June 12th, 2008
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday looked at a first draft of a 2008-2009 municipal budget that could hike city spending by $156,000, or almost 10 percent, to about $1.78 million.
But despite that apparently dramatic increase, City Manager Renny Perry told aldermen that a jump in the municipal portion of the Vergennes tax rate was not a sure thing.
Perry said he was projecting a budget surplus of roughly $40,000 from the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. And he said an increase in the amount of taxable property in Vergennes — including VELCO’s new substation — could boost revenue to cover the increased costs.
“It looks like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But … it’s too early to predict what our revenue situation is going to be,” said Perry, adding, “There’s a whole bunch of factors that will determine what effect this will have on the tax rate, if any.”
Perry is concerned about how soon the substation will get on the tax rolls, however: He said VELCO missed an April deadline for providing an estimate of its taxable value to the Vermont Public Service Board, and he hopes that there isn’t a “loophole” that will allow the power transmission firm to escape taxation for an unfinished project.
If Perry’s guess on the surplus is accurate and the city’s grand list grows enough, the city’s tax rate could even remain level this year. According to late-winter Addison Northwest Supervisory Union estimates, the school tax portion of the city tax rate could drop by almost a penny. ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran said on Wednesday that nothing had changed since then to move that estimate.
Increases in the draft city budget were across the board, and were concentrated in unsurprising areas, notably fuel and insurance costs.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen are considering raising municipal water rates for the first time since 2001, in an effort to meet rising operating costs and debt service on water system upgrades.
But some of the community’s largest water users are seeking to turn the tide on talk of a proposed rate hike — which could represent about a 12 percent increase — that they said would only add to the already high costs of doing business in Middlebury.
“Manufacturing is getting harder to harder to do in Middlebury,” Otter Creek Brewing General Manager Gail Daha said at a selectboard meeting on Tuesday of rising expenses in Middlebury. “We’ve seen increases across the board, and there is a tipping point.”
Otter Creek Brewing and Agri-Mark/Cabot are two of the largest consumers of Middlebury municipal water and would be among the hardest hit in the event of a rate increase. But town officials said they must consider a rate hike in light of projections that Middlebury’s water fund will end this fiscal year in the red. Assistant Town Manager Joseph Colangelo is recommending that $40,000 be applied from the water department’s fund balance to wipe away this year’s deficit.
But future deficits appear unavoidable unless selectmen raise current water rates and/or continue to patch annual shortfalls using money from the water department’s fund balance, which now stands at around $400,000. Town officials are advising that selectmen not regularly tap the fund balance, seen as a valuable reserve for emergencies.
Middlebury’s current water rate stands at $2.60 per 1,000 gallons. That rate will need to be bumped to $2.92 per 1,000 gallons — a 12.3 percent hike — in order to avoid water fund deficits in future years, according to Colangelo.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Sixteen months after buying the former Specialty Filaments plant out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the Thomas Monahan Co. has resurrected the once-mighty bristle manufacturer and turned it into a productive business that continues to look for workers.
Now operating as “Monahan Filaments,” the company has a workforce of more than 140 workers, a more diverse product line and a new business plan that calls for exporting its wares to the same foreign markets that had undercut Specialty Filaments only a few years ago.
“The ground is always shifting, unfortunately,” said Jon Monahan, president of Monahan Filaments. “But we feel we understand the market well enough after a year that we are much more confident about where we need to take the company.”
It was in January of 2007 that Specialty Filaments filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following a steady decline in business brought on, in large part, by aggressive competition from overseas manufacturers. The sudden closure left 175 employees — most of them Addison County residents — out of work.
Thankfully, the plant’s shutdown proved to be only temporary.
The Thomas Monahan Co. (TMC) of Arcola, Ill., submitted to the bankruptcy court the lone, successful bid of $3.125 million for the Specialty Filaments business and property at 3046 Case St. in Middlebury.
Monahan officials have spent the past year sizing up their new acquisition, which now manufactures around 25 percent of Thomas Monahan Co.’s products: bristles for household, janitorial and industrial brushes.
While Monahan doesn’t foresee the Middlebury plant getting back to 175 workers, he does believe the business is on a path to stability.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY —State and local nonprofit groups are working on a deal to buy the development rights to the 99-acre Bingham Farm off Creek Road, property that would fortify a large block of land that has already been conserved at Middlebury’s southern gateway.
“The boys have enjoyed growing up here and I didn’t want to see it developed,” said Marilyn Bingham, whose family has owned the farm since 1959. “I enjoy living here. I like the view, and the quiet.”
While nursing has been her main occupation, Bingham raised five sons on the farm and the oldest, Alpine, lives on the farm and runs a small, diversified vegetable business. Alpine Bingham had previously managed several farm businesses on the spread, including a milking herd of 50-55 Holsteins. He sold the cows several years ago, and has focused on growing vegetables on around three acres while renting the balance of the cropland to a nearby dairy farmer.
The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) and Vermont Land Trust (VLT) are now working on a conservation deal with the Binghams that would allow the family to invest in their farm while keeping it open, in agricultural production and available for possible inclusion in a larger “Trail Around Middlebury.”
Officials at MALT and the VLT are now working to raise around $200,000 for the Bingham Farm deal. Middlebury selectmen have agreed to tap the town’s conservation fund for $10,000 to go toward the transaction. That $10,000, according to VLT Champlain Valley Co-Director Alan Karnatz, will be used to leverage approximately $190,000 in grant money through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Karnatz said he is very optimistic the VHCB will approve the grant this month.
By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON –– The Vermont Tubbs furniture company here has been sold after an unsuccessful five-year bid by the previous owners to turn a profit. But the town of Brandon and the state of Vermont are committed to keeping the company here and retaining the 90 jobs at stake.
“We’re willing to work with whichever owner wants to work with us,” said Brandon Town Manager Keith Arlund. “The town stands ready to assist in the transition in any way possible.”
A June 4 press release that was vague on details said that BSF Transition LLC, an affiliate of Brownstreet Furniture of Whitefield, N.H., had bought “certain assets” of Brandon-based Vermont Tubbs.
The 168-year-old Vermont Tubbs specializes in handcrafted, hardwood beds and other bedroom furniture, as well as custom-built office furniture. Brownstreet Furniture manufactures high-quality, solid wood cherry, pine, maple, and ash furniture. Tubbs officials stated that they will continue to manufacture in the existing facility on Arnold District Road while Brownstreet assesses future production plans.
“The entrance of Brownstreet couldn’t come at a more opportune time,” said Tubbs partner Jon McNeill in the release. “My partners and I will continue to be involved to provide assistance for a successful sale.”
Calls for further comment from Tubbs officials were not returned by the Friday afternoon deadline for this edition of the Independent.
The move comes after months of wrangling to secure $580,000 in state and local economic development grants intended to preserve the 90 jobs at Tubbs by providing needed operating capital. The Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP) award was announced April 15.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON — Jeff and Julia Gosliga are expecting not one but two children this summer — the first, their fourth child, due in just two and a half weeks, and the second, a seven-year-old resident of the Bronx, N.Y., returning for her second summer vacation on Gosliga Farm in Addison.
Despite the busy summer ahead, the Gosligas are welcoming their out-of-state visitor with open arms. When she arrives in August, Naomi, who spent two weeks with the family last year, will join 50 other children visiting Addison County this summer through the New York City-based Fresh Air Fund. The Fund, an independent nonprofit organization designed to create opportunities for children living in disadvantaged communities to enjoy free summer vacations, has served more than 1.7 million children from low-income households since its inception in 1877.
For Naomi, the Gosligas’ farm — home to not only the Gosliga clan but also the 450 cows they milk daily — could not be more different than the hustle and bustle of her home in the city. The open spaces — and yes, fresh air — are a welcome change of pace for many of the children the organization serves.
“If you think about where these kids come from, you say, ‘Man, these kids deserve a break to just be kids and have fun,’” Jeff Gosliga said.
A trip to the farm, he continued, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of these children.
“They love it,” he said. “They have so much fun.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Gailer School students on Monday officially made plans to take in a show at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater (THT) during the spring of 2058.
The students don’t even know what will be playing 50 years from now at the newly resurrected venue at 68 South Pleasant St. But they are certain that the performance will be preceded by a special attraction — the opening of a time capsule containing local images, memorabilia and other keepsakes they assembled this week.
“When they open (the time capsule) up, I’m not sure this will even work,” Gailer School student Tina Friml said of the iPod she deposited into a milk crate containing all the time capsule items.
“At least they’ll see what (an iPod) looked like and how ‘huge’ it was,” she said, speculating that technological advances may ultimately dwarf the wafer-thin portable media player.
It was Douglas Anderson, THT executive director, who last fall approached Erik Remsen — teacher of the Gailer School’s Davinci 8 Humanities class — to see if he and his students would be interested in compiling artifacts for a time capsule that will be settled into a nook of the theater building on July 26. That nook will be secured as part of extensive interior renovations to the THT, work that is expected to be completed within five weeks and in time for a full week of grand opening events slated for July 20-30.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will consider a policy governing free speech for the Middlebury Union High School newspaper, while administrators will determine whether the paper — known as the Tigers’ Print — can be maintained as an English Department offering rather than being absorbed by the business department.
School leaders made those decisions on Tuesday evening after listening to around two hours of impassioned comments from students, parents and teachers who have had a hand in producing the Tigers’ Print. The student newspaper’s survival and level of autonomy have been in doubt since it published an article earlier this year on the subject of drugs in school. That article quoted a student, by name, who admitted showing up for classes under the influence of drugs.
Tigers’ Print writers and advisors said they believe publishing the student’s name lent more credence to the story on drug abuse. But some school administrators, including MUHS Principal Bill Lawson, said they believe the newspaper violated the student’s right to privacy by printing his name. Although he had read the material in the newspaper before publication, including the drug story, Lawson had kept a hands off policy.
The principal subsequently decided that the Tigers’ Print be pre-screened by the administration, for content and grammar, before being published.
The pre-screening mandate drew sharp criticism from student writers and their advisor, Tim O’Leary, an English Department faculty member who told UD-3 board members on Tuesday that morale at Tigers’ Print has plummeted with the loss of autonomy.