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March 13th, 2008

Gov. Douglas voices concerns about state, school budgets

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gov. James Douglas on Monday encouraged lawmakers to come closer to his priorities on developing new affordable housing, a tight fiscal year 2009 budget and new strategies to stem Vermonters’ property tax burden.

Douglas outlined these and other legislative goals during his annual appearance at Addison County’s legislative breakfast series, held at the Middlebury American Legion headquarters on Wilson Road.

Calling it the toughest budget year in the six he has served as governor, Douglas warned that state legislators will be challenged in the coming weeks to make some tough decisions on spending priorities.

The most recent financial forecasts indicate a 1-percent drop in general fund revenues for fiscal year 2009, according to Douglas.

“It is a time for making choices,” Douglas said, quoting, as he did in his first budget address, President John F. Kennedy who said, “To govern is to chose.”

Douglas noted he had outlined his budget priorities in a draft 2008-2009 spending plan he unveiled in January. That budget has drawn fire from some House and Senate leaders for proposed cuts to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals and for a proposal to lease the state lottery to generate an estimated $50 million the governor would use to pay for school construction aid and to draw down property taxes.

“This is a year to make those difficult choices, and I know we can work them out and decide what’s most urgent for people in the coming year in a time of softening economy and decreasing revenues,” Douglas said.

full story

Martin sent back to jail for boating deaths

By JOHN S. McCRIGHT

MIDDLEBURY — Addison District Judge Helen Toor on Monday sent George Dean Martin back to jail for another year for causing the deaths of two children in a July 4, 2002, boating accident on Lake Champlain.

Martin was convicted in 2004 of two counts of boating while intoxicated death resulting and sentenced to six-to-10 years in jail — three-to-five years for each of the two counts. But after he spent three years in prison, the Vermont Supreme Court last August ordered Martin’s release and resentencing saying the law allowed for only one count in this case since both deaths occurred during the same incident.

Toor could have sent the former Charlotte resident, who had been living with his mother in Rochester since his release, back to prison for two more years. Noting nine mitigating factors, the judged settled on ordering a single year of additional jail time. The formal sentence was four-and-a-half to five years, with all suspended but four years.

Martin accepted the sentence silently. After hugging a family member, the bailiff took him from the court and back to jail.

Charlotte residents Steve and Laura Mack — whose children, four-year-old Trevor and nine-year-old Melissa, were killed in the boating accident — were in the Middlebury courtroom for the sentencing. They said they were satisfied with the sentence.

“It’s time to put it behind us,” Steve Mack said. “I think he has remorse. He lost a child (years ago), he knows what we are going through.”

CHANGE IN THE LAW

full story

March 10th

Blood donor ban draws fire

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Federal authorities charged with protecting the U.S. blood supply make a person who is ill or who has used illicit drugs wait a period of time before they are allowed to give blood. Only three behaviors, when disclosed, can result in a lifetime ban on blood donation: taking medication for HIV, taking money for sex and, if you are a man, having sex even once with another man.

When it comes to giving blood in the United States, gay and bisexual men, even those using condoms or in long-term monogamous relationships, need not apply.

Despite the fact that HIV testing has grown considerably more precise over the past 20 years, that the virus infects far more than just gay men, and that blood banks around the country have criticized the policy as outdated and discriminatory, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been enforcing the ban since 1983.

At Middlebury College last week, in the days leading up to an American Red Cross blood drive, the college’s non-discrimination policy — which requires that organizations with discriminatory policies, other than the military, hold an open forum at which community members can hold them accountable for those policies — was tested.

In lieu of banning the organization from collecting blood on campus, like San Jose State University in California did last month, the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (MOQA) invited Red Cross officials to discuss the policy at a community forum.

More than 70 people attended last Monday’s event, which was the first of its kind for the Red Cross, to confront four representatives from the Northern Vermont Chapter about the FDA policy and what they’re doing to change it.

full story

Investigation into missing student taxes police budget

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — A shorthanded Middlebury Police Department is working overtime — and a lot of it — in its efforts to locate missing Middlebury College student Nick Garza while continuing to meet the law enforcement needs of the community.

Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said the his department will probably exceed by a substantial margin the $27,000 that had been budgeted for special investigations, including overtime, in the fiscal year ending June 30. The department had run through $15,000 of that budget through the end of January — a week before Garza, 19, disappeared from the Middlebury College campus.

Since then, several Middlebury patrolmen — along with officers from other agencies — have been putting in 16-hour days following up on the scant leads that have emerged since Garza was last seen on campus at 11:05 p.m. on Feb. 5.

Local officers worked a combined total of more than 400 hours on the case during the first week Garza was missing, according to Hanley. That number of hours has tapered off only slightly during ensuing weeks as a result of weather factors and thanks to other agencies pitching in.

Local officials pledged to keep up the search at all costs. It’s a search that at the same time is taking a toll on a weary, short-staffed Middlebury Police Department with limited resources.

“It’s going to be fairly extraordinary,” Hanley said of the looming deficit in the department’s overtime budget.

The financial impact would not have been lighter had Middlebury police been at full staff. But the 14-member force is currently light three officers, as a result of two vacancies and one officer now serving with the Vermont Air National Guard.

full story

Morgan Horse Farm gets $1 million gift

By JOHN S. McCRIGHT

WEYBRIDGE — The University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge last week announced it had received a $1 million gift from the Amy E. Tarrant Foundation — 10 times the amount of the next closest single gift from any individual.

“Through her incredible generosity, Amy Tarrant is helping to ensure the legacy of the UVM Morgans and the one-of-a-kind home of our state animal,” said horse farm director Stephen Davis.

The money will not be used to expand the facility, but maintain its breeding and other operations. Davis said the young stock housing area, on-farm residences and pump house all could receive some attention with the funds, but the money is really to meet the usual needs of the farm. Like many UVM departments, the Morgan Horse Farm supports itself.

“This gift will allow us a little more leeway in planning for operations … and long-term financial planning,” Davis said. “Operationally we are stand alone. Hopefully this will help us maintain the status quo.”

The $1 million will be paid out in equal installments over four years. Of the $250,000 payments, $200,000 will go into an endowment and $50,000 will be used for immediate operating expenses. Once the $800,000 endowment is fully funded the farm will be able to draw down an estimated $36,000 a year in perpetuity.

The farm budgeted $362,584 for operating expenses in 2008, according to a UVM spokesman. Most of the revenues come from a hose breeding operation, plus admissions fees for tours.

Tarrant, the former wife of businessman and 2006 U.S. Senate candidate Rich Tarrant, has a long-time interest in the Morgan Horse Farm. Davis said she remembers visiting the farm as a young child with her family.

full story

March 6th

Middlebury endorses $16 million bridge bond by 2-to-1 margin

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — After more than a half-century of debate, traffic studies, engineering designs and numerous referenda, Middlebury is now firmly on the road to building a new in-town bridge.

Local voters saw to that on Tuesday as they overwhelmingly endorsed two Town Meeting Day initiatives that municipal officials believe could result in the new span being completed at Cross Street as soon as the fall of 2010.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the March 4 votes. “I’m very excited about our ability to go forward.”

In a stellar turnout boosted by Tuesday’s presidential primaries, residents voted 1,535 to 673 to authorize a 30-year, $16 million bond issue to fund the project, the centerpiece of which will be a span that will link Main Street to Court Street over the Otter Creek via Cross Street.

Residents also voted 1,358 to 829 in favor of asking the Vermont Legislature to amend Middlebury’s town charter so that the community will have the opportunity, in the future, of implementing local option taxes to help cover $7 million of the project’s cost. Middlebury College has pledged to bankroll the remaining $9 million.

Tenny said the selectboard will now turn its attention to crafting a local options tax proposal he hopes can be presented to voters by late-spring, before area schools get out and before many area residents disperse for summer vacations.

full story

Voters here and statewide back school spending plans

By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — Area residents at town meetings and in Tuesday Australian balloting backed budgets for all four local union schools, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, and every town’s elementary school except Hancock (see story).

The support for Addison County and Brandon-area schools mirrored a statewide trend. As of late Wednesday morning, officials at the Vermont Superintendents’ Association knew of only three Vermont high school plans and five elementary school budgets that had failed.

Even though all results were not in at that hour, one superintendents’ association official called that tally “a really low number of defeats.”

Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Mathis said the statewide support for school spending showed that Vermont officials’ focus on more school finance reform may be misplaced.

“The governor and the legislator must live in a different state than the voters … All we’ve heard is unrelenting talk of property taxes and school costs,” Mathis said. “My feeling is the people have spoken very clearly and universally … that they support their schools.”

Mathis said he has data that shows, once prebates are factored in, that Vermonters are spending a smaller percentage of their incomes on education than they were 10 years ago. That was before the Legislature passed Act 60, Vermont’s landmark school finance reform law, and, more recently, Act 68, which updated Act 60.

He noted that many towns’ tax rates are level, or up only slightly, despite inflationary increases in school spending.

“The big message is first of all it means that Act 60 and Act 68 are working, and income sensitivity is working,” Mathis said. “For all the criticism of Act 68, obviously Act 68 is working.”

full story

County backs Obama, McCain

ADDISON COUNTY — With the exception of tiny Hancock, residents in towns throughout Addison County overwhelmingly supported presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton to determine who will be the candidate representing the Democratic Party in its effort to recapture the White House. Meanwhile, Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed Sen. John McCain to be their party’s candidate over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Countywide (with the results of Goshen — pop. 227 — unreported), residents supported Sen. Obama, 6,454 to 3,863 or 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent, over Sen. Clinton, and supported Sen. McCain, 1,889 to 420 or 82 percent to 18 percent, over former Gov. Huckabee.

Those results mirrored the rest of Vermont, where Obama swept the state with 60 percent of the vote compared to Clinton’s 38 percent (John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, who have pulled suspended campaigning, each got 1 percent).

On the Republican side, McCain garnered 72 percent of the vote compared to Huckabee’s 14 percent. Conservative Ron Paul captured 7 percent of the vote, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have both pulled out of the race, received 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Of the 12,626 votes cast in the primary in Addison County, 82 percent voted in the Democratic primary.

full story

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