for months. The construction of a roundabout typically takes about 8 to 12 months, depending on contractor methodology, utility relocation, and the weather.

Luz Muller, Williston

Roundabout vote

A few thoughts related to the roundabout issue to be voted on March 2. In the many years we have driven through this intersection at all hours of the day, we do not know of any serious accidents. A recent report of a school bus accident did not mention it was a fender bender and the bus was empty. It is not a dangerous intersection.

The cost quoted today to build a roundabout will not be the same figure in a few years. It will be much more. The cost of disturbing gas, electric, and sewer lines is unknown.

 Our village is on the National Register of Historic Places. Will this impact our unique example of a country store and its business? The main entrance to the church for special services such as a funeral (with a casket) or a bride and grooming entering/exiting for a wedding? Will traffic on the north and south side get its turn during the busy hour of traffic?

It just doesn’t seem it is an appropriate place for a roundabout next to a business, a church, historic homes, and a beautiful 70-year-old tree that may be lost in the process. And all at what cost? Today’s system is working. Why fix it if it is not broken?

Ginger Isham, Marie Lareau, Williston

Vermont Yankee should close

Trust is a critical relationship between two parties. It is hard to gain, easy to lose, and impossible to fully regain once lost. Public loss of trust in the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) and its owner Entergy argue for closure of VY in 2012.

Much has been said about VY’s out-of-state management lying under oath about underground pipes. Lack of trust goes beyond VY management. It encompasses the years Entergy has deferred maintenance at VY and plants around the country. Entergy’s Palisades plant in Michigan has been leaking for years, and the plant has dumped significant waste into Lake Michigan. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has cited Entergy for under-funding the decommissioning trust funds for several of its plants nationwide.

Lack of trust goes beyond Entergy corporate culture. The NRC has not been living up to the standard tax payers expect. While an NRC staff person has been on site at VY for years, that person has not seen to it that VY meets safety and reliability standards. The NRC creates a perception of lax discipline by giving nuclear plants just hand slaps —”non-cited violations” — for breaches of NRC’s own regulations.

The culture of collusion between the NRC and the nuclear industry it supposedly regulates goes even further. NRC investigators sent to VY to monitor its tritium leaks are “bunking” with VY staff. Where is the independence of the NRC? This NRC-VY coziness has further compromised the credibility, independence and professional integrity of the NRC oversight process.

Public trust in VY, Entergy and the NRC has been fatally compromised. I urge the Vermont legislature to emphatically vote to deny VY a certificate of public good to operate beyond 2012.

Betsy Eldredge, Secretary, SIERRA CLUB of the Upper Valley, Springfield

From the Senate

As a member of the Senate Economic Development Committee, I want to share with you some highlights of the Recovery Bill we passed out of committee last week.

The bill, which appropriates $8.6 million in federal stimulus dollars, is aimed at making investments in Vermont’s economic future so we will be well positioned when the economy rebounds.

Nearly $3 million will be used to expand broadband and cell phone coverage to the nearly 15,000 Vermonters currently without service or with inadequate dial-up as the only option. At my request, the Committee set aside $500,000 to upgrade telecom infrastructure in business districts throughout the state. Our business community needs state-of-the-art telecom to be competitive. At present, we’re a decade behind.

Building on my committee’s efforts last year in the agricultural sector, we’ve invested $200K in Vermont’s New Ag economy. Specifically, $100K will go toward the Farm to Plate initiative, which directs funds to processing and distribution infrastructure needed to help farmers sell value-added products to both in- and out-of-state customers. The other $100K will fund a new Farm to Institutions initiative. These funds will link local farm produce to Vermont schools, hospitals, large businesses and other institutional buyers.

To help small businesses meet payroll and operating expenses, $1 million has been designated for the Vermont Economic Development Authority’s “Jobs Fund.”  An additional $900K has been allocated to VEDA to make farm loans, primarily to dairy farmers, for seed and fertilizer purchases this spring.

The bill also includes nearly $2 million for the Vermont Seed Capital Fund, which provides equity investments in new businesses in the high tech industry. This fund, managed by private sector experts with public oversight, has the potential to create significant jobs and state revenues.

As always, feel free to contact me at timashe@burlingtontelecom.net with ideas, questions, or comments.

Tim Ashe , State Senator, Burlington