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Date
Type

January 17th

City looks to revive Vegennes Partnership

January 17, 2008

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Vergennes officials and citizens are working to bring life back to the Vergennes Partnership, the public-private organization that played a key role in the downtown revitalization of the late 1990s and early 2000s and helped bring new life to the heart of the city and its riverfront.

In the past year the partnership has essentially disbanded after membership and funding declined in recent years. City Manager Renny Perry said new leadership never emerged to replace the few who were asked to carry so much of the load in the past they burned out.

“A lot of the people … are willing to be involved, but not just as actively involved,” Perry said. “We need to find a group of people who are willing to pick up the ball.”

Perry and Mayor Michael Daniels are concerned about the organization’s future because a downtown-oversight group is a condition of Vergennes’ recognition as a Vermont Designated Downtown by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Without that official designation key sources of funds for the city and its property owners could be placed off-limits. 

“It is a much-needed organization,” Daniels said. “We just need to bring it back.”

That designation allows the city to apply for grants from a pot of federal money and its downtown businesses and property owners to apply for tax credits.

Daniels and Perry said a healthy downtown reflects well on all of the city, and that the benefits have been substantial. Owners of a dozen downtown properties — including the Basin, Ryan and Stone blocks — have earned tax credits ranging from $14,500 to $60,000 for improvements or complete renovations.

full story

January 14th

College focuses on local climate action

BEN WESSEL, A Middlebury College freshman, is helping organize three days of events at the college for Focus the Nation, which is orchestrating a nationwide teach-in about climate change for high schools, colleges and other organizations.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell


January 14, 2008

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College next week will host three days of events focused on seeking solutions to the problem of climate change as part of a nationwide teach-in. “Focus the Nation,” which was developed at the college by two professors in their classes, has scheduled discussions at some 1,300 colleges, high schools and businesses. 

“In 10 years we either will have succeeded (in the fight against climate change) or we will have failed,” said Middlebury College economics professor Jon Isham, who developed Focus the Nation and sits on its board. “If we have failed it won’t matter, and if we’ve succeeded, we’ll be on our way. So you have 10 years and you can’t give up.”

It was this realization that led Isham’s friend and professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., Eban Goodstein, to hatch the idea two years ago for Focus the Nation.

“At this moment in time, we owe our young people at least a day of focused discussion about global warming solutions for America,” the organization’s Web site declares.

Goodstein came to Middlebury College last year to further develop the concept in a January term class he taught with Isham, in which students began to get the word out about Focus the Nation.

full story

Gov. Douglas' goals draw mixed reviews

January 14, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

MONTPELIER — Addison County lawmakers on Thursday gave mixed reviews to Gov. James Douglas’s priorities for the 2008 legislative session, praising his commitment to “green” energy and new health care reforms but sharply criticizing his proposal to lease the state’s lottery.

Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, outlined his administration’s goals during his annual state-of-the-state address, a 40-minute speech that was interrupted 17 times — 16 times due to applause, and once when Statehouse staff cleared the House chambers of a handful of protesters who had unfurled anti-war banners.

The theme to the governor’s speech was a familiar one: Making the state more affordable to Vermonters who are increasingly feeling the pinch of rising fuel prices and a lack of affordable housing.

“Today, I lay out a series of proposals to achieve prosperity through affordability and to rethink, revitalize and reform the way our state approaches its most pressing challenges,” Douglas said. “By making health care, homeownership and the tax burden more affordable — and by making investments in job creation and our natural environment — our families and our state will prosper.”

Douglas called for:

• Making the state’s health care system more streamlined and inclusive. He suggested, among other things, placing a “prevention specialist” in each region of the state to work with citizens in preventing chronic diseases; and making sure every doctor in Vermont has electronic health information systems by the years 2010.

“I … request that this Legislature make affordable health care the top priority and send me a bill before town meeting,” Douglas said.

full story

Ferrisburgh board eyes 13 percent town spending hike

January 14, 2008

By ANDY KIRKALDY

FERRISBURGH — A series of fixed and rising expenses that Ferrisburgh selectmen say are out of their control are pushing the board’s spending proposal for the 2008-2009 fiscal year up by almost 13 percent.

Selectmen on Wednesday looked at a final draft budget of roughly $1.47 million that would call for a 12.8 percent spending hike. Unsurprisingly, the largest single spending driver is fuel to keep town trucks running and buildings warm.

Board chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen would almost certainly adopt that spending proposal at their Jan. 22 meeting. Residents will have the final say by Australian ballot on March 4.

“I don’t see that we can change it … barring any unforeseen circumstances between now and the 22nd,” Lawrence said, while acknowledging the figures are “going to be a shocker for people.”

Lawrence said town office employees estimated that if approved the budget would add about 4 cents to the town’s tax rate, or $40 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

But, she said, the board has little choice to raise spending from the 2007-2008 level of about $1.3 million. (The face value of the budget was actually about $1.38 million, but that included $78,000 for a land purchase that residents eventually voted against, and the apples-to-apples comparison is based on $1.303 million and $1.47 million.)

“There are some uncontrollable costs,” Lawrence said.

Those include:

• An increase of almost $21,000 in liability insurance, due in part to an increase in rates and in part to the larger town offices being built.

• An increase of about $14,000 in the town’s Addison County tax bill, which goes to pay for the county court system.

full story

January 10th

Beginning of a new era

WEYBRIDGE AND NEW Haven town officials, state officials, restoration crews and guests cut the ribbon to officially reopen the Rattlin’ Bridge Monday morning. The 100-year-old bridge, which spans Otter Creek between Weybridge and New Haven, was removed last summer for restoration work.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

full story

MUHS booed for silencing cheers

January 10, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — More than 30 Middlebury Union High School athletes and sports boosters on Tuesday urged UD-3 administrators and board members to ease up on what they say are strict restrictions on cheering that they say are numbing school spirit and thinning the crowds at home games.

Tuesday’s grievances, aired at the outset of the UD-3 board’s regularly scheduled meeting, came in the wake of an incident during the Jan. 3 MUHS home basketball game against Mount Abraham Union High School, during which a parent was asked by school authorities to leave for “poor sportsmanship” and “annoying other fans.”

The “poor sportsmanship,” according to many of those at Tuesday’s meeting, included encouraging other fans to stomp their feet and standing and waving their hands — fan activities they said are commonly seen during varsity games in other high school gyms throughout the county.

Boosters told UD-3 officials that the Jan. 3 incident merely epitomized what they said has been a steady clamping down on fans’ abilities to cheer at home games, a trend one community member said has turned the MUHS gym into a virtual “morgue” when it comes to team spirit and spectator attendance.

“We understand that not everyone at a game wants to be sitting in a noisy section of the stands, but this tends to sort itself out by where people sit,” resident Linda Pitkin told the board, quoting from a letter she helped author on behalf of the group. “We also realize that there are legitimate concerns about crowd control at any sporting event and do not wish to limit the administration’s ability to deal with these concerns. And we certainly do not want the players, coaches, or officials to be taunted or disrespected.

full story

Weybridge family hits the road with Obama

January 10, 2008

By MEGAN JAMES

WEYBRIDGE — On the drive back to their Barack Obama campaign office in Boone, Iowa, after sitting in on caucuses last Thursday night, none of the Kirekers, who had flown out from Vermont to work on the campaign for the final week, knew their candidate had won.

Benn Kireker, 23, and his dad, Charlie, knew something was up when a slew of text messages saying, “Congratulations!” and “Way to go!” started streaming in from friends who were watching the news back on the East coast.

Benn’s mother, Marie, found out Obama had won on the radio while driving back from her caucus.

“We had been so on-the-boots involved, we hadn’t been watching any media,” she said. “We were just in our own little world talking one-on-one with people. I really was pinching myself that this had happened.”

The Kirekers, who live in Weybridge, had flown out right before Christmas to help Benn’s twin brother, Matt, who has been working for Obama’s campaign in Iowa since June, with the final push before the caucuses. Both Matt and Benn graduated from Middlebury Union High School in 2003.

Always interested in politics, Matt hit the road for Iowa five days after graduating from Princeton University last spring. He had been hired by the Obama campaign as a field coordinator for Boone County, a largely agricultural region in the northwest with a population of about 35,000.

Matt had had some firsthand experience with American politics before when during the summer of 2005, he interned in the U.S. Senate. The experience left him disillusioned with American politics, which he characterized as full of bitterness and hostility. But instead of turning away from it altogether, he decided he wanted to do something to change it.

full story

Town Hall Theater reaches $5 million goal

January 10, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — During the mid-1990s a group of area drama enthusiasts and community builders came up with the ambitious notion of transforming the former Middlebury town hall on Merchants Row into a performing arts center.

Supporters were long on enthusiasm, but short on funds. Early on, the effort was somewhat reminiscent of the plot line of a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “let’s put on a show” flick.

A decade later, however, their energy has paid off — with interest. Members of Town Hall Theater Inc. confirmed on Monday they had met their $5 million goal to complete interior renovations and open the facility to performances and other functions by this summer.

“It is great news; we are all ecstatic,” said THT board Chairwoman Gail Freidin. “I always thought we would make it to opening the building, but there were times I wondered how long it would take.”

Theater boosters knew last July that the $5 million goal was within their grasp, after some anonymous donors issued a $500,000 matching grant challenge. The THT board pulled out all the stops and matched the $500,000 — with $18,000 to spare — when time expired on the offer on New Year’s Eve.

Boosters received additional good news in October when Middlebury College announced it would contribute $1 million to THT over the next 20 years in return for the use of space and services in the facility.

“We are absolutely good to go,” said THT Executive Director Douglas Anderson. “It’s thrilling. The capital campaign committee worked very, very hard. Everybody rose to the occasion; no one was going to give up until that challenge was matched. It just worked out brilliantly.”

full story

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