January 2017 Year in Review
On Jan. 1, 2017, the Vermont minimum wage increased from $9.60 to $10 an hour.
In a spot of good news to usher in the new year, the Otter Creek Audubon Society announced that its 2016 Christmas Bird Count tallied the highest numbers ever. Local birders identified 24,073 birds of 72 species. Fifteen bald eagles were counted — a record number. Later in the month, state Fish and Wildlife officials, announced near-record numbers of turkeys culled in 2016 plus very big numbers for bear and deer.
Middlebury-based Connor Homes announced early in January that it was laying off its entire 65-person workforce. By the end of the month, owners/investors of the reproduction “kit” homes company made those layoffs permanent, and put the company’s 115,000-square-foot headquarters on Route 7 up for sale. Founder and previous owner Mike Connor began negotiating in January to reacquire the company and to relocate it to a smaller space.
In Orwell, a landmark family business changed hands — coming back into the family. Andy and Mary Buxton purchased Buxton’s Store from Doug Edwards. Edwards bought the store in 2006 from Buxton’s grandparents, Dick and Thelma Buxton, who ran the business for 40 years.
In New Haven, John and Margo Roleau announced their purchase of the Village Green Market, which has been in operation as a store for close to 200 years. Both Roleaus grew up with deep connections to the establishment on the New Haven town green.
New leaders took the reins in both Montpelier and Washington. On Jan. 5, Republican Phil Scott was sworn in as Vermont’s 82nd governor. In his inaugural address, Scott highlighted four major policy areas: fighting the opiate epidemic, revitalizing economic development, transforming education and creating sustainable state budgets.
In the first week of January, local state legislators received their committee assignments. There were two new faces in the Addison County delegation to the state Legislature that took office just before Gov. Scott. Democrat Robin Scheu, longtime executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp., took over as one of two state representatives from Middlebury, and Peter Conlon, also a Democrat, took the House seat that represents Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton and Salisbury.
Meanwhile, Veteran Republican Rep. Alyson Eastman of Orwell won re-election the previous November, but in late December Gov.-elect Scott tapped her to be deputy secretary of agriculture. As of the end of January Scott had not named a replacement.
Following the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, hundreds of Addison County residents took to the streets in protest, both in Washington, D.C., and in Montpelier, many sporting pink “pussy hats” specially knitted for the occasion. Two busloads took men, women and children to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington. Other area citizens joined the Women’s March on Montpelier, including Middlebury Union High School student Greta Hardy-Mittell, who was the gathering’s 10th speaker. Vermont State Police estimated that 15,000-20,000 gathered in Montpelier, making it the state’s largest protest. Over half a million citizens gathered in Washington. Nationwide, the Women’s March has been tallied as the “largest single-day protest in American history.” An estimated 3 million-5 million marched in 654 towns and cities across the United States.
Starksboro saw an energized campaign for selectboard shaping up, following a December 2016 vote to expand that body from three to five members. In towns across the county, prospective candidates were filling out official paperwork, shaking hands and getting required signatures in anticipation of the Jan. 30 deadline to declare their candidacies.
In mid-January Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos reminded Vermonters that starting in 2017 Vermont residents would be able to register and vote on the same day.
Towns and schools spent much of January fine-tuning their budgets in time to be warned for town meeting. The Addison Central and Addison Northwest school districts, both newly unified, presented their first multi-school budgets in 2017.
The proposed budget for Mount Abraham Union High School, part of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, showed what would become a central concern throughout 2017: renovating the 49-year-old Mount Abe building. The budget for fiscal 2018 allocated around $1 million in repairs. ANESU officials said the building would continue to need that amount in its annual repair kitty indefinitely. At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Mount Abe board created a new Mount Abe renovation committee to study the building’s needs and consider a possible bond. The committee was charged with making its recommendation to Superintendent Patrick Reen by early August.
On Jan. 26, the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition celebrated a year of accomplishments at its annual meeting. The farmer-to-farmer peer group has been instrumental in engaging farmers in best management practices to improve water quality. More than 40,000 acres are under the stewardship of CVFC members, mostly in Addison County. Gov. Scott and Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts spoke at the meeting. Scott vowed to protect the state’s immigrant workers, saying, “We will take action to protect the rights of all who live within our borders.”
Toward the end of the month, Addison County Transit Resources announced it was seeking to merge with Stagecoach Transportation Services, which serves Orange and north Windsor counties. The two transportation nonprofits had been working in partnership since January 2014, when ACTR was called in by the Vermont Agency of Transportation to provide leadership after Stage Coach’s executive director stepped down. ACTR Executive Director Jim Moulton said that merger into one legal entity would strengthen both organizations, creating economies of scale, providing clout for further route expansion, and increasing administrative stability. Moulton said the merger would likely be finalized by summer.
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