April 17th, 2008
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — Usually when Nancie Dunn attends the National Stationery Show in New York City she goes as a buyer for her Middlebury country gift store, Sweet Cecily. This year she’ll be on the other side of an exhibit booth, selling her handmade greeting cards.
Dunn started making her own cards about three years ago when her store was low on Easter cards. She took up marker and paintbrush and whipped out a small series of colorful cards to fill the racks. The first batch sold so well, she followed up with another.
“It just took off,” she said. “And they’ve gotten better and better as I’ve done more and more.”
A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, where she majored in children’s illustration, Dunn has always felt the pull to create her own art. Frog Hollow Craft Center was just opening when she moved to Middlebury in 1972, and she got a studio downstairs where she worked as a graphic designer.
She created the craft center’s frog logo and worked with its artists and craftspeople to design their business cards, stationery and letterhead, shifting her own illustration onto the backburner for a while. Since opening Sweet Cecily in 1987, the Main Street store has been her priority.
Until three years ago, that is, when she found the perfect creative outlet in her cards.
“It combines my real love of words with my real love of illustration,” she said.
More importantly for Dunn, the simplicity of card-making seems to quiet her perfectionist side.
“I think that when you are a maker of anything … sometimes you hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t allow you to move forward,” she said. “I realized that I didn’t have to be Michelangelo to do greeting cards.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
MONTPELIER — State lawmakers on Wednesday began reviewing a menu of $46.3 million in potential spending cuts and revenue adjustments to compensate for an estimated $24.5 million shortfall in Vermont’s fiscal year 2009 general fund budget.
The potential spending/revenue adjustments were developed by the Joint Fiscal Office and representatives of the House, Senate and Douglas administration. Released at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the proposed adjustments seek to remedy a major revenue shortfall predicted on Tuesday by state economists.
Since lawmakers and Gov. James Douglas have vowed to not raise any broad-based taxes this year, the Legislature will have to find economies within the $1.2 billion spending plan passed earlier this month by the House.
Red ink is also looming in the state’s transportation and education funds, which pushes the total potential fiscal year 2009 revenue shortfall to around $30 million.
“People are working cooperatively to do the dirty job of looking where to cut,” said Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee and is Senate majority whip. “I don’t think there will be anything held sacred, except for the education fund.”
The menu of potential cuts unveiled on Wednesday included:
• $5.6 million from the executive branch, including hiring freezes, possible job cuts and a 25 percent reduction in the travel budget.
• $20.5 million from human services, including elimination of state-only prescription programs under Medicare Part D; closing the Northwest State Correctional Center in St. Albans and sending those inmates out of state; and limiting inflationary increases to 1.25 percent for nursing homes, mental health care agencies and developmental services agencies.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters on May 20 will be asked to approve local option taxes of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol transactions in town for the next three decades in order to raise $7 million for a new bridge that will span the Otter Creek at Cross Street.
Selectmen made that decision on Monday evening, only hours after Gov. James Douglas signed into law a charter change that would give Middlebury the authority to implement local option taxes.
The board also decided on Monday to limit the lifespan of the new taxes to 30 years — the same timeframe for payback on an already-approved $16 million bond issue to fund the bridge, which will link Main Street with Court Street as a means of reducing gridlock in the downtown.
Middlebury College has pledged to cover $9 million of the project costs. The institution will make annual payments of $600,000 over 30 years, beginning when the span opens to traffic — perhaps as soon as the fall of 2010.
Figures provided by the Vermont Tax Department indicate a 1-percent local option tax on sales, meals, rooms and alcohol would’ve netted Middlebury $725,319 in 2007. That sum acknowledges the 30 percent in local option tax revenues that Middlebury — and any other community implementing such taxes — must turn over to the state for its payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program.
BY JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) will carry a lighter financial load in financing two new building projects thanks to $191,000 in federal money recently secured by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Leahy assistant John Goodrow confirmed the federal earmark at a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, April 10, in Middlebury’s Catamount Park that drew Gov. James Douglas, CSAC staff and board members, representatives of project contractor Naylor and Breen Builders, and other guests.
Thursday’s groundbreaking was for a new, 18,500-square-foot office building that will house the agency’s developmental services programs and its administrative offices, freeing up all of the smaller building for programs serving children and adolescents.
The project will also include a two-story addition of about 2,400 square feet at the back of CSAC’s downtown office at 89 Main St. The addition will provide more accessible offices, a larger group room, and an elevator to improve access to much of the existing building.
Robert Thorn, executive director of CSAC, said the new structures would carry great symbolic, as well as utilitarian, significance.
“To me, these buildings and projects are going to be a memorial to how much people have had to deal with in their lives, their perseverance and courage,” Thorn said. “It’s great we are going to have these buildings, but it means so much more to me.”
It was in 2005 that CSAC launched a fund-raising campaign to generate $680,000 toward the estimated $4 million price tag for the two projects. The agency recently reached its goal. The remaining projects costs will be covered by a 30-year, $2.9 million bond arranged through the state of Vermont and through additional CSAC funds, some derived from the sale of other property the agency will now no longer need.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MONTPELIER — In a venue where the passage of legislation is often measured in months, a bill that would pave the way for Middlebury to adopt local option taxes to help fund a new in-town bridge shot through the Statehouse like a meteor last week.
“We could have hardly asked for a better alignment of the planets,” said Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington, who spent last Wednesday, April 9, testifying on behalf of the town before various legislative committees.
The Middlebury charter change bill was scheduled to hit Gov. James Douglas’s desk by Friday, April 11. Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, has already said he supports the bill and its purpose of allowing Middlebury the option of generating around $7 million toward a new in-town bridge at Cross Street in the downtown.
Douglas’s expected signature on the bill would allow selectmen to proceed with their goal of holding a town meeting vote in late May on implementing local options taxes of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and/or alcohol purchases in town to raise revenues for the bridge project.
Middlebury College has already pledged $9 million toward the $16 million undertaking, which will include a roundabout intersection at Main and Cross streets.
Individual towns in Vermont cannot levy their own taxes unless their charter, which is approved by the Legislature, allows it. Middlebury’s charter did not allow local taxes.
Reps. Steve Maier and Betty Nuovo, both Middlebury Democrats, got the legislative ball rolling last month after townspeople voted in favor of the in-town bridge project and to proceed with the charter change.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Around 60 Middlebury voters on April 9 overwhelmingly approved, by voice vote, a 2008-2009 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $5,624,785.
Voters asked ID-4 school board members several questions during a roughly hour-long discussion that preceded the vote. Serena Eddy-Moulton, chairwoman of the ID-4 board, said some of the voters’ questions keyed on the impact of the spending plan on the local education property tax.
While the budget reflects a 2.59-percent increase in spending, it results in an 8.4-percent hike in the homestead education property tax rate for Middlebury residents. The rate for Middlebury homeowners will be $1.576 per $100 of property value, up about 12 cents. That represents an increase of $240 on a $200,000 home.
The education tax rate in Middlebury for non-residential property will increase 13.7 cents, or 10.2 percent, to $1.48 per $100 of property.
The hike in the education tax for homeowners is the result of the “common level of appraisal,” or CLA, provision of the state’s education funding law. The CLA compares local property value assessments with the state’s estimation of actual market value. Communities in which property is less than, or more than, market value are required to adjust their tax rates. The goal of the CLA is to equalize property taxes across towns.
In Middlebury’s case, local property was judged to be appraised below market value so the CLA pushed up the education component of the property tax.
“People didn’t understand how the CLA affects the budget,” Eddy-Moulton said of a recurring theme at the April 9 meeting.
“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”
The song was from the 1960s and Bob Dylan, who is widely noted as the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, was talking about the changes rocking the country during that era of protests, demonstrations, love-ins and generation gaps. He was right on target, saying in his music of the day what political and social analysts would discuss for the next few decades in retrospect.
“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”
Dylan, who the Associated Press recently wrote “brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall,” received an honorary Pulitzer Prize last week for what the Pulitzer judges called his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”
The break through for rock ’n roll was substantial. The AP noted that “the Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.”
Middlebury and Weybridge selectmen were right to reject the state’s plan to close the Pulp Mill Bridge for up to a year for renovations before the town’s proposed Cross Street Bridge was built. The state’s plan would leave the town with just the Battell Bridge on Main Street to cross the Otter Creek — a move that would cripple the downtown’s retail district and frustrate residents who already face traffic jams there several times throughout each day.
It’s as if the town’s shortage of bridges across the Otter Creek has been lost on the state transportation agency, even though the town has been pressing its need for a second span for more than 50 years and has been hard at work on the Cross Street Bridge for the past several years.
Let’s hope the selectboard’s message to do the work on the Pulp Mill Bridge after the Cross Street Bridge is in use is taken to heart and honored.
As important is that the work on the Pulp Mill Bridge is dictated by common sense, not sabotaged by misguided — though well-intended — strictures. In this case, the Vermont Historic Covered Bridge Committee must sign off on any improvements or changes to the bridge, which is being renovated at a cost of over $2 million. The current bridge has structural design flaws, according to at least one expert, that should be corrected as part of the renovation. The state’s plan, however, preserves those design flaws (thus weakening the bridge) in order to maintain its historical integrity. Such stupidity, if the alleged flaws would weaken the bridge, would make a mockery of the state’s historical preservation efforts.
A proposal to correct the flaws and construct a nearby educational exhibit detailing the original architecture — and the design flaw that was corrected — is a reasonable suggestion (see story Page 1A) that we also hope will be honored.