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July 3rd, 2008
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Monday approved municipal spending for the July-to-June fiscal year that, combined with taxes needed to back school spending, required a 3.6 percent increase in the city’s residential property tax rate.
Aldermen set the new overall residential property tax rate at $1.7454 per $100 of property value, up by roughly 6 cents from the 2007-2008 rate of $1.6846.
They said that increase will require about $120 a year more in taxes for a home assessed at $200,000, or $30 per quarterly payment.
Aldermen also set the new city budget at about $1.54 million, an increase of about $102,000, or roughly 7 percent, from a year ago.
Most of the 6-cent hike to the tax rate was driven this year by city spending: more than 3.7 cents of that increase came from the municipal base rate of 60.29 cents, which includes a small amount needed to pay for voter-approved property tax reductions for disabled veterans. Last year’s municipal portion of the overall property tax rate was 56.35 cents.
The school tax portion of the overall rate for homeowners rose by about 2.35 cents to $1.1425 cents. The combination of the school and municipal hikes creating the overall increase.
As is the case statewide, the non-residential tax rate will be higher. In Vergennes, the overall commercial rate will be $1.8379 per $100 of property value, an increase of about 7.1 cents.
That hike will translate to an increase of more than $140 a year per $200,000 of assessed value.
Aldermen said City Manager Renny Perry did well to hold the line on city spending considering rising fuel, energy, salt, paving and insurance costs.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
NEW HAVEN — Residents of New Haven on Tuesday voted to spend almost $600,000 to build a new town hall and rejected a proposal to allow commercial development on a Route 7 parcel.
By Australian ballot, residents were opposed, 192-126, to a proposal to change the New Haven land use map so that a 30-acre parcel on the west side of Route 7 just south of Belden Falls Road would be zoned “Commercial Highway,” rather than “Rural Agricultural-10 acre.”
The southernmost 10 acres of that parcel is already zoned for commercial development and is the site of Ethan Allen Highway Storage. The family of Steve Dupoise owns the storage business and the entire 30 acres.
Dupoise said during informational meetings before the recent vote that if the change was approved he planned to sell a 5-acre piece of the land to Town and Country Homes, a Vergennes business that sells modular homes. He had not announced plans for the remaining 15 acres that would also be opened up for development.
Not surprisingly, Dupoise was disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s balloting.
“It’s kind of a sad day when you own a piece of property … and somebody else says what you’re going to do with it,” he said on Wednesday morning.
Dupoise declined to comment in detail on his plans now that the petition failed.
“I’m not sure I want to divulge that at this point in time,” he said.
Dupoise said he might consider an agricultural use of the land, since that is what it’s zoned for, or he might try to get the status of the land changed again in the next renewal of the town plan about three years from now.
TOWN OFFICE BOND
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The Bristol Recreation Club is working on ambitiousplans for a community center that would host everything from a daycare facilityto a senior center, and for those in between, space for athletics, an Internetcafé, small businesses and more.
The Deerleap Community Center (DCC) would be built on andaround site of the skating rink in the Bristol Recreation Field, but officialsinvolved in drawing up plans for the facility said that no current uses of therecreation field would be lost. Instead, the DCC would include an indoorskating rink and gymnasium.
“Nothing is being done away with,” said Linda Stearns, manageof the DCC Council.
The council was formed in late 2006 to explore the possibilityof a multi-use community center. Stearns said that planning and research willprobably continue for more than three years before the council is ready tobreak ground on construction. At the moment, the council has hired an engineerfor a site study to see what kind of limitations are created by runoffrequirements, septic capacity and other factors of the recreation field itself.
Stearns made a rough estimate that the DCC would cost $10million to build, but it’s far too early to say anything specific; the councildoesn’t even have a definite plan for the layout of the center yet, though theyhave concept designs prepared by Gregor Mansfield of Studio III in Bristol.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Despite flagging enrollments in CatamountHealth, Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, stressed that the nearly three-dozenreforms currently being made to the state health care system have seen successin the 11 months since lawmakers put them in place.
“It’s big, it’s complicated, it doesn’t move or changequickly,” said Maier of state health care reform. “But I think we’ve made somegood progress so far.”
In less than a year, he reported, the state has enrolledone-sixth of uninsured Vermonters — a number officials estimated in 2006 atabout 63,600 — in state-sponsoredhealth care programs. Enrollments come in the wake of more than 35 specificinitiatives recommended by the Vermont Commission on Health Care Reform anddesigned to contain costs, increase access and improve the quality of healthcare for state residents.
But reforms still sparked concerns at a meeting of thecommission last Tuesday. Commission members worried primarily aboutbelow-expected enrollment numbers in the Catamount Health Premium AssistanceProgram (CHAP), a new program for those not eligible for existingstate-sponsored coverage programs such as Medicaid, Medicare or Vermont HealthAccess Plan (VHAP).
According to published reports, the state had estimated thatalmost 6,000 residents would be enrolled CHAP, in the state-subsidized versionof Catamount. The state added CHAP to its suite of health care programs — whichalready included VHAP, Dr. Dynasaur and Medicaid — last October. As of lastmonth, CHAP enrollment hovered near 4,000, including 253 Addison Countyresidents.
ADDISON COUNTY — For residents staying close to home thisholiday weekend, Addison County celebrates the Fourth of July with fun eventsand activities spanning the county, ranging from live music and fireworks toliving history events and town parades.
The VERGENNES bandconcert and firework display kicks off the weekend’s festivities in style onThursday evening, July 3. Both events can be viewed from the recreation fieldbehind the high school or elementary school. An American Legion color guard at7:30 p.m. is followed by the concert. Fireworks start at 9:30 p.m. The event isfunded by the Vergennes American Legion and the Addison County Eagles.
BRISTOL chimes inwith fireworks of its own on the 3rd, which will be launched over theRecreation Field at dusk. The town’s infamous Great Bristol Outhouse Race seesits 30th annual running on July 4 at 9 a.m. The event, held on Main Street, issponsored by the Five Town GGG Club and the Bristol 4th of July Committee. Thetown’s annual parade will follow the outhouse races at 10:30 a.m.
SHOREHAM residentsand visitors can gear up for Independence Day activities with a full bellyafter attending the pancake breakfast at the Congregational Church on theGreen. For $6 adults can eat their fill of sausage, bacon, eggs and blueberryor plain pancakes, washing breakfast down with coffee and juice. (Preteens eatfor $3 and children under 6 munch for free.) The proceeds will support theflying of the American flag in Shoreham.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Even after Fourth of July festivities die down for another year, every weekend will be a long weekend for employees at the Middlebury town clerk’s office. Beginning July 7, the office will be operating on four-day workweek.
The move comes as officials in Middlebury, like those in other government offices, look for ways to cushion the blow dealt by skyrocketing fuel prices.
The new schedule — which will include extended hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday — will be in effect until at least Aug. 29, allowing the office almost two months to test what Town Clerk Ann Webster termed a “pilot program.”
According Webster, the decision to test the new schedule rose first and foremost from a desire to save on transportation costs for employees — especially Webster’s two assistants, who commute daily from Ferrisburgh and Granville, respectively.
The pilot program comes in conjunction with an energy savings project undertaken by the Middlebury Area Global Warming Action Coalition. Using a “low carbon diet workbook,” MAGWAC, as the coalition is known, has worked intensively with groups of individuals to reduce energy consumption and the burning of climate-changing fossil fuels. It has also applied this same principal to several town offices and vehicles.
The town clerk’s office is currently the only Middlebury municipal office making the shift to a four-day workweek so the town will not gain the potential energy and cost savings that would be had by not heating or cooling the municipal building if all offices were closed on Fridays. But there still will be some savings, said MAGWAC energy coordinator Laura Asermily, as “flex time,” telecommuting and shortened workweeks provide increased flexibility for both town and private offices.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday approved a water rate increase of almost 10 percent, but Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo said that a corresponding decrease to the sewer rates would result in little or no overall change to households and business who use both town water and sewer.
On Colangelo’s recommendation, the selectboard at a regular meeting increased the rate for water district users from $2.60 per thousand gallons to $2.85 per thousand gallons in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Colangelo said that the rate hike was necessary partly because it hadn’t been changed since 2001, but wages and expenses have continued to grow in the meantime.
In addition, Colangelo said, the water district is also paying for debt service on the Palmer Springs chlorination project, which began after 2001, and the district’s revenues were down for the current year because business problems for two major corporate water users — Specialty Filaments and Standard Register Co. — resulted in less water use by those companies.
At the same time, the wastewater district’s fund balance was doing better than usual, Colangelo said. He couldn’t pinpoint any particular area where expenses or revenues were especially better than usual, but he told the board he found room in the sewer district budget to lower rates by the same amount as the increase in the water district rates, from a current sewer district rate of $6.19 per thousand gallons to $5.94 per thousand gallons.
That will not balance out exactly because people’s usage varies, and Colangelo said that many area property owners are members of one network but not the other. He said that for an average family of four that uses only town water and not town sewer, the water rate increase would amount to about $12 per year.
MBA BANNER PLANS
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRANDON — For the third time in 18 months state and local officials are working to see what assistance and enticements they can offer a major local employer to keep the business in the area.
The 90 people who work for furniture manufacturer Vermont Tubbs are waiting to see if the new owner of the plant will keep it in Brandon or move it out of state. Economic development officials say that, as with any employer, they have a range of grants and loans available to BSF Transition LLC, the Whitefield, N.H., company that bought Tubbs for an undisclosed price earlier this month.
What’s available comes from a veritable alphabet soup of programs that, when accepted, sometimes keeps a struggling business in operation and keeps it pumping money into the local economy.
“Our goal … is to help foster business development here in the region,” said Jamie Stewart, the executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. “That sometimes means taking a higher risk than we would normally want to take.”
But that risk — and available public loans, grants and tax incentives — provide no guarantee that the jobs will stay forever.
Tubbs officials stated in a press release at the time of the sale that that they will continue to manufacture in the existing facility on Arnold District Road while Brownstreet assesses future production plans. A published report last week said the company may close shop in Vermont after 168 years of production, but Brownstreet officials did not return calls to confirm.