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July 7th, 2008

Phillips returns to Vermont to lead land trust

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Josh Phillips had been looking for an opportunity to return to his home state of Vermont and continue his work in the field of land conservation.

He got his wish on both counts last month when he began his job as the new executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT).

Phillips, 31, takes over for former MALT leader Gioia Kuss, who stepped down last year, and Robin Scheu, who had been heading the organization on an interim basis.

Until recently, Phillips worked as director of preservation services at Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit conservation organization in Baltimore. While there, Phillips administered grants, created a preservation easement program and did most of the organization’s local advocacy outside of the city of Baltimore — namely, 23 counties.

After four years with Preservation Maryland, Phillips and his wife, Julie, found themselves on the move this spring. Julie Phillips, a physician, had been offered a fellowship at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington. The couple decided it would be a good move, so Josh Phillips began to look for employment opportunities in the Green Mountain State, where he had grown up and gone to school. Phillips is a graduate of the University of Vermont’s historic preservation master’s program.

He was ecstatic to land the top job at MALT.

“I grew up in Milton, and my family is in Benson, so I was very familiar with Addison County,” Phillips said. “This job really represents an opportunity for me to combine my interests in environmental conservation, open space preservation, sustainable agriculture and cultural/historic preservation. All those things come together in a community land trust, so I was excited that this opportunity was available.”

full story

July 3rd

Ripton seeks help saving its post office

By JOHN FLOWERS

RIPTON — Ripton residents, still struggling to secure federal aid to repair local roads, culverts and bridges hammered by last month’s flood, are now finding themselves taking on Washington, D.C., over the loss of yet another public asset: Their local post office.

Like the June 14 storm that swept away portions of North Branch Road and several of its connectors, last week’s post office closing came suddenly, stunning the more than 200 residents and businesses leasing mail boxes in the Ripton Country Store.

“A lot of people in the community are very upset,” said resident Paul Bortz.

So upset, that more than 170 people have signed a petition titled “Save the Ripton Post Office,” and more than 100 people rallied at a meeting on Tuesday evening to see what could be done to save their post office.

First came a sign in the store on Wednesday, June 25, stating closure of the small office was imminent. The next day, each box holder received a letter signed by East Middlebury Postmaster Sean T. Donahue confirming the Ripton Post Office would end what locals believe has been a more than 150-year run on Friday, June 27. The letter indicated that service was being transferred to the East Middlebury Post Office.

Adding to the shock for residents was the fact that the letter gave no explanation for the switch, other than “the Ripton Contract Post Office has provided the USPS with their termination notice effective Friday, June 27, 2008, at 5:30 p.m. As of June 28, 2008, we will no longer be delivering mail to the Ripton Contract Post Office.”

Donahue declined to comment and referred all questions to U.S. Post Service public relations office in New Hampshire.

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Vergennes tax rate rises 3.6 percent

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Monday approved municipal spending for the July-to-June fiscal year that, combined with taxes needed to back school spending, required a 3.6 percent increase in the city’s residential property tax rate.

Aldermen set the new overall residential property tax rate at $1.7454 per $100 of property value, up by roughly 6 cents from the 2007-2008 rate of $1.6846.

They said that increase will require about $120 a year more in taxes for a home assessed at $200,000, or $30 per quarterly payment.

Aldermen also set the new city budget at about $1.54 million, an increase of about $102,000, or roughly 7 percent, from a year ago.

Most of the 6-cent hike to the tax rate was driven this year by city spending: more than 3.7 cents of that increase came from the municipal base rate of 60.29 cents, which includes a small amount needed to pay for voter-approved property tax reductions for disabled veterans. Last year’s municipal portion of the overall property tax rate was 56.35 cents.

The school tax portion of the overall rate for homeowners rose by about 2.35 cents to $1.1425 cents. The combination of the school and municipal hikes creating the overall increase. 

As is the case statewide, the non-residential tax rate will be higher. In Vergennes, the overall commercial rate will be $1.8379 per $100 of property value, an increase of about 7.1 cents.

That hike will translate to an increase of more than $140 a year per $200,000 of assessed value.

BUDGET DETAILS

Aldermen said City Manager Renny Perry did well to hold the line on city spending considering rising fuel, energy, salt, paving and insurance costs.

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New Haven votes for town offices, rejects Route 7 land use change

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

NEW HAVEN — Residents of New Haven on Tuesday voted to spend almost $600,000 to build a new town hall and rejected a proposal to allow commercial development on a Route 7 parcel.

By Australian ballot, residents were opposed, 192-126, to a proposal to change the New Haven land use map so that a 30-acre parcel on the west side of Route 7 just south of Belden Falls Road would be zoned “Commercial Highway,” rather than “Rural Agricultural-10 acre.”

The southernmost 10 acres of that parcel is already zoned for commercial development and is the site of Ethan Allen Highway Storage. The family of Steve Dupoise owns the storage business and the entire 30 acres.

Dupoise said during informational meetings before the recent vote that if the change was approved he planned to sell a 5-acre piece of the land to Town and Country Homes, a Vergennes business that sells modular homes. He had not announced plans for the remaining 15 acres that would also be opened up for development.

Not surprisingly, Dupoise was disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s balloting.

“It’s kind of a sad day when you own a piece of property … and somebody else says what you’re going to do with it,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Dupoise declined to comment in detail on his plans now that the petition failed.

“I’m not sure I want to divulge that at this point in time,” he said.

Dupoise said he might consider an agricultural use of the land, since that is what it’s zoned for, or he might try to get the status of the land changed again in the next renewal of the town plan about three years from now.

TOWN OFFICE BOND

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July 2nd

Club aims to build multi-million-dollar center in Bristol

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — The Bristol Recreation Club is working on ambitiousplans for a community center that would host everything from a daycare facilityto a senior center, and for those in between, space for athletics, an Internetcafé, small businesses and more.

The Deerleap Community Center (DCC) would be built on andaround site of the skating rink in the Bristol Recreation Field, but officialsinvolved in drawing up plans for the facility said that no current uses of therecreation field would be lost. Instead, the DCC would include an indoorskating rink and gymnasium. 

“Nothing is being done away with,” said Linda Stearns, manageof the DCC Council.

The council was formed in late 2006 to explore the possibilityof a multi-use community center. Stearns said that planning and research willprobably continue for more than three years before the council is ready tobreak ground on construction. At the moment, the council has hired an engineerfor a site study to see what kind of limitations are created by runoffrequirements, septic capacity and other factors of the recreation field itself.

Stearns made a rough estimate that the DCC would cost $10million to build, but it’s far too early to say anything specific; the councildoesn’t even have a definite plan for the layout of the center yet, though theyhave concept designs prepared by Gregor Mansfield of Studio III in Bristol.

full story

State makes slow, steady progress in health care reform

By KATHRYN FLAGG

ADDISON COUNTY — Despite flagging enrollments in CatamountHealth, Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, stressed that the nearly three-dozenreforms currently being made to the state health care system have seen successin the 11 months since lawmakers put them in place.

“It’s big, it’s complicated, it doesn’t move or changequickly,” said Maier of state health care reform. “But I think we’ve made somegood progress so far.”

In less than a year, he reported, the state has enrolledone-sixth of uninsured Vermonters — a number officials estimated in 2006 atabout 63,600  — in state-sponsoredhealth care programs. Enrollments come in the wake of more than 35 specificinitiatives recommended by the Vermont Commission on Health Care Reform anddesigned to contain costs, increase access and improve the quality of healthcare for state residents.

But reforms still sparked concerns at a meeting of thecommission last Tuesday. Commission members worried primarily aboutbelow-expected enrollment numbers in the Catamount Health Premium AssistanceProgram (CHAP), a new program for those not eligible for existingstate-sponsored coverage programs such as Medicaid, Medicare or Vermont HealthAccess Plan (VHAP).

According to published reports, the state had estimated thatalmost 6,000 residents would be enrolled CHAP, in the state-subsidized versionof Catamount. The state added CHAP to its suite of health care programs — whichalready included VHAP, Dr. Dynasaur and Medicaid — last October. As of lastmonth, CHAP enrollment hovered near 4,000, including 253 Addison Countyresidents.

full story

County ready for exciting Fourth of July activities

ADDISON COUNTY — For residents staying close to home thisholiday weekend, Addison County celebrates the Fourth of July with fun eventsand activities spanning the county, ranging from live music and fireworks toliving history events and town parades.

The VERGENNES bandconcert and firework display kicks off the weekend’s festivities in style onThursday evening, July 3. Both events can be viewed from the recreation fieldbehind the high school or elementary school. An American Legion color guard at7:30 p.m. is followed by the concert. Fireworks start at 9:30 p.m. The event isfunded by the Vergennes American Legion and the Addison County Eagles.

BRISTOL chimes inwith fireworks of its own on the 3rd, which will be launched over theRecreation Field at dusk. The town’s infamous Great Bristol Outhouse Race seesits 30th annual running on July 4 at 9 a.m. The event, held on Main Street, issponsored by the Five Town GGG Club and the Bristol 4th of July Committee. Thetown’s annual parade will follow the outhouse races at 10:30 a.m.

SHOREHAM residentsand visitors can gear up for Independence Day activities with a full bellyafter attending the pancake breakfast at the Congregational Church on theGreen. For $6 adults can eat their fill of sausage, bacon, eggs and blueberryor plain pancakes, washing breakfast down with coffee and juice. (Preteens eatfor $3 and children under 6 munch for free.) The proceeds will support theflying of the American flag in Shoreham.

full story

June 25th

Gas prices prompt creative town office hours

By KATHRYN FLAGG

MIDDLEBURY — Even after Fourth of July festivities die down for another year, every weekend will be a long weekend for employees at the Middlebury town clerk’s office. Beginning July 7, the office will be operating on four-day workweek.

The move comes as officials in Middlebury, like those in other government offices, look for ways to cushion the blow dealt by skyrocketing fuel prices.

The new schedule — which will include extended hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday — will be in effect until at least Aug. 29, allowing the office almost two months to test what Town Clerk Ann Webster termed a “pilot program.”

According Webster, the decision to test the new schedule rose first and foremost from a desire to save on transportation costs for employees — especially Webster’s two assistants, who commute daily from Ferrisburgh and Granville, respectively.

The pilot program comes in conjunction with an energy savings project undertaken by the Middlebury Area Global Warming Action Coalition. Using a “low carbon diet workbook,” MAGWAC, as the coalition is known, has worked intensively with groups of individuals to reduce energy consumption and the burning of climate-changing fossil fuels. It has also applied this same principal to several town offices and vehicles.

The town clerk’s office is currently the only Middlebury municipal office making the shift to a four-day workweek so the town will not gain the potential energy and cost savings that would be had by not heating or cooling the municipal building if all offices were closed on Fridays. But there still will be some savings, said MAGWAC energy coordinator Laura Asermily, as “flex time,” telecommuting and shortened workweeks provide increased flexibility for both town and private offices.

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