Current Use penalty too high, Starr says

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

A recent decision by the Vermont Supreme Court could cost the new owners of the former Champion lands in Essex County a million dollars in lost property tax relief.

State Senator Bobby Starr of North Troy thinks he has a better way to approach such situations, but said he needs to wait until the courts are finished with the matter.

The question involves 56,000 Northeast Kingdom acres that were once owned by Champion International Corporation, but sold to the Essex Timber Company in 1998. Essex Timber enrolled the property in the state’s Use Value Appraisal program, more commonly known as the Current Use program.

Under that program, a landowner is taxed for a forested or agricultural property at its “current use” value, rather than at its fair market value.

One of the conditions of the tax relief program is that a landowner must submit a forest management plan to the state. That plan must conform to state standards and be approved by the state Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR), which must periodically inspect each property to make sure the owner abides by the management plan.

If Forests and Parks finds that a landowner has failed to comply with its forest management plan, the director of the state Division of Property Valuation and Review (PVR) must remove the parcel in question from Current Use for five years.

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Amount budgeted for policing in Derby nearly doubled

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

 

 by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY — The Derby Select Board voted at its meeting Monday night for a municipal budget that would nearly double the amount set aside for policing — from $47,000 to $90,000. However, select board members said they would prefer not to have to spend the full amount. Their discussion came after former state Representative Bob Lewis presented a report on how the new Walmart might affect the town’s law enforcement needs.

Mr. Lewis, who served both as a State Police trooper and game warden before his retirement, said he spoke with the security manager at Walmart, Newport City Police Chief Seth DiSanto, and Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin in preparing his presentation.

He pointedly omitted Lieutenant Walt Smith, the commander of the Derby State Police barracks, from his conversations with law enforcement, saying that the lieutenant made his attitude about responding to the town’s needs clear in statements to the select board last March.

“I think it’s just political,” Mr. Lewis said of Lieutenant Smith’s refusal to commit to responding to low level crime at the new big box store. He suggested that Tom Anderson, the newly appointed Commissioner of Public Safety, might reverse that policy if pressed by local representatives.

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Derby Pond Animal Hospital has new owner

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

DERBY — When it snowed recently, Dr. Kim O’Connor, the new owner of Derby Pond Animal Hospital, ran to the window in her office in excitement.

“Oh look, it’s snowing!” she exclaimed, watching the flakes come down.

“And the staff just looked at me,” she said in an interview on Monday. “They must have thought I was crazy.”

Dr. O’Connor was born and raised in Georgia. She moved to Vermont in June to take over the business founded and owned until recently by Dr. Steve Sanford.

She’s already bought ultrasound equipment for the practice.

“People were having to drive a long way to get that service,” she said.

And soon she hopes to have 24-hour emergency service and a large animal vet, both services that are in short supply in the Northeast Kingdom.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “I’ve never owned a business before, so I’m taking it one step at a time. Baby steps.”

The veterinary practice where she worked in Savannah was big, with lots of people bringing pets for one-time emergency visits and few repeat customers.

In the smaller, more laid back Derby Pond practice, she’s enjoying the chance to form bonds with pets and their owners.

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In the land of cigars and rum, Part III

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

 

By Paul Lefebvre

 

The thought of making a will occurred to me soon after I booked a flight to Havana. Actually, the thought had been trailing me around for the last few years, but I had done nothing about it. Maybe, I told myself, a four- to five-hour flight to an island off the Florida coast ruled by aging revolutionaries who had recently lost their leader will stir you into action.

True to form, I did nothing until the hour was too late. So as I stood with Calamity at the boarding gate and looked through one of the banks of windows that line the Trudeau Airport at Montreal and watched an airplane belonging to Sun Wing — a Canadian airline and tourist company I had never heard of — roll into loading position, I could feel the fear building deep in the well of my stomach.

Thoughts of what would become to my house and hunting camp were rumbling through my head as we taxied down the runway. I waited until the plane’s landing wheels receded before turning away.

“You never should have reserved a window seat,” I thought, as we became airborne and a stewardess began to demonstrate how to put on the life vest stuck away under every passenger seat, in the event we crashed into the ocean. I was among those who clapped when the airplane landed in Cuba.

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Sugarmakers discuss climate change, bugs

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY — About 60 members of Vermont’s Orleans County Maple Producers gathered at Paul’s Sugarhouse and Dancehall here Monday evening to share a meal and gather information in the short time before they begin gathering sap.

Sugarmakers heard about the potential effects of climate change and the likely threat of forest tent caterpillars from Orleans County Forester Jared Nunnery.

They also got a peek at the logo and syrup can labels recently unveiled by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.

Mr. Nunnery began his talk by asking how many people have seen the chart that shows Vermont traveling down to Tennessee. Not many had.

“Good,” Mr. Nunnery said. “I hate it. Vermont is not going to become Tennessee.”

He said sugar maples are in Vermont not only because of the climate, but also largely because the soil suits their growth. The trees may be in danger, but warm weather is not the problem.

“Sugar maples can be killed by wind or by chainsaws,” Mr. Nunnery said. Otherwise they are not that likely to die because of a single factor.

There has been a recent outbreak of forest tent caterpillars that have defoliated large tracts in the state, he noted.

He asked for a show of hands of those whose sugarwoods have been affected by the caterpillars. Only a couple hands were raised.

Next year many more people will be answering yes to that question, Mr. Nunnery predicted.

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Ski for Light holds Craftsbury event

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

CRAFTSBURY — It was a cold gray Saturday here, but the slopes and trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center were bright with skiers and snowshoers in red vests, some marked “Guide” and some marked “Blind Skier.”

The 22 visually impaired skiers who came to the weekend’s Ski for Light event are fit and physically active. Many are professionals, most are middle-aged or older, all enjoy a chance to spend a weekend outdoors improving their skiing or snowshoeing skills.

The same could be said of the volunteer guides — sighted skiers who pay their own way to Ski for Light events year after year.

But for the blind skiers, there’s the added challenge of pointing skis down a hill they can’t see, and trusting a guide they may have met just the day before.

“You just relax and bend your knees and go,” said Marie Hennessy, president of New England Ski for Light. “You have to put your full trust with this person.”

In his early days as a guide, Stephen Flanders of Norwich steered a skier into a bush by calling out the wrong directions.

“It’s important to know left from right,” he said drily.

But despite that inauspicious start, Mr. Flanders has stuck it out as a guide for more than ten years.

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Dental center opens in Orleans

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Brad Usatch

 

ORLEANS — The Orleans Dental Center is up and running and accepting new patients.

Situated on Union Street behind the site of the now demolished Orleans Family Medicine building, the brand new facility began taking patients on January 3.

The Orleans Dental Center is now the third dental clinic owned and operated by Northern Counties Health Care (NCHC), which also has dental centers in Hardwick and Island Pond. Michelle Tetreault, director of dental operations at NCHC, said the project developed swiftly from an initial determination in 2015 that the area was “really lacking in dental care.”

The quick progress from an idea to an open door was the result of hard work and a few fortunate breaks. NCHC applied for a federal grant in January of 2016 with the knowledge that the grant money would not be enough to build, equip, and staff a new facility. At about the same time, North Country Hospital (NCH) completed a needs assessment that identified oral health care as an underserved area the hospital was mandated to help with, Ms. Tetreault said.

“We contacted North Country Hospital to let them know we had an opportunity to write a grant to help with this building, but that the grant would fall short,” she said. “They jumped on it.”

In the end, North Country came forward with a $100,000 donation that made the project possible.

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Losses, some gains for Newport businesses

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Newport is reportedly gaining a new business, but is losing two others.

A vacant Main Street building may be slated for redevelopment, but up the street, a toy store is closing. In addition, the manufacturing company that took over the former Vermont Teddy Bear factory has shuttered its doors.

Its buildings and equipment have been foreclosed on and are be auctioned off later this month.

Burlington developer Ernie Pomerleau told the Newport City Council recently that his company has found a buyer for the old J.J. Newbury building on Main Street.

At the council’s December 19 meeting, Mr. Pomerleau said, “We just sold the Fishman Building, and I think you’ll see something moving forward that will prove advantageous.”

Mayor Paul Monette pointed out that Mr. Pomerleau meant the Newbury building, which most recently housed a bedding showroom.

Mr. Pomerleau’s father, Tony Pomerleau, bought the building in 2011 and sold it in November of 2011 to TML Commercial, LLC, a St. Albans company owned by Vincent Paradis, according to state records.

City Clerk and Treasurer James Johnson said he does not know when or how Mr. Pomerleau regained possession of the building.

Mr. Pomerleau told council members that the new owner of the property plans to develop “workforce housing and additional retail space” on the site of the Main Street building.

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Diaz ignores order to hand over documents and cash

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copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Last Friday’s court-imposed deadline has come and gone, and so far Coventry Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz hasn’t turned over town documents that the select board and auditor Jeff Graham have been requesting over the past year. Nor has she complied with an order to provide full and complete financial records.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen gave Ms. Diaz until 4 p.m. on Friday, December 30, to deposit any town funds in her possession, to turn over documents, and to start keeping town financial records in accordance with standards laid out in the court order.

Ms. Diaz did deposit $7,433 in checks on Friday, but didn’t furnish any records to explain what the checks were, Mr. Graham said at Monday’s Coventry Select Board meeting. And he said the total doesn’t match financial reports that she handed to the board at the end of the week.

That report showed one $200 check deposited for the week.

None of the funds she deposited had anything to do with the more than $32,000 that Mr. Graham’s forensic audit has so far found to be missing. The missing money was all in cash.

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Newport City continues to struggle with budget

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copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — City Manager Laura Dolgin and Clerk and Treasurer James Johnson had their heads together Tuesday as they worked to provide budget options for Wednesday’s special city council meeting.

Over the past several weeks of meetings, council members have made clear their strong desire to keep this year’s property tax rate as close to last year’s as possible.

According to Ms. Dolgin, that attitude is unrealistic. In a memorandum addressed to members of the council and sent to them before a special budget meeting on December 29, she said a drop in last year’s tax rate was unwise and will continue to haunt budget-making for the next five years.

The municipal tax rate for the 2016-2017 budget year was $1.1797. A year earlier the rate was $1.1942.

Aldermen lowered taxes artificially last year by offsetting spending with $150,000 taken from the city’s reserve fund, she said.

“The offset effectively reduced the tax rate to pre-2015 rates, creating unrealistic expectations for future tax increases,” Ms. Dolgin said. “In order to recover, larger than expected tax increments will need to occur for the next several years.”

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