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November 29th, 2007

Plan to pay for hospital care draws praise, criticism

November 29, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — Discussion of a bill before the Vermont House that would create a single-payer health insurance system to pay hospital bills for all Vermonters met with mixed reaction in Middlebury on Tuesday.

The group Vermont Health Care for All played a large role in the discussion of bill H.304, the Vermont Hospital Security Plan, which was held at Ilsley Public Library. State Rep. Topper McFaun, R-Barre, one of three co-sponsors of the bill, said that health care costs are shooting up throughout the country and Vermont has to make major changes to how it pays for its citizens’ health care.

“Something has to be done that’s more than what we’re doing,” McFaun said at the meeting, which was called to raise support for the effort. H.304 would create the Vermont Hospital Security Trust Fund, he said, that would be used to pay hospital bills for all Vermonters.

Dr. Deb Richter, president of Vermont Health Care for All, said that a major driver of the growing costs of health care is mounting administrative costs from many different health care providers dealing with many different private insurance companies and overlapping plans. This bill would greatly reduce that growth, she said.

The tidal wave of paperwork was familiar to those at Tuesday’s meeting. One woman at the forum brought a stack of dozens of bills from recent emergency surgery to the meeting. Some should have gone to her insurance company in the first place, she said; some were from the hospital itself while others were from an individual specialist, and one apparently charged different rates for the same test on different days.

“I’m spending hours and hours going through these,” she said.

Under H.304, the dozens or hundreds of billing addresses hospitals now need to track would be reduced to one: the state.

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New owner to use Hancock plywood plant for stone cutting

November 29, 2007


HANCOCK — By the time Thomas Fabbioli arrived at the auction of the former Vermont Plywood plant in Hancock two weeks ago, the representative from the bank was packing up to leave.

None of the 40-some people present on Nov. 13 had bid on the plant. So when Fabbioli offered $120,000 at the last minute, the building and 49 acres of land around it became his.

But the equipment was sold separately and the nature of the future economic activity at the plant, which has been Hancock’s largest employer since 1925, is not clear. What is clear is that Fabbioli will not immediately employ the 35 people who lost their jobs when on Sept. 6 the Union Bank of Morrisville, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Vermont Economic Development Authority foreclosed on Vermont Plywood.

With the Route 100 plant a crucial engine of the local economy, a lot hinges on Fabbioli’s plans. At the plant’s peak in 1969, it employed 180 people, and it employed 90 as recently as 2003, when it was owned by Chesapeake Hardwoods.

Vermont Plywood bought the plant in 2004.

As the plywood industry has struggled in the last few years, many in the area have moved with their families out of town, exacerbating an already dire situation of dwindling enrollment at the Hancock Village School, which school officials say they may have to close next year, according to longtime Hancock resident and historian Tom Perera.

“The town doesn’t have anything else,” said Perera, who attended the auction. “For 82 years, this plant has been supplying work for people. All of a sudden it looked as though it would disappear.”

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November 26th

College jazz band swings into action

SOUND INVESTMENT JAZZ Ensemble, a revival of a 1930s big band at Middlebury College, runs through a rehearsal in the Center for the Arts last week. The college has a history of big bands dating back to the swing era, but Sound Investment is the first jazz band to be officially credited by the music department in many years.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

November 26, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — You can’t find a more purely American tradition than jazz music, Derek Long believes. The Middlebury College senior first fell in love with the genre in high school, playing tenor saxophone in a jazz band.

“With jazz there’s this really interesting dynamic,” he said. “On the one hand, you have to work together as a group. There’s a sense of community, of sharing a piece of art. On the other hand, there’s this opportunity for the individual to shine with the improvisation of a solo.

“That sense of standing up on your own two feet and dealing with whatever comes your way, it’s a uniquely American experience,” Long said. 

But jazz has kind of fallen off the map in recent years, Long said. That’s why his band, Sound Investment Jazz Ensemble, is trying to get it off the ground again at the college.

Sound Investment will have its official public debut on Friday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall at the Center for the Arts. The 17-piece band will present a kind of “jazz odyssey,” Long said, playing classics from Glenn Miller and Count Basie as well as more contemporary pieces,

When Long came to Middlebury in 2004, he was shocked to find there was no official jazz band sponsored by the music department; just a student-run organization known simply as Jazz Band.

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VUHS considers 5 percent hike in spending

November 26, 2007


VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School administrators and board members are looking at a first draft of a 2008-2009 budget that could — if approved in current form by the VUHS board in January and by voters in March — boost spending by about 5 percent to $8.45 million.

Rising energy and health insurance costs are pressuring the bottom line. In 2006 the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union also signed a new contract with its teachers giving raises ranging from about 3 to 5 percent, with the higher raises going to the lower end of the salary scale. 

VUHS Principal Ed Webbley said officials have little wiggle room once they factor in those items; expenses mandated by federal and state governments, such as special education; and other uncontrollable costs such as transportation, maintenance, and an almost $700,000 payment on the school’s seven-year-old expansion and renovation bond. 

Unless they want to start cutting non-mandatory programs at the 650-student high and middle school like music, art, agriculture and world language, Webbley said officials have about only $100,000 to play with. 

“Discretionary monies at our high school are $155 per student,” Webbley said. “We can make decisions on only such a small, small fraction of our whole budget. We can make decisions regarding field trips, books and supplies for students, and after that our discretion pretty much runs the course.”

ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran projected an 8.5-percent increase in health insurance costs for budgeting purposes, although she said she picked that figure to be safe after being told to expect an increase closer to 7.5 percent.

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Middlebury woman seeks to raise suicide awareness

November 26, 2007


ADDISON COUNTY — After Kathy Jones’ father killed himself, her mother went to great lengths to have his death certificate changed. Instead of reading “suicide” as the cause of death, it now reads “unknown.”

There’s no doubt about how her father died, Jones said. Her mother drove home early from work that day to find him asphyxiating in a running car, closed up in the garage.

But people don’t know how to talk about suicide, Jones said. So for many survivors, it’s easier to make up a lie.

“You learn, when you’ve dealt with a death like this, people act so bizarre,” Jones said. “I’ve had people just shut right down when I tell them how my father died.”

It’s been eight years since the East Middlebury resident lost her father, but this year Jones joined the Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group in Burlington. Before long, she became a board member for the Vermont chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Last month, Jones joined nearly 100 Vermonters in the fourth annual AFSP “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” in Burlington, helping to raise more than $17,000 toward national and local suicide prevention and awareness programs. She hopes to bring the topic of suicide out of the shadows.

According to the Vermont Agency of Human Services, in 2004 Vermont had the 12th highest suicide rate in the country; there were 93 suicides in the state that year. Addison County has seen a number of suicides in the last couple years and certainly has a reason to be concerned, said AHS field director Sue Schmidt in Middlebury.

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November 21st

VUHS students to help senior citizens navigate Medicare needs

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School students Joe Chugg, front left, Erin Conway and Chris Griffin, back left, are among the 15 students who are working with teacher Meg Coffey and pharmacist Larry Renaud to learn how to help senior citizens navigate the Medicare.gov Web site to find the prescription drug plan that best fits their needs.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

November 22, 2007


VERGENNES — Like many of her friends, Vergennes Union High School senior Erin Conway spends more than an hour a day using a computer.

For Conway, a task like logging onto the medicare.gov Web site and comparing 51 different private prescription drug insurance plans is not that difficult, even though it’s a multi-step, multi-screen process with thousands of possible results depending on the drugs entered. 

But ask the senior citizens for whom the Web site was created and you’ll likely find many of them struggling to make sense of the process.

That’s why 15 VUHS students, along with Kinney Drug supervising pharmacist Larry Renaud and two pharmacy technicians, have volunteered to help senior citizens navigate the medicare.gov maze at the VUHS library on Dec. 2. The goal is to help older Americans take advantage of the annual six-week enrollment period in which they are allowed to change their Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in order to save hundreds or, potentially, thousands of dollars.

The last six weeks of each year senior citizens enrolled in Medicare have the opportunity to change their Medicare Part D drug plans. Pharmacists recommend that all seniors who have such a plan evaluate it each year because the number of plans available changes and what is covered in existing plans changes.

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Starbucks, Staples plans draw fire

November 22, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — A standing-room crowd packed the Ilsley Public Library meeting room on Monday to urge the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) to reject proposed Staples and Starbucks stores that would be sited in, and adjacent to, The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South.

Some of the more than 60 residents, one of whom presented the DRB with a petition bearing more than 1,000 names, told DRB members the new stores would be out of character with Middlebury and could substantially weaken already established family-owned stores in the downtown.

The developer Myron Hunt Inc. — which owns The Centre — is proposing both stores. The 14,600-square-foot Staples would be built next to the Hannaford Supermarket in The Centre. The 1,700-square-foot Starbucks would be erected on an adjacent parcel now occupied by the former Middlebury Car Wash.

Chris Hunt, a principal of Myron Hunt Inc., represented the company at Monday’s hearing. He said he believes neither of the two stores would put a dent in Middlebury’s current retail scene.

“We realize that without a healthy, vibrant downtown economy, we can’t exist,” Hunt said. “It is purely a question of striking the right balance and we do not want to cause an imbalance.”

Hunt pointed to the proposed Staples as an example of a store that could help bring a better balance of stores to Middlebury, thereby giving shoppers less incentive to shop in the commercial hubs of Rutland and Chittenden counties.

“The Staples is a store that has been designed for the smaller town,” Hunt said. “It is roughly 10,000 square feet smaller than their average store. It’s in fact smaller than many of the drugstores we’ve seen.”

Staples, according to Hunt, has been looking to establish a store in Middlebury for “the past several years.”

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Affordable housing out of reach for some county residents

November 22, 2007


ADDISON COUNTY — Deep in the New Haven woods, the whirly-gig wheels on Dave Winborn’s ambulance-shaped lawn ornament spin around in the wind. This is how visitors know they’ve taken the right path to his tent, Winborn said, and how he knows he’s home.

Winborn doesn’t consider himself homeless, and he doesn’t consider himself poor. He has a job, a truck and his beautiful tent, complete with a woodstove and writing desk, which he has inhabited since this summer when he pitched it on a friend’s land.

The 55-year-old is an EMT on three different area rescue squads: he has volunteered with the Bristol squad for more than 25 years, with New Haven First Response for about 15 years and five months ago he started a paid position with Valley Rescue Squad in Hancock.

Next spring Winborn will earn his associate’s degree in human services from the Community College of Vermont.

“If I don’t blow it,” he said with a smile. “It’ll be the first time in my life I’ve ever worn a cap and gown. I never finished high school. I went right from public school to the streets.”

But, even though he is a contributing member of society with a paying job, Winborn is one of many people in Addison County who cannot find an affordable apartment.

This month the United Way of Addison County released the results of its 2007 Community Needs Assessment, in which about 750 area residents responded to a survey asking them to identify the most pressing needs they face today. Affordable housing ranked among the top four problems, along with financial stability, health and transportation.

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