Raboin, Merriam named to Newport council

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Newport City Council is again up to full strength. After a special meeting Monday night to select two new members, the council is no longer the all-male bastion it has been since the death of Karin Zisselsberger ten years ago.

With the choice of Julie Raboin and James Merriam, the council has also given itself a more youthful appearance.

Ms. Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health, and Mr. Merriam, who is lead pastor at the United Church of Newport, were chosen from a field of four.   That field also included Woodman Page, who returned to Newport after a career in the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and Ira Morgan Jr., former owner of Hellbilly Hideaway in Derby, and a driving force behind the creation of Newport’s first skate park.

At its meeting on March 13 council members asked interested parties to submit applications for the seats left vacant by the surprise, and as yet unexplained, resignations of Steven Vincent and Neil Morrissette on Town Meeting Day.

Applicants were given until March 22 to volunteer for the post. The council decided to hold the interviews for candidates in open session, but to deliberate on their choice behind closed doors.

Mayor Paul Monette also invited community members to submit suggestions for questions to be asked of the candidates at the open forum.

 

 

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Celebrating Vermont’s natural delicacy

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

After weeks of cold, even Saturday’s gray skies and spitting snowflakes didn’t stop people from turning out for the annual Vermont Maple Sugarmaker’s Association annual Maple Open House Weekend.

Chilly overnight temperatures meant that the Fortins at Covered Bridge Maple Sugaring in Barton couldn’t start boiling until noon, even with sap saved in the tank, but by 1 o’clock, the sweet-scented steam was rolling through their sugarhouse.

It was the family’s first open house, and they had gone all out for their guests. There were crockpots of chili, chowder, beans, and maple meatballs; trays of maple cookies and whoopee pies; and of course tastes of freshly made syrup.

About five years ago, Chris and Gerald Fortin bought the sugarhouse that used to belong to the Auger family on Route 16. The place came with a 100-acre sugarbush. They lease another 250 acres from a neighbor. The operation is certified organic.

The Fortins grew up sugaring in their respective families. After their marriage, they made syrup for years on their place in Newport Center, adding a few more taps and a bit more equipment every year.

They finally decided they were ready to move on to a bigger sugaring operation, Ms. Fortin said.

As luck would have it, they heard by word of mouth that Jeannette Auger wanted to sell. They bought the property before it was even listed on the market.

“We’d looked at other places, but this was the right one,” Ms. Fortin said.

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Congressional delegation draws hundreds in Hardwick

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

HARDWICK — The parking lot at Hazen Union High School here was filled an hour before the event even started. Inside the school’s gymnasium more than 500 people were already in their seats waiting.

“Is it always like this when this kind of thing happens?” one woman wondered.

There was no answer to the question. Nothing similar had ever happened in this quiet Northeast Kingdom town.

By the time the announcement came, there were between 600 and 700 people in the hall, all of whom rose to their feet and let out a roar when the arrival of the state’s Congressional delegation was announced.

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch walked through the crowd waving and smiling on their way to the small platform at the end of the gym.

There, Vermont Senator Jane Kitchell of West Danville, the master of ceremonies, awaited their arrival. Mr. Welch paused to hug his former state Senate colleague and exchange a few words with her before joining his colleagues in waving to the crowd.

Though billed as a town hall meeting, the event had the unmistakable feel of a political rally and a joyous one at that. The three men were arriving on the heels of the best news their supporters have had since November — the decision by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump to pull the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called Obamacare, rather than see it fail for lack of Republican support.

 

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Girls with Guns inspires a new generation of athletes

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Brad Usatch

 

CRAFTSBURY — The typically serene atmosphere at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center crackled with the sound of gunfire on Sunday as the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) hosted its inaugural run of Girls with Guns — a free introduction to the sport of biathlon.

Over 80 girls ranging in age from eight to 18 pre-registered for the event, and a steady stream trickled in to register that day. Biathlon is somewhat obscure in the United States, but may be seeing a big boost locally thanks to the dramatic success of Barton native Susan Dunklee, who this past February became the first American woman to win an individual medal at the biathlon World Championships. Ms. Dunklee is a founding member of CGRP, and when she’s not racing in Europe, she makes her home in Craftsbury.

Biathlon combines the sports of Nordic skiing and target shooting in races of various lengths and formats. Common to each of the biathlon disciplines, the skiers race between shooting ranges where each has five bullets to hit five targets from either a standing or prone position. For every missed target, the racer must ski a penalty loop.

Girls with Guns was the brainchild of CGRP’s Emily Dreissigacker, a Morrisville native and member of the U.S. Biathlon development group. She said she was inspired by the nonprofit group Fast and Female that was started by a pair of elite American and Canadian skiers, and has branched out to support competitive athletic training for young women across a variety of sports.

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Auditor says roughly a million missing in Coventry

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Between $876,343 and $1.43-million has gone missing in Coventry over a six-year period, according to new figures from auditor Jeff Graham.

Selectmen said at their meeting Monday that they are preparing to file an insurance claim for $876,383 for losses that occurred between 2009 and 2016.

According to forensic accountant Jeff Graham, that’s the most conservative estimate of how much tax money was collected but not deposited by Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Delinquent Tax Collector Cynthia Diaz.

But by using the numbers that Ms. Diaz herself presented in town reports for the same years, Mr. Graham said, the actual amount of missing money could be as much as $1.43-million.

In fact, Mr. Graham said he has evidence of checks received that bring the total closer to Ms. Diaz’ figures than to his lower number.

But without documentation to show what the checks are for, he doesn’t plan to include them in the claim. And he hasn’t included the 8 percent penalty and monthly 1 percent interest applied to delinquent properties, even though Ms. Diaz has said publicly that she always charged those fees, he said.

In a way, it’s a moot point.

The town’s insurance policy, which reimburses for losses through fraud, will only pay up to $500,000.

The difference comes out of the pockets of Coventry taxpayers. So does the estimated $360,000 in fees that have been paid to Graham and Graham for the auditing firm’s work over the past two years.

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ATVs — pest or new economic driver?

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

When a group of ATV enthusiasts went before the Westmore Select board recently to ask that some town roads be opened to them, they touted the usual arguments, the main one being that allowing people who love to ride on the versatile machines to get to stores and restaurants would be good for the economy.

And they received the usual arguments for the select board’s hesitation, the main ones being the town is worried about rogue riders and liability if something happens.

“They’re hoping to get some roads open so they can connect to Brownington roads, which are all open,” said Selectman Bill Perkins. They would also like to have access to amenities, he added.

As of Sunday, the board hadn’t made a decision, though Mr. Perkins, at least, wasn’t inclined to offer much resistance.

“Our main concerns are the same as with snowmobiling,” he said. “We just want to make sure the town isn’t going to be held liable for anything if there’s ever an accident. We don’t want the town responsible in any way. Other than that we don’t see a big problem with them.”

The Westmore request is only one of the latest in a growing debate about whether ATVs — which some think may replace snowmobiles as a major economic engine driving Vermont’s outdoor economy — should be provided more access to town and village roads.

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Local senators muse over legislative session

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Due to concerns about federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, Vermont’s Legislature may adjourn early this year and go back to Montpelier in October.

“Trump’s been talking about cutting a lot of stuff,” Senator Bobby Starr of North Troy said. “It may make more sense to draw up a temporary budget and reconvene when we have some real numbers.”

Senator Starr agrees with colleagues in the Legislature who are saying that it would make more sense to finish the budget in October than to function without a finished budget until next year.

“We’ve been taking testimony on the 2018 budget,” Mr. Starr said. “Where we’re going to run into trouble is not knowing what’s going to happen in Washington.”

In addition to being chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mr. Starr sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Word is going out that the legislators should be making plans to be back here in the fall,” he said.

Meanwhile, he’s keeping busy in Montpelier, as is the region’s other Senator, John Rodgers of Glover.

“There’s always plenty to do here,” Mr. Rodgers said.

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History students take a stand

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

  

NEWPORT — In 1967, authorities tried to drag Kathrine Switzer off the course in the middle of the Boston Marathon because she was a woman.

Women weren’t officially allowed to run in the event until 1972. Ms. Switzer had gotten a race number by filling out the entry form with just her initials.

Robin Nelson, an eighth-grader at Glover Community School, won a first prize in the NEK History Day fair in Newport last Thursday for her research on Ms. Switzer.

In just a few weeks, Robin and the rest of her family will be in Boston cheering her mother, Tara Nelson, across the finish line.

Of the 30,000 entries in this year’s race, about half with be women.

Ms. Switzer, who went on to win both the Boston and New York marathons after they were opened to women, took a stand for equality in her sport, Robin said.

But Robin’s choice of project highlights another trend at this year’s NEK History Day event.

Maybe it was the theme of this year’s national and local history day events — “take a stand for history.” Or maybe it was the recent election, the national political climate, and the widely publicized women’s marches around the country.

But just over a third of the projects entered in this year’s NEK History Day were about women.

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Act 46 committee struggles to define its purpose

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — A committee formed Monday evening to study how schools in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) will comply with the state mandate to consolidate into fewer districts struggled with the seemingly simple task of defining its goals.

Members of the committee were sharply divided on whether the point is to make another try at consolidating into a single unified school district, or explore other alternatives.

And they disagreed about whether to have the process driven by input from the community, or whether to start with the state mandate and figure out how to sell it to voters.

About 20 people, some members of the Act 46 Study Committee, and some interested citizens, came to the meeting in the COFEC building in Barton.

It was the committee’s first meeting since Town Meeting Day, when study committee members from each school district opened a dialogue with the public at their respective meetings and passed out copies of an updated Act 46 survey.

At its first meeting, the study committee decided it was important to get more public input.

Although the district merger proposal was defeated last year by five of the six towns in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union, only 552 people actually went to the polls.

In many towns, the margins were narrow, Chair Amy Leroux pointed out. In Albany, the consolidation measure was only defeated by three votes.

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Medicaid could be cut by $200-million

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

MONTPELIER — Vermont is likely to see a $200-million reduction in federal Medicaid funds if Congress passes the version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) now making its way through the House of Representatives. That was the message delivered Friday by officials of the state Agency of Human Services (AHS) at a press conference here.

According to Corey Gustafson, commissioner of the Department of Health Access, the Medicaid program covers the medical costs of approximately 24 percent of Vermonters. Around 35 percent of Vermonters are covered by group policies provided by employers, and another 22 percent get their health coverage from Medicare, the program for those above 65 years of age.

Another 11 percent are covered by small group policies, military benefits, and federal employee insurance. Only about 2 percent of Vermonters lack any insurance at all, the second lowest percentage in the nation.

Vermont has the smallest percentage of uninsured children, according to AHS Secretary Al Gobeille.

The large reduction in payments is the result of an unfortunate coincidence, he said. The AHCA will cap the amount of money going to states based on the number of patients covered in 2016, a year that the number of people covered was artificially low, Mr. Gustafson said.

Mr. Gobeille said the change in the way funds are allocated to the state could require Vermont to make difficult choices in the years ahead.

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