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January 14th, 2008

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

January 7th

First baby of 2008 was born at home

AMELIA GARDNER AND Nate Gusakov welcomed the first baby born in Addison County in 2008 at their Lincoln home on New Year's Day. Abigail Lucile Gusakov weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell


January 7, 2008

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

full story

Otter Valley eyes 2 percent spending hike, $2 million renovation bond

January 7, 2008

By MEGAN JAMES

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School board on Thursday approved a $10,995,304 spending plan for the 2008-2009 academic year, which it will present to voters on Town Meeting Day. The plan represents a 2.12 percent increase in spending over the current year’s $10,766,837 budget, but it also represents a 5 percent hike in the amount the school will ask from taxpayers.

“Last year we had a couple of failed budgets so the assessment was really quite low,” board chair Jim Rademacher said. The 2007-08 budget approved after three district-wide votes featured a 0.32 percent increase in the tax levy from the previous year.

“So yes the assessment is up 5 percent, but if you look at our total budget we’ve kept it quite low,” Rademacher said.

The school board last week also decided to ask voters to float a $1,998,500 bond to repair the 46-year-old OVUHS school building. In addition to twice rejecting proposed school spending plans in 2007, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union voters also rejected a proposed $10.3 million bond, which would have been used for updating facilities.

With a relatively low increase in health insurance costs for employees — it is budgeted at about 5 percent — the main drivers responsible for the increased spending in the 2008-09 budget are maintenance, fuel costs and changes in the experiential high school program.

The board made $224,690 in proposed spending cuts last year after voters twice rejected the school’s spending plan. Some of those expenses, like maintenance costs, are woven back into the 2008-09 proposal. Last year, the board reduced the maintenance budget by $75,000, leaving that area under-funded this year. So next year’s plan includes a $126,793 increase in maintenance costs.

full story

Career Center, Porter Hospital partner to train more nurses

January 7, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) is partnering with Porter Medical Center on new course that will offer area students a prime entrée into the health care industry.

Now in its first year, PHCC’s “Allied Health Program” is giving students access to classroom training and hands-on experience in a hospital setting, with the potential of earning Licensed Nurse Assistant (LNA) certification. That LNA status will permit students to graduate directly to jobs at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, among other places, or continue their studies in the medical field.

Career Center officials have been discussing establishing a health care curriculum for at least the past six years, according to PHCC Director Lynn Coale. But those six years have also seen a decline in district enrollment in the regional vocational/technical high school, meaning the center has had to be more careful than ever about maintaining existing programs — let alone starting new ones. The PHCC’s proposed 2008-2009 budget envisions 1.5 fewer teachers in response to dwindling student numbers.

Still, PHCC board members agreed that launching an Allied Health Program was a safe bet.

“This is based on an incredible need in the health career field and the lack of a highly skilled workforce,” Coale said. “At the same time, we are confronted with decreasing enrollment at the high school and the need to revise, and in reality decrease, the programs we are offering.”

The PHCC board hired Janice Whitaker, a registered nurse and local resident with a background in health education, to develop and implement the new curriculum this year.

full story

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