Archive - Jun 2008
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.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday approved a water rate increase of almost 10 percent, but Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo said that a corresponding decrease to the sewer rates would result in little or no overall change to households and business who use both town water and sewer.
On Colangelo’s recommendation, the selectboard at a regular meeting increased the rate for water district users from $2.60 per thousand gallons to $2.85 per thousand gallons in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Colangelo said that the rate hike was necessary partly because it hadn’t been changed since 2001, but wages and expenses have continued to grow in the meantime.
In addition, Colangelo said, the water district is also paying for debt service on the Palmer Springs chlorination project, which began after 2001, and the district’s revenues were down for the current year because business problems for two major corporate water users — Specialty Filaments and Standard Register Co. — resulted in less water use by those companies.
At the same time, the wastewater district’s fund balance was doing better than usual, Colangelo said. He couldn’t pinpoint any particular area where expenses or revenues were especially better than usual, but he told the board he found room in the sewer district budget to lower rates by the same amount as the increase in the water district rates, from a current sewer district rate of $6.19 per thousand gallons to $5.94 per thousand gallons.
That will not balance out exactly because people’s usage varies, and Colangelo said that many area property owners are members of one network but not the other. He said that for an average family of four that uses only town water and not town sewer, the water rate increase would amount to about $12 per year.
MBA BANNER PLANS
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRANDON — For the third time in 18 months state and local officials are working to see what assistance and enticements they can offer a major local employer to keep the business in the area.
The 90 people who work for furniture manufacturer Vermont Tubbs are waiting to see if the new owner of the plant will keep it in Brandon or move it out of state. Economic development officials say that, as with any employer, they have a range of grants and loans available to BSF Transition LLC, the Whitefield, N.H., company that bought Tubbs for an undisclosed price earlier this month.
What’s available comes from a veritable alphabet soup of programs that, when accepted, sometimes keeps a struggling business in operation and keeps it pumping money into the local economy.
“Our goal … is to help foster business development here in the region,” said Jamie Stewart, the executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. “That sometimes means taking a higher risk than we would normally want to take.”
But that risk — and available public loans, grants and tax incentives — provide no guarantee that the jobs will stay forever.
Tubbs officials stated in a press release at the time of the sale that that they will continue to manufacture in the existing facility on Arnold District Road while Brownstreet assesses future production plans. A published report last week said the company may close shop in Vermont after 168 years of production, but Brownstreet officials did not return calls to confirm.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
WEYBRIDGE — Josselyne Price’s tidy yellow house looks much like any of the other homes scattered among Weybridge’s intermittent grassy knolls — except, of course, for the flock of exotic drums sitting just inside the threshold of her front door.
“These are new,” said Price, indicating a set of Ghanaian drums, each carved from a single piece of tweneboa wood, decorated with notched ridges and topped with a drawn-tight skin. The largest stands at over five feet tall.
“You never know what you’re going to find out in the cow fields,” Price laughed.
Price, a percussionist and ethnomusicologist at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, will pack up her drums (new and old) this week, pile into a 12-passenger van and lead several members of the Akoma Drumming Ensemble south. She, her students and her drums are bound for New Orleans, where the ensemble will participate in Tulane University’s New Orleans Dance Festival and volunteer at the Habitat for Humanity Musicians’ Village.
Price will be joined on her trek by four St. Michael’s students — Dan Klug, Alex Furdon, Jud Wellington and Luke Lombardi — as well as Ghanaian master dancer and Seattle resident Awal Alhasson and Haitian master drummer and dancer Johnny Scovel.
“It’s always been a priority of mine to try and illustrate to my students that music is a part of your work and community,” said Price. “It has a value past entertainment, and for many cultures it’s a vital part of who you are socially, of your identity.
“I wanted to link the idea of music to service,” she continued, “and show them that music can make a difference in a community.”
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — This spring four Addison Northwest Supervisory Union teachers and one administrator with a decade on that job and 25 years of teaching experience are stepping down after a collective 164 years of service to district students.
All five have served ANwSU for at least 24 years. Leaving, in order of length of tenure, are:
• Vergennes Union High School agriculture program head Harmon Boyce, who started at VUHS in 1969.
• Vergennes Union Elementary School teacher Edward Wells, who has taught fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders there since 1971.
• ANwSU directional of instructional support services Thelma “Kitty” Oxholm, who began coordinating the ANwSU special education services in 1998 after starting as a VUHS special education teacher in 1973.
• Rita Smith, who began teaching first- and second-graders at VUES on a halftime basis in 1980 and went full-time at that level in 1984.
• Daryl Hatch, a VUHS middle school English teacher who started there at 1968, took time off to raise her family, and then returned to VUHS on a halftime basis in 1985 before going full-time in 1989.
All will be missed, said ANwSU superintendent Tom O’Brien.
“Clearly, they are the building blocks of the family. Addison Northwest has been referred to as a family of schools, and every family has its strong elements, and they are ours,” O’Brien said. “They are huge losses.”
VUHS Principal Ed Webbley said Boyce may be the most difficult of all to replace because of his specialty — months of advertising in conjunction with the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and phone calls have yet to produce someone to take over the school’s ag program.
“Harmon is literally a tough act to follow. We are still in the process of a nationwide search,” Webbley said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
CORNWALL — Cornwall resident Roth “T’ Tall this year is poised to become governor.
No, he hasn’t decided to challenge Middlebury Republican Jim Douglas for the state’s top administrative job.
Tall, on July 1, will begin a one-year term as governor of Rotary International’s District 7850, a region with around 1,700 Rotarians in 41 clubs encompassing large portions of Vermont, New Hampshire and the Canadian province of Quebec.
Tall becomes only the fifth Addison County resident to serve as governor of the district since the Middlebury Rotary was established in 1927.
“I’m deeply honored,” said Tall, who became a Rotarian in 1979. “But this is not about me; this is about what the organization is doing.”
Rotary International is a worldwide service club organization with 1.2 million members in 200 countries and geographical regions, divided into 530 districts. Each district has a governor who serves for one year, visiting all the clubs within that district to foster better communication and more efficient coordination of Rotary’s many humanitarian efforts.
Rotary’s most high-profile humanitarian campaign to date has been its PolioPlus program. Since 1985, Rotarians have raised more than $600 million and offered untold volunteer hours to vaccinate more than 2 billion children throughout the world against polio. Tall noted there are now fewer than 1,000 cases of polio globally, a testament to Rotary’s efforts.
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Road crews on Wednesday were still stabilizing roads, culverts and small bridges decimated by a powerful June 14 rainstorm that stranded dozens of residents in Ripton and East Middlebury.
“All we can do right now is fill in the ruts and get people moving,” said Ripton Road Commissioner Ron Wimett, who with other state and local workers has spent untold hours since Saturday’s rainstorm at the controls of heavy equipment, filling massive craters and gullies carved into the North Branch Road and other rural lanes that could not stand up to the torrential downpour that forced the Middlebury River and its tributaries to hop their respective banks. One estimate indicated more than six inches of rain fell in Ripton during just a few hours Saturday night.
“We’re hoping people are safe and that the federal government and someone can help us,” Wimett added. “We can’t incur costs like this.”
Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) officials on Tuesday were unsure whether the storm damage in Addison and Rutland counties would amount to the $1 million necessary to trigger a federal declaration of emergency, which would result in the release of government aid.
To qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, the state must sustain approximately $1 million in damage to public infrastructure like roads, bridges, public buildings, or any other municipal property. There are also county thresholds that need to be met. If local estimates are correct, Addison and Rutland counties may meet the criteria.
Wimett, on Tuesday evening, said he was confident the repair bill will reach seven figures.
“With the cost of materials and fuel prices, we’ll reach $1 million, no problem,” he said.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh Central School officials have decided not to try to shoehorn the recently approved $1.5 million upgrades to the school into this summer, instead opting to plan the work for next summer.
FCS board chairwoman Adela Langrock said board members had initially hoped the project — including replacing the school’s failing heating system, installing a new ventilation system and windows, replacing stained ceiling tiles and rotting eaves, and upgrading its electrical system — could be done without interfering with education this fall.
But as they learned more about the bidding process, its projected timetable and the needs of workers during the job, Langrock said, they realized that goal could not be met.
“Given the level of engineering, and the coordination of all of it, it’s not feasible for it to be completed this summer ... It would be better to do it next year, to move in the first day of (next) summer and complete it with everyone off site,” she said. “We just felt like it would be very disruptive for the next academic year if we started this summer.”
By the time bids could be sent out, sorted out and accepted, and then work begun, it would be August, Langrock said. Students would have to be shielded from construction debris and dust, noise would be an issue, and workers would need the equivalent of four empty classrooms to work on at any given time — space the school does not have.
“The amount of disruption for our program would be astronomical ... We just have nowhere to put these kids,” Langrock said.