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December 11th

New beds, meals offered for area's homeless families


ADDISON COUNTY — A group of Addison County clergy and nonprofits are teaming up to offer emergency shelter and food for a growing number of people expected to be homeless and hungry this winter.

Leaders of the Congregational Church of Middlebury confirmed on Monday a portion of the church’s historic Charter House on North Pleasant Street will be used to temporarily house as many as three homeless families this winter.

Meanwhile, John W. Graham Emergency Shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready announced two new plans to beef up its services to the homeless.

First, the John Graham Shelter will soon reconfigure one of its “family rooms” as an eight-person bunkroom to accommodate single people who would otherwise find themselves out in the cold during the upcoming winter months.

Second, according to Ready, the shelter has received permission to use an Addison County Community Trust home on Washington Street Extension in Middlebury as temporary lodging for one, perhaps two, area families who find themselves without shelter this winter.

“The idea is to have a place for families, as well as individuals,” Ready said.

She stressed the ultimate goal will be to make the Washington Street Extension housing transitional in nature. The ultimate goal, Ready said, will be to get homeless individuals the counseling, health services and employment information they need to quickly get them into jobs and permanent housing.

“You can’t just put people in a bed and expect things to improve,” Ready said.

The Washington Street Extension home has five bedrooms and should be ready for occupants soon, according to Ready. She would not disclose the exact location of the home in order to preserve the anonymity of the people who will reside there.

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New law adds perplexing wrinkle to education budgets


ADDISON COUNTY — As deadlines for creating budgets for the next school year draw near, the county’s public school boards are juggling a slew of challenges as they stitch together barebones spending plans — not least of which are a slumping economy and as yet unknown state tax education rates and per pupil spending allotments.

Add to that list of challenges Act 82, an education funding law, also known as the “two-vote mandate,” passed in 2007 and that kicks into effect for the first time this year. Act 82 will force some Vermont school districts to obtain additional voter support for spending increases that exceed the rate of inflation — and that’s a hurdle that has some administrators worried.

“There’s a difference between an unpopular law and a poorly written one,” said Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Mathis in Brandon. “As a piece of law, it’s just a clumsy and silly and ineffective mechanism.”

Act 82 — which was concocted last year as a compromise between Gov. Jim Douglas, who wanted to cap school spending, and the Democratic leadership in the state Legislature — is expected to come into play directly in about half of the school districts in the state. Budget writers in the other half undoubtedly are keeping the new law in mind as they go about their business, too.

School budgets will be subject to Act 82 if they meet two criteria. First, district spending per student in the previous year must have exceeded the statewide average. Then, if a school board also proposes a spending increase higher than the rate of inflation, that proposed spending plan will appear on ballots as two separate items.

The first item will ask voters to approve what will be referred to on the ballot as the school’s “total” budget — that is, last year’s spending plan plus inflation.

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December 8th

Stories get to the soul of Starksboro


STARKSBORO — The parking lot was crowded, and Robinson Elementary School’s cafeteria even more so on Thursday night, when nearly 200 Starksboro residents gathered for the simple purpose of listening to one another’s stories.

“We wanted to ask people about their stories living in this place,” explained Middlebury College professor John Elder, whose class — students in a course titled “Portrait of a Vermont Town” — trundled into Starksboro this fall to collect residents’ stories.

On Thursday, with a captivated audience on hand, they gave those stories back.

Starksboro, a town of fewer than 2,000, was selected to participate in the “Art & Soul Civic Engagement” project earlier this fall. The pilot program is co-sponsored by the Orton Family Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), and holds at its core the belief that the arts can fuel discussions about community values — discussions that in turn can be translated into planning strategies to protect the “heart and soul” of a town.

Of the six towns in the county that applied for the grant, which is valued at around $55,000, Starksboro was selected in part because its agricultural character, concentration of low-income housing, and proximity to Chittenden County commuter sprawl made the town especially interesting to Orton.

Thursday night’s community supper marked the end of the project’s first phase, a three-month storytelling stint during which students conducted more than 65 interviews.

These stories were turned into essays, compiled with old photographs and maps, and turned into multimedia presentations including audio/visual portraits of the town. The interviews that students recorded will all be archived at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, and their digital projects will be linked to the town’s Web site (www.starksboro.org).

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Old farmhouse ready to be moved and reused


SHOREHAM — There will be a major house move in Shoreham on Thursday.

No, we’re not talking about someone moving their possessions into or out of an existing home.

They’ll be moving the entire home — a 178-year-old, two-story farmhouse that will be trucked in two sections from the First National Bank of Orwell property off Route 22A to the Green Woods Village subdivision off School Street, a distance of around three-quarters of a mile.

Once trucked to Green Woods Village, each of the two sections of the home will be placed on its own new foundation and made ready for the two middle-income families that will occupy them.

“We certainly hated to see the house sitting there, unused,” said Brian Young, vice president of the First National Bank of Orwell, which is donating the structure. “This is the best possible use we could have come up with.”

The uninhabited farmhouse was a part of the roughly three-acre property on Route 22A the bank acquired back in 2004 as the site for its Shoreham branch. Officials had first considered renovating the home to host the bank, but determined the necessary work would be too extensive. They therefore built a new structure on the parcel, but were still left with the dilemma of how to put the farmhouse to use.

After determining the bank couldn’t rent out the home and deciding not to subdivide and sell the home as part of a separate lot, Young and his colleagues offered it to the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT). The offer came with an important caveat.

“They said they would like us to move it,” ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight recalled.

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Shoreham voters reject big changes to zoning rules


SHOREHAM — Shoreham voters last Wednesday rejected a slate of revised zoning regulations for the town by a nearly two-to-one margin, 268 to 139.

Shoreham will continue to operate under its current zoning rules.

Local planners will meet later this winter to discuss the vote and the next steps that could be taken in revising the regulations, which haven’t been comprehensively rewritten for around 20 years.

Shoreham Planning Commission Chairman Glenn Symon was disappointed with the results of the Dec. 3 vote. The commission held several public hearings and work sessions during the past few years crafting the zoning law revisions, which officials said were aimed at permitting greater flexibility in developing the core village area while encouraging more measured growth and preservation of farmland in the rural areas.

But a majority of voters weren’t sold on the revised zoning laws, characterized by some as too extensive and heavy handed.

In the end, those philosophically opposed to new rules turned out in greater numbers at the polls on Dec. 3, according to Symon.

“You have those who are supportive of what zoning can do for the community, and property rights people who are opposed to zoning,” Symon said on Thursday.

He feared “a good number” of voters went to the polls without having studied the rules in-depth.

Town planners are hoping to resolve zoning issues soon, in order to focus on other topics on their agenda. Those issues include an update of the town plan, renovations to Newton Academy and deciding what to do with the Farnham property the town acquired to facilitate the municipal sewer system.

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December 4th

Living arts class a casualty in new UD-3 spending plan


MIDDLEBURY — Union District-3 school board members are hoping the next two weeks will yield some good financial news that would allow them to keep the middle school’s living arts program from being cut from the proposed 2009-2010 spending plan.

The Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS) living arts program and its teacher, along with a currently vacant paraprofessional post, are the chief casualties reflected in a proposed UD-3 spending plan of $15,548,526, a draft representing a 3.52-percent increase compared to the current spending plan.

“These are very frustrating times,” UD-3 board Chairman Tom Beyer told a packed crowd of teachers, parents and students at a Tuesday budget meeting that ran six hours.

“There is an enormous uncertainty for everyone,” he said, noting the tough economy. “What we are looking for now is how to share the burden.”


Officials noted the proposed budget increase is actually a lot smaller than 3.52 percent when one realizes that it is artificially inflated by the effect of a state law (Act 130) that requires supervisory unions to more accurately reflect shared expenses between secondary and elementary schools. Currently, transportation expenses within the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) have been accounted for primarily in the budgets of the seven member elementary schools. The UD-3 budget has merely reflected the costs of busing the students from the elementary schools to MUMS and Middlebury Union High School. The 2009-2010 UD-3 spending plan is therefore being asked to assume a $280,000 increase in transportation budgeting away from the elementary schools. That $280,000 represents a full 1.9 percent of the proposed $15.5 million proposed UD-3 budget, or more than half of the proposed 3.53-percent increase.

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Faced with need to trim expenses, Middlebury College reassesses future of 51 Main


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College’s student/community activity spot at 51 Main St. may become a casualty of cost cutting moves the institution is having to consider in light of the sagging economy.

The college opened “51 Main At the Bridge” last spring as a downtown venue in which students and area residents could enjoy light food, drink and occasional live entertainment from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday through Saturday. It is located in one of Main Street’s largest and most attractive storefronts in the historic Battell Block, in a spot most recently occupied by the Eat Good Food restaurant.

By most accounts, 51 Main has been a success and a good draw for students seeking a change of scenery from the campus. The student-directed business was established through a gift earmarked for support of “student social life.”

But college officials are now reassessing the future of 51 Main — along with a host of other programs — in light of a plunging stock market that has taken its toll on the institution’s endowment and the ability of its supporters to give donations.

“We are going through a fairly comprehensive process of finding savings at the college,” said Middlebury College Acting Provost Tim Spears.

To that end, all sectors of college administration are working to trim their operating costs (travel, meals, etc.) by 5 percent. Spears added the college’s Budget Oversight Committee — of which he is a member — will be looking at broader cuts that will ultimately require the approval of President Ron Liebowitz.

The college has already instituted a hiring freeze, has limited the work of consultants and contractors, and will cut back on construction projects.

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Lincoln artist seeks public input for project looking at Vermont's future


LINCOLN — Kathleen Kolb has a foot in the past and an eye toward the future — but the Lincoln artist is looking for a few extra pairs of eyes when it comes to envisioning that future.

Kolb was recently named one of 20 finalists for the Art of Action: Shaping Vermont’s Future Through Art project, culled from an initial pool of more than 300 artists.

Of the finalists, 10 will be selected in January as the recipients of commissions that could range from $10,000 to $40,000 per artist. These artists will each produce a suite of work in their chosen medium to address the issues identified by Vermonters as essential to the state’s future, which will eventually be gathered together and exhibited throughout the state.

In creating her final proposal for the Art of Action judges, Kolb is soliciting feedback from county residents about what they cherish about Vermont as a state that we can all carry into the future.

Kolb is the kind of artist who believes, deeply, in art’s ability to make change — and that, in part, is why she’s attracted to the Art of Action project.

“I know that art can inspire people, and I know that it can comfort people, and we need both of those things,” she said. “We’re in a difficult patch. We’re in a time of transition and challenge and opportunity.”

If selected as a finalist, she said that her task will be to think about how to do just that — comfort and inspire. And while painting in a basement studio can be a solitary affair, Kolb is reaching out to her neighbors around the county to figure out just how to achieve that goal.

“I’m wondering what it is that people want and would find useful in that way,” she said.

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