School funding a priority for legislators

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copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Just two weeks into the 2018 legislative session, Governor Phil Scott has given his State of the State speech, but this year’s budget address isn’t scheduled for another week.

Behind the scenes, analysts are waiting to hear numbers from the Governor, even as they scramble to figure out what the new federal budget and income tax reform may mean for Vermont, said Representative Sam Young of Glover, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee.

And lawmakers are up to their ears in committee work that’s left them — so far — with little time to figure out what’s going on outside of their committee rooms.

“We all kind of work in a vacuum, all in our own committees,” Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry said.

Fixing school funding

If there’s one thing that Northeast Kingdom legislators seem likely to agree on, it’s that property taxes are too high, and the current system of funding for education is broken.

Representative Gary Viens of Newport summed it up in a nutshell when he said, “I certainly don’t want to hurt the education of our children, but people are pretty tapped out on taxes.”

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Supporters rally around fired librarian

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copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018

 

by Tena Starr

 

ORLEANS — Parents and others who frequent the Jones Memorial Library here are asking that longtime librarian Joanne Pariseau be reinstated. Ms. Pariseau was fired in late December, after 19 years at the library.

The decision apparently came at the hands of the library’s board of trustees, which created some initial confusion.

The library doesn’t actually have a board of trustees, Orleans Village Administrator John Morley said by phone last week. Informed that the library’s website listed three trustees, he said he was unaware the trio referred to themselves as trustees. He said the three people are actually a committee the village trustees appointed to help with management of the library. The village owns the Jones Memorial.

“The actual trustees, in my opinion, for the library would be the village trustees,” Mr. Morley said.

The following day the website was changed to say committee rather than trustees. Deb Smith, a member of that committee, has been appointed interim librarian.

Erica Butterfield, president of Friends of the Jones Memorial Library until about a week ago, said Monday that Ms. Pariseau’s termination took her very much by surprise.

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Dismissal of murder charge sought

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copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — According to a motion filed by Jon Valsangiacomo, the lawyer representing Ryan P. Bacon, 32, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, the state cannot prove his client committed second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. Mr. Valsangiacomo has filed a motion in the Criminal Division of Orleans County Superior Court asking Judge Robert Bent to dismiss charges against his client.

Mr. Bacon is facing felony charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the death of Ron-Lou Schneider who was shot in Greensboro in 2015.

He was originally charged with first-degree murder by Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett, but Ms. Barrett later amended that charge down to second-degree murder and added a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Ms. Barrett said this week that she has been engrossed in preparing for another murder trial, that of Jeffrey Ray, and has not prepared an answer to Mr. Valsangiacomo’s motion.

By arguing against the state’s ability to prove the lesser of the two charges, Mr. Valsangiacomo effectively struck at the more serious. Without proving a person intended to kill, or intended to do great bodily harm, or showing a wanton disregard that a likelihood of death or great bodily injury would result from his actions, the standard for voluntary manslaughter, it is impossible to get a conviction for either charge.

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Bad tenants leave landlords in the lurch

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copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018

 

by Tena Starr

 

LOWELL — About 19 years ago Joe St. Onge started building his own little faux town. It was quite a vision.

He cut the wood off his land on the Pope Road in Lowell, got a portable sawmill to come in and saw the lumber, then he hired a local carpenter to put up the buildings.

Outside, the little “town” appears to have a general store, schoolhouse, church, fire and police station, a sweet shop, and more.

And there’s Hidden Country Restaurant, the only one of the structures that is what it purports to be. That log building was already there when Mr. St. Onge moved to Lowell 28 years ago, though it was originally a house.

He said in a recent interview that he’d had a diner in Massachusetts. Then he worked at Harvard and Northeastern University, and at a hospital in food service. And then a friend told him he had a restaurant for sale in Vermont.

“So I bought it. I came up here with my sons and wife,” Mr. St. Onge said. “Everybody thought I was crazy to open a restaurant in the middle of the woods.”

Aside from the restaurant, which is closed now, all those pretty little buildings are deceptive. On the inside, they’re homes of varying size and character. There’s also three trout ponds on the property, a miniature covered bridge, a blinking railroad sign, as well as a set of miniature houses set up just for decoration on the land.

The idea, Mr. St. Onge said while touring the property with a reporter, was that he’d rent out the houses, and the income would support him in his “autumn years.”

It hasn’t turned out that way.

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Fire destroys Barton restaurant

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copyright the Chronicle January 10, 2018

 

by Tena Starr and Joseph Gresser

 

BARTON — Fire destroyed Ming’s House, the Chinese restaurant here, on Friday. The tricky fire started at around 2 p.m. Barton Fire Chief Kevin Tartaglio, who arrived on the scene just minutes after the department was toned out, said he didn’t get back to the station until around 11:30 or midnight.

About 30 firefighters from Barton, Orleans, Glover, and Irasburg helped battle what could hardly be called a blaze.

Instead, Barton was filled with brown smoke so thick that sometimes it was impossible to even see the restaurant.

Chief Tartaglio said state fire investigators came up on Monday and will issue a report sometime this week. He added that it was an accidental fire.

A neighboring business owner said the owner of Ming’s told him it started as a grease fire.

Chief Tartaglio said it was a “major fire because of the weather,” which was frigid that day.

He said that when he arrived the interior was engulfed in flames, and the whole building was filled with smoke.

“I put a firefighter on one side to protect Rock Insurance and another one on the other to protect the house,” the chief said. “We ran water until we could attempt the interior.”

He said that, as soon as he realized what was going on, he called in mutual aid.

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Barton, Orleans fire departments plan merger

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copyright the Chronicle January 10, 2018

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — Plans are moving ahead for combining the Barton and Orleans fire departments into a single, more efficient unit.

Orleans Administrator John Morley and fire chiefs Kevin Tartaglio and E.J. Rowell came to Monday night’s Barton Select Board meeting to talk about the idea.

Mr. Tartaglio and Mr. Rowell nodded their agreement when Mr. Morley said the fire departments, including the chiefs, are in full support of the plan.

Mr. Tartaglio has volunteered to step aside and leave Mr. Rowell with the official title of fire chief.

“These guys already know how to work together,” Mr. Morley said. “That’s going to be the easy part.”

The select board, too, thinks the idea is a good one.

The plan is for both firehouses to stay open. Equipment will be moved around so that both locations have what they need. Firefighters will be assigned wherever they’re needed. And the village of Orleans will handle the bookkeeping and other paperwork that both chiefs admit they find daunting.

“It’s the structure that’s changing, not the services,” Selectman Bob Croteau said.

The plan offers central administration, a single insurance, and central dispatching, he noted.

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Work on Newport Center water to start soon

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copyright the Chronicle January 10, 2018

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT CENTER — When voters here went to the polls last April to decide whether or not to approve a $745,000 bond to improve the village water system, they took a risk.

Town officials said the town might be eligible for a sizeable grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program, but they would not find out for sure unless the bond was approved.

Townspeople leapt into the unknown, approving the bond measure by a vote of 95 to 13, and they were rewarded when the USDA approved a $695,000 grant soon afterward.

Work on the project, which includes drilling two new wells, putting in a treatment facility to remove arsenic and manganese from water, and installing the electrical and plumbing connections needed to keep the new wells flowing, is scheduled to start soon, said Newport Center Clerk Denise Daigle Tuesday.

“The grant funds will kick in after the town spends a couple of hundreds of thousand dollars,” she said, speaking of the town’s share of the project’s costs.

Ms. Daigle said it is “way too early to tell” if the grant will lower the cost of water to people now on the system.

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Trustees contemplate rate hike for Barton Village

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copyright the Chronicle January 10, 2018

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON VILLAGE — The trustees here are trying to decide when would be the best time to petition the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for an electric rate hike.

“One reason we had such a huge increase a couple of years ago is that we had let a lot of time go,” Trustee Justin Barton-Caplin said at Monday night’s regular trustees’ meeting.

In 2015, Barton Electric Department’s rates jumped 16.7 percent after letting seven years go between increases.

At that time, Barton officials asked what was then called the Public Service Board for a 21 percent hike, but the higher number was denied.

Electric departments, like everyone else, have to deal with constantly increasing costs. But leftover money from a bond raised for a system upgrade that got mixed in with operating funds gave Barton’s electric company a false sense of running in the black for a number of years. The village’s bookkeeping was such that the problem went unnoticed for a long time.

Even after discovering the huge hole in the electric department’s budget, it took an audit and over a year of remedial accounting to get the village’s records in shape to present its rate case in 2015.

For the past three years, a new set of trustees and a new village administration have worked to straighten out the village’s books and put the electric department on a sound footing. Now the trustees are anxious to keep it that way.

“I think we should plan for another rate increase this year,” Trustee Cathy Swain said over speakerphone. She attended the meeting remotely.

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Brownington murder trial set for end of month

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copyright the Chronicle January 3, 2018

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Jeffrey M. Ray, 53, of Brownington will face a jury rather than try to negotiate a reduction in the first-degree murder charge he faces in the shooting death of Rick Vreeland. Mr. Ray has been held without bail since he entered an innocent plea to the charge in May of 2015.

According to police affidavits, Mr. Ray had a blood alcohol level three times higher than the legal limit when he shot the 53-year-old Mr. Vreeland, who was married to Mr. Ray’s ex-wife.

On Tuesday Mr. Ray appeared with his lawyer, Kyle Hatt, for a pretrial conference in the Criminal Division of Orleans County Superior Court. Judge Robert Bent asked Mr. Hatt if there is a possibility of settling the case before it goes before a jury and received a firm “no” for an answer.

Mr. Hatt and Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett, who will prosecute the case, are scheduled to select a jury on January 22. If all goes as planned, the trial will start the next day.

Judge Bent has blocked out nine days for the trial, which could run through February 1.

On Tuesday Mr. Hatt asked if special questions he had drawn up had been added to the normal queries put to potential jurors in a questionnaire sent out before they are asked to appear in court. They had been.

Mr. Hatt also told Judge Bent that he intends to place a blood alcohol test performed at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in the record as evidence. He said that may require the technician who performed the test to testify in court unless Ms. Barrett agrees to stipulate to the person’s qualifications.

“I encourage people to agree to what they can agree to,” Judge Bent said.

Ms. Barrett did not say what she intends to do.

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Irasburg man pleads innocent to poaching moose

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copyright the Chronicle January 3, 2018

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The man who game wardens say killed a cow moose, dragged it behind his truck from Westmore to Barton, and left its carcass beside the road to rot has denied the stack of charges against him.

Gerin J. Fortin, 21, of Irasburg, appeared in the Criminal Division of Orleans Superior Court on December 26 and pled innocent to two charges of taking game by an illegal method, that is, shooting from a vehicle; taking a big game animal by illegal means; possessing a big game animal taken by illegal means or out of season; transporting big game taken by illegal means, or out of season; and taking a moose out of season.

All the charges are misdemeanors, but if found guilty, Mr. Fortin could face a year in jail and have to pay as much as $8,000 in fines and restitution.

In his affidavit, Game Warden Thomas Scott said he got a call on September 23 telling him about a dead cow moose found off the Hollow Road in Barton. Warden Jason Dukette, who was on duty, went to Barton and found the moose.

He said the condition of the carcass and a two-foot-wide bloody drag mark showed it had been dragged to the place where it was found. Warden Dukette noticed two gunshot wounds on the moose.

The warden followed the drag marks to Town Highway 5, a Class Four road, in Westmore, where Warden Scott joined him. They continued to follow the trail, which led to a hay field. Tire marks were clearly visible on either side of the drag mark in the tall grass.

At the northern edge of the field, the wardens said they found blood, moose hair, a spent .30-06 Remington rifle casing, a tin of Wintergreen Copenhagen long cut chewing tobacco, an empty Budweiser beer can, and a foam beer koozie.

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