December 2016 chronology

As December arrived, Vermont State Police announced the second new commander and third overall this year for the New Haven Barracks. Lt. Jeff Danoski, 47, took over for Lt. Chuck Cacciatore, who took a position with VSP in Waterbury. In August, Cacciatore had in turn replaced Lt. Michael Manley, who was promoted. Book ’em, Danoski.
In response to citizen concerns — and their own — Vergennes City Council members created a task force to find ways to make the city’s downtown safer for pedestrians and cyclists, with a focus on crosswalks. They hope the task force will make recommendations for improvements — and ways to pay for them — that can be made this spring.
In a packed Addison County Courthouse, Judge Samuel Hoar sent Nathan Dearing, 29, to prison for seven to 16 years for driving his car into and killing cyclist Kelly Boe, 55, of Middlebury in April 2015. In an emotional hearing, many praised Boe as a husband, father, friend, neighbor and community contributor, and Dearing apologized.
The area’s newly unified school districts began to create their first unified budgets to cover all spending at all their schools and central offices. The starting point in the Addison Central School District was just under $35.8 million. School tax reductions were being forecast for all seven ACSD towns, but tax savings from unification appeared lower than hoped for, in large part because of declining student enrollment.
The Addison Northwest School District board was set to look at its first budget at the very end of the month. Ongoing contract negotiations are complicating officials’ budget work, and the sides are far apart: The board is seeking to boost pay for new teachers, and give all teachers a 1.4 percent pay hike while asking them to work more days. The teachers’ union pointed out district teachers are underpaid compared to peers in neighboring districts and asked for a 10.95 increase. Stay tuned.
The Addison Northeast School District budgeting process started with a focus on Mount Abraham. Early talks focused on whether to ask for a level spending plan that would probably mean a 0.55 percent tax hike, or one that included a 20-year, $20 million bond that could trigger an increase of about 7 percent. Officials said that bond would fund the minimum needed to adequately renovate the buildings.
Because voters backed unification, all the districts will qualify next year for a 10-cent discount on the tax rate otherwise needed to support school spending. The question in each district is how much the rate would go up before the discount is applied — and then how individual towns’ Common Levels of Appraisal might move that rate up or down.
One of the largest solar arrays in Vermont was proposed for a 73-acre parcel mostly in Weybridge — a 4.99-megawatt installation comparable to the one Green Mountain Power is completing in Panton. About 40 project neighbors attended an informational presentation by its Minneapolis developer. Most of those who spoke opposed the project. Late in the month the Bristol Planning Commission got preliminary plans for a 5-megawatt solar farm off Route 116, not far from Brown’s. Look for this to make more news in 2017.
On the heels of the record-setting rifle deer hunting season, the final bow and muzzleloader deer numbers from Addison County’s weigh stations pushed the county’s annual total to 1,064. That figure set a new annual mark for deer weighed in Addison County since 2005, when state wildlife officials banned shooting spikehorn bucks during rifle season. The previous record of 1,021 came in 2010.
The VTrans plan to replace the downtown Middlebury rail bridges — which is projected to be a four-year, $40 million project that will shut down part of downtown Middlebury for most of one noisy, dirty summer — made news all month. Opponents threatened a lawsuit, a challenge that was withdrawn when VTrans agreed to submit the project to a full environmental assessment. That decision delayed the project start for at least a year from its projected beginning later this winter. The town selectboard reaffirmed two agreements with VTrans despite the ongoing opposition.
The Tri-Town Water District and its customers experienced a series of unfortunate events late in the month. Two water main breaks, a fire that drained a main tank serving Shoreham, and a car accident that knocked out power to the plant and triggered an electrical fire there all conspired to knock out water service to 1,600 customers, send discolored water to others, force district officials to issue a boil order to its Addison, Bridport and Shoreham customers, and earn the district scrutiny from the Division of Environmental Conservation.
Paul Bessler, a 42-year-old father from Crown Point, N.Y., was killed two days before Christmas when the small plane he was piloting crashed near the Middlebury State Airport. Several residents in the neighborhood where the plane went down rushed to crash site and pulled Bessler from the burning wreckage. Officials hadn’t determined the cause of the crash by year’s end, but it was not suspicious.
A couple of prominent citizens got new jobs: Orwell Independent Rep. Alyson Eastman was appointed as the new Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and Addison Count State’s Attorney David Fenster learned he would be fitted for judge’s robes. Gov. Scott will appoint replacements in the new year.
And then all took a deep breath and did their best after a long and at times divisive and unsettling 2016 to enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. 

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