October 2nd, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Local dairy farmers could soon be producing milk at a loss, with high production costs — driven by expensive fuel, feed and fertilizer — and falling milk prices pushing many farmers toward tighter, and in some cases negative, profit margins.
With milk prices hovering around $16 or $17 per hundredweight for most farmers, according to President of the Addison County Farm Bureau Bill Scott, even the best managers are going to have trouble making ends meet.
“Farmers tend to be an optimistic group,” Scott said. “I think they love what they’re doing, and they’ll keep sharpening their pencil to find ways to save money.”
That said, Scott predicted that falling revenues and skyrocketing expenses — he pointed to fuel and fertilizer prices that have doubled in the last year — will mean that the county could see the “marginal” farms go under.
The latest drop in milk prices comes after a spike that occurred a little over a year ago, explained Glenn Rogers, a farm business management specialist with the University of Vermont Extension in St. Albans. Prices stayed high through the spring and early summer — with a July blend price of $20.61 per hundredweight for milk, according to figures from the AgriMark dairy cooperative — but are tapering off now.
Rogers said he anticipates that milk prices will continue to “drift downward” and stay low over the next six months, and AgriMark projections for this winter show blend prices around $17.50 per hundredweight. Individual farmers could receive anywhere between roughly $14 and $20 per hundredweight of their milk, depending on the quality of their product.
AgriMark’s prices reflect the price paid for milk in Boston. Vermont farmers can expect to see slightly lower rates than AgriMark’s figures because of additional transportation costs.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Police Department will assign one of its officers to East Middlebury in the wake of a recent convenience store robbery that has sparked concerns about public safety in that neighborhood.
Middlebury police Chief Tom Hanley stressed that the officer will not be solely dedicated to East Middlebury, but would rather act as a liaison, or familiar face, to work with the community in addressing public safety concerns.
Those concerns are particularly high right now, in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 armed robbery of Mac’s Convenience Store. The masked culprit made off with a few hundred dollars and has yet to be caught.
Some members of East Middlebury’s Neighborhood Watch group attended Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard meeting to voice their concerns. Those concerns were somewhat defused by the announcement that new Middlebury police officer Russell O’Dell would be assigned as the liaison to East Middlebury. He is expected to be on the job, full time, by early November.
“The reason I came here, before I talked to Chief Hanley, was to plead and beg for an officer,” East Middlebury Neighborhood Watch member Katherine Windham told selectmen. “But now we have one. We are so pleased with that, and we will go forward with the crime watch.”
Windham said the group will soon send out a letter to fellow residents informing them “we are stepping up the program.” Moreover, the group will host a community meeting on Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church in East Middlebury, to learn more from police on how the neighborhood can better protect itself.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
NEW HAVEN — For a few days this fall, at least, the Beeman Elementary School gymnasium is home not to bouncing basketballs and flying jump ropes but instead the smells of sizzling onions and the happy chatter of young gourmets-in-training.
In a project headed up by Beeman health and physical education teacher Patty Whittemore, all of the New Haven elementary school’s 162 students have taken to the kitchen, spending a few hours every week whipping up chowders and zucchini pizzas and fresh pesto.
The cooking project, which will culminate in a harvest dinner for families at Beeman’s open house on next Wednesday, is part of a “place-based” learning approach that the school is integrating into its classrooms. The place-based philosophy promotes integrating communities into the classroom — which, in Beeman’s case, means putting down roots in its own backyard garden and reaching out to neighbors to celebrate New Haven’s local produce.
“It’s kind of a cool, community thing,” said Whittemore, The project emphasizes cooperative learning, service to the community and the basics of good nutrition —
Last week, students were hard at work on a bright, crisp Tuesday, readying ingredients for the open house meal. Earlier in the morning, younger students had made the base for a zucchini pizza — they identified zucchinis on a table heaped with produce provided by local families, cleaned the vegetables and set to work on the preparation.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students clattered into the gymnasium, where Whittemore told them that they’d be making corn chowder for the open house.
The meal is being made over the course of several weeks and frozen, and Whittemore hopes that student volunteers will be on hand for a few hours on the night of the open house to put finishing touches on the meal.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — State officials approved the budgets for Vermont’s 14 hospitals earlier this month, green-lighting a statewide average 9.5 percent increase in hospital rates, which tops last year’s increase by three percentage points.
Middlebury’s Porter Medical Center topped the list for approved percent rate increases with an 11 percent hike. But Porter officials explained that only a portion of its patients will actually feel the full brunt of this double-digit increase in fees.
“There aren’t that many patients that actually pay full rates,” explained Porter Vice President for Finance Duncan Brines, noting that many insurance companies, and certainly Medicaid and Medicare, have negotiated lower rates.
The increase in hospital’s approved spending plan for the 2009 fiscal year represents an 11.5 percent increase. It comes in at just over $57 million, up from a nearly $51 million expense budget for the previous year.
Two other Vermont hospitals had requested bigger rate increases than Porter — Northwestern Vermont Medical Center in St. Albans and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington had requested 11.4 and 11.8 percent increases, respectively. Porter itself sought an 11.2 percent rate increase.
But state officials at the Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA), the agency that regulates Vermont hospitals, determined the Middlebury health center would need to cut its rate increase by 0.2 percent, and the other hospitals by more.
Fletcher Allen Health Care, the state’s largest hospital, asked for and received a 10 percent rate increase. BISHCA gave its largest cut in a proposed rate increase to Rutland Regional Medical Center, which saw its requested 10.9 percent rate increased dropped to 9.6 percent.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh planning and zoning officials heard on Sept. 24 a preliminary proposal to build a McDonald’s Restaurant, Jiffy Mart convenience store and gas station on the 2.5-acre Route 7 parcel that was most recently occupied by the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and before then by Burdick’s Country Kitchen.
Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) has a deal to buy the parcel contingent on getting permits for its proposal, according to landowner Marcos Llona, who operated the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse until it was destroyed by fire in June 2007. COCO had no further meetings with Ferrisburgh zoning officials scheduled as of Friday morning.
Llona and his wife, Claudia, Shelburne residents, bought Burdick’s Country Kitchen, the 2.5 acres and a home on the property from Vergennes residents Sue and Greg Burdick for $450,000 in July 2006.
Llona said he and his wife decided it was too risky to rebuild the restaurant given the current economic climate, and added their window for rebuilding without a completely new and more costly septic system is also coming to a close.
“I would love to rebuild the restaurant, I really would. It’s a good site. It is needed ... But I don’t have the resources,” Llona said, adding, “I can’t do a second mortgage on my home and take that risk.”
COCO, which had been interested in the property before the Llonas, approached them this summer, he said.
Ferrisburgh officials said Wednesday’s meeting was not a public hearing because no formal application has been filed. It was described in the warning as a “special meeting” for “sketch plan review.” Such meetings often serve to give applicants feedback on possible issues with their plans.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — People who shop and dine in Middlebury will notice a slight jump in their bills beginning this Wednesday, Oct. 1. That’s the date on which a 1-percent local option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol will take effect in Addison County’s shire town.
The transition should be fairly seamless for most Middlebury merchants and lodgers, who will have to go through the time and expense of reprogramming their cash registers.
The state will collect the new tariff along with the existing state taxes. The Vermont Department of Taxes will then return 70 percent of the local option taxes it collects back to the town of Middlebury. The community will use the funds to help pay for the new Cross Street Bridge.
Backers of the new bridge are hopeful the new taxes will be painless for those who routinely shop and dine in Middlebury.
“I think during the course of people’s regular transactions, they aren’t going to notice it,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
Townspeople last May voted 305 to 102 in favor of implementing the local option taxes, projected to raise $7 million over the next 30 years. That money will be combined with another $9 million that Middlebury College has agreed to contribute to the $16 million bridge project.
A 1-percent local option tax on sales, meals, rooms and alcohol would’ve netted Middlebury a combined total of $725,319 in 2007, according to the Department of Taxes.
The new bridge, slated for completion in 2010, will link Main Street with Court Street over the Otter Creek, via Cross Street. The project, which will include a roundabout intersection at Cross/College/Main streets, is designed to move traffic more smoothly through, and around, downtown Middlebury.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday gave its final, conditional approval to a proposed Staples store in The Centre/Hannaford shopping plaza off Route 7 South.
Developers, however, will have much work to do if they are to proceed with their plans for the 14,737-square-foot office supplies store. The 24-page page decision calls for Middlebury Associates LLC, to, among other things:
• Submit a final planned unit development master plan showing that The Centre/Hannaford plaza will “be deemed fully built out with the Staples, based on the zoning limitations of traffic capacity, parking and town plan conformance.”
That limitation, according to the final decision, encompasses the former Middlebury Car Wash property at the southern end of The Centre, a site recently acquired by Middlebury Associates, LLC (aka Myron Hunt Inc.) and previously slated for a Starbucks. Starbucks withdrew its Middlebury plans earlier this year, amid a company-wide reorganization.
The DRB decision states that the former “car wash site asphalt must be reduced to accommodate only an egress drive for one-way exiting southbound traffic, while the remainder of the car wash site shall be restored to green space with grass, shrubs and tree plantings.”
• Build access connections between The Centre and the neighboring Middlebury Short Stop and former Dollar Market. The decision notes that developers agreed to those connections — designed to improve traffic flow and circulation into, and out of, the shopping plaza — on April 27, 2004, as part of the approval for the new National Bank of Middlebury building. Those connections have not been built.
• Carry out a series of sidewalk connections, entrance upgrades, crosswalks improvements and landscape additions to enhance pedestrian safety and aesthetics within the plaza.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — The Bristol Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) voted last Thursday to reject the contentious proposal from the Lathrop Limited Partnership to construct and operate a 39-acre gravel pit on its property at South Street and Rounds Road in Bristol.
The board’s decision, however, which comes nearly two months after the board wrapped up evidentiary hearings on the issue, falls short of closure for Bristol’s heated five-year debate on the project. Earlier this week, Jim Lathrop’s lawyer, Mark Hall, indicated that the Lathrops intend to file an appeal to the decision before the 30-day window for an appeal closes.
The ZBA voted 5 to 2 to deny the Lathrop application. Acting Chair Kevin Brown and board members Carol Clauss, Peter Grant, Paul Jackman and Brenda Tillberg voted to reject the project, with Bob Stetson and Ron Kowalski dissenting.
The ZBA found that the Lathrop application for conditional use did not fulfill a subsection in the town’s zoning bylaws that prohibits the creation of a gravel pit, “unless provision is made to refill such pit.”
The section in question — section 526 — deals specifically with commercial sand and gravel operations, outlining 10 requirements for these operations in Bristol. The board found that the Lathrop proposal met the majority of these requirements, and indeed was a stronger application than the original proposal submitted to the ZBA in 2003.
According to the ZBA’s decision, the second of these 10 requirements, which calls for any pit created to be refilled, is designed to favor small projects that can be refilled economically or the opening of a hillside where slopes and contours can be smoothed into the surrounding landscape.