FBI sends letters to Coventry taxpayers

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copyright the Chronicle December 13, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Property owners who didn’t answer letters from forensic accountant Jeff Graham asking for information about their tax payments will be getting another letter in the mail.

This time the letters are being mailed out on FBI letterhead.

“Jeff’s working for the FBI now,” Coventry Select Board Chair Mike Marcotte said last week. “Maybe this time he’ll get more answers.”

The letters ask property owners to supply details about when and how they paid their property taxes over several recent years.

In the first round of responses, it turned out that a lot of people paid in cash. Those payments were considered to be missing because former Town Clerk, Treasurer and Delinquent Tax Collector Cynthia Diaz didn’t deposit any cash during the years under review, Mr. Graham said at the time.

But about half of the homeowners who got letters from Mr. Graham in 2016 when he was working for the select board never replied.

Mr. Marcotte said a lot of people have called to ask about him about the new round of letters.

“I tell them it’s a good idea to respond,” he said. “If you don’t have receipts, tell them that.”

Mr. Graham, who is certified in forensic accounting, spent more than two years auditing Coventry’s finances.

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Lowell faces lawsuit over closed bridge

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copyright the Chronicle December 13, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

LOWELL — Arlon Warner and Scott Tallman are suing the town of Lowell over closing the Kempton Hill bridge.

The Orleans County Sheriff served a summons at the town offices on November 27. The town has until December 17 to respond.

According to the complaint, which was forwarded to the Chronicle by Mr. Warner’s attorney, Mr. Warner and Mr. Tallman live on the Kempton Hill Road, which connects the Mines Road and the Valley Road.

The bridge was closed on September 8 after a state inspection in August found it to be beyond repair and in need of replacement.

Other people who live on that road can drive out the other end. But Mr. Warner and Mr. Tallman live between the closed bridge and the hill.

That left the two men worried about winter access to their house, which now can be reached only by driving up and down an extremely steep slope — almost 17 degrees — that’s icy during the winter months.

East Engineering of Hinesburg estimated the cost of a new bridge at $474,000.

On October 17, saying that he “wasn’t comfortable spending that kind of money,” Lowell Select Board Chair Richard Pion suggested that townspeople be asked to vote on two articles — first, whether they wanted to spend money on a bridge, and second whether they wanted to see the road discontinued.

The complaint asks the town to fix the bridge “as it is unequivocally required to do by statute.”

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Old Stone House welcomes a new generation

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copyright the Chronicle December 6, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BROWNINGTON — Molly Veysey started her new job as director of the Old Stone House Museum on December 1. So did Finance Manager Walter Parenteau. Both are 36 years old.

Add in administrative assistant Dana Drake, also born in 1981, and three out of the five Old Stone House staff members are in their mid-30s.

That’s a change at the museum, where staff members have traditionally been older. People have worried for years about whether there would be a younger generation to take over as they retire.

It’s too early to talk about other changes, Ms. Veysey said in an interview Tuesday morning.

“We’re going to take a year learning the regular functions before we start anything major,” she said.

She’s full of praise for former director Peggy Day Gibson.

“If it weren’t for her ten years of hard work, this position wouldn’t be what it is,” Ms. Veysey said, noting the enormous progress of the past decade in acquiring buildings, keeping them up, and building the museum’s programs.

Financially, the organization seems to be in good health, she said.

She plans to continue Ms. Gibson’s forward momentum by putting her grant-writing skills to work.

One immediate project is going to be continuing Ms. Gibson’s efforts to retrofit the Grange building for handicap access.

In fact, on Tuesday morning Ms. Veysey was on her way out the door to a workshop on accessibility.

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IRS lien on Derby Line Ambulance

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copyright the Chronicle November 29, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

DERBY — The select board here won’t be sending any more money to Derby Line Ambulance until it gets answers about a $151,110 tax lien the IRS slapped on the ambulance service at the end of September.

The board was hoping to talk to representatives of the ambulance service at its November 20 meeting. When no one from the squad showed up, the board voted unanimously to cut off funding.

“They didn’t tell us they weren’t coming,” Selectman Brian Smith said by phone Monday.

The ambulance crew had originally planned to attend an earlier select board meeting but rescheduled, saying they couldn’t make that date.

“The select board voted to lay it out to the ambulance board that they won’t be cutting any more checks,” Town Administrator Bob Kelley said Monday.

He said the town has been issuing a monthly check for about $9,000 to support the ambulance service. That’s the $104,000 apportionment voted at last year’s Town Meeting divided into monthly payments.

Mr. Kelly said he had hoped the possibility of losing the funding would bring ambulance officials to the table.

“It’s the carrot we have,” he said, going on to explain that Derby Line Ambulance is an independent nonprofit, not a part of town government.

That means the town has very limited ability to look into Derby Line Ambulance’s finances. And this isn’t the first time the ambulance service has had problems.

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Life is short, eat more pie

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copyright the Chronicle November 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

WEST GLOVER — Peter Gould is a small man with crinkly eyes and a quiet smile that lit up the shadowy nighttime interior of the West Glover Community Church Friday night.

He was there to read from his new book, Horse-drawn Yoghurt, a memoir of his life on a communal farm near Brattleboro.

He’s honed the stories for years, carried them in his head and told them over and over before finally setting them down on paper.

They’re meant to be read aloud, he said. Their rhythms, their cadences, roll off the tongue even better than they read on the page. And like any good writing, they also have a philosophical takeaway that lasts.

Mr. Gould has spent most of his life in the southeast corner of the state, but he’s no stranger to the Northeast Kingdom. His summer theater program for teens, Get Thee to the Funnery, has been a staple of summers in Craftsbury for two decades.

He gets an appreciative audience in this corner of the Northeast Kingdom, which has its own history with the back-to-the-land movement.

In fact, many of West Glover’s most solid citizens once lived on one or another of the communes in the area. So, after sharing a community potluck to get in the mood, the audience was laughing or groaning even before Mr. Gould got to his punch lines.

People here know his stories. They’ve lived them.

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Barton junk ordinance to be enforced

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copyright the Chronicle November 15, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — A long-dormant junk ordinance is about to be enforced village-wide for the first time since it was adopted in February of 2006.

At their regular meeting Monday night, the trustees voted to send letters out to 16 homes that have junk or junk cars in their yards.

Junk owners will have 30 days to clean up their mess before an escalating series of civil fines kicks in. The fine for any junk left on properties after that will be $100 for the first day, plus fees. The second day will cost an additional $250. After that, each day that the junk hasn’t been cleaned up would count as an additional violation, and could add another $500 and fees to the tab.

The trustees have been talking for quite a while about enforcing the junk ordinance passed by an earlier board. It’s part of their vision of making Barton a more attractive place to live, perhaps enticing new families to want to settle.

One couple who came to Monday night’s meeting said their neighbors’ trashy yard is making it hard to sell their own home.

At an October meeting, with letters drawn up and ready to send out to a list of addresses, the select board decided to send Andy Sicard, foreman of the Department of Public Works, to take a look at all of the properties on the list.

The idea was to see whether any of them might have been cleaned up, sold, abandoned, or otherwise changed status since the list was drawn up some time back.

The final list contains 16 addresses.

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Children head into the woods for a new-old learning experience

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copyright the Chronicle November 8, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

JAY — Julie Ste. Marie’s preschoolers at the Jay-Westfield Joint Elementary School will be out in the woods two days a week right through the winter months.

In a forest preschool, there are no toys, and few structured lessons. Children run, play, and explore in nature. Teachers may draw children’s attention to things around them, read stories, and count objects they find in the woods, but a lot of the day is spent in free play.

“All of the entertainment comes from their imaginations,” Ms. Ste. Marie said.

The one exception is the “mud kitchen’’— a cabinet in the woods with pots and pans and spoons that kids can use to dig in the dirt and make mud pies.

When children are allowed to climb, jump, and run to their hearts’ content in all weather, they are more grounded, Ms. Ste. Marie said, more connected with nature and with their bodies.

“We talk about kids that bounce off the walls,” she said. “In the forest, we don’t have walls.”

In a typical classroom, teachers spend all day telling kids not to be kids, she said.

“We have many fewer problems out in nature.”

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Live green, die green, leave a green corpse

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copyright the Chronicle November 1, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — To an ecologist, death isn’t the end, Carl Anderson says. It’s really more like the middle.

Each of our bodies, the biologist and green burial advocate says, is rich with the building blocks for new life. When we decompose in good soil, the nutrients become part of an elegant cycle that has been going on for billions of years.

It’s a process that modern American funeral practices — embalming, vaults, cremation, metal caskets, and the like — do everything possible to interrupt, or at least to put off as long as possible.

The green burial movement is out to restore humans to their rightful place in the nitrogen cycle.

And in the process, it hopes to bring death and death rituals back into homes and family life, just as they have been for most of human history. And still are in most of the world.

Mr. Anderson is a co-sponsor of Act 24, the 2015 Vermont green burial law.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Anderson and Act 24’s other sponsor, Michelle Acciavatti, came to Craftsbury to talk about green burial.

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New Barton senior center in the works

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copyright the Chronicle October 25, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — A new senior center is in the works in Barton. Called Barton Area Senior Services, Inc., (BASSI), the new group incorporated with the state as a nonprofit last week. Its organizers plan to resume a regular schedule of meals and senior activities as soon as the IRS grants it nonprofit status.

“If everything goes right, they could be up and running around the first of December,” said Lallie Mambourg at the Council on Aging in St. Johnsbury. That agency provides oversight of senior meal sites in the area and reimburses them for part of the cost of the meals they serve.

In the meantime, local volunteers hope to offer coffee, cards, and lunch on Thursdays at the Barton Memorial Building.

It’s not certain that lunch will be offered every week. But this week and last week, people have stepped up to donate food. And former Barton Senior Center cook Giselle Chevallay has offered to cook without pay for a few Thursdays.

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Sara Doncaster brings the local hills alive with music

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

“Everyone has a voice,” Sara Doncaster says.

It’s that philosophy, on every level, that has propelled the Lake Region Union High School music teacher into the spotlight as this year’s runner-up Vermont Teacher of the Year.

At the most obvious interpretation, “Dr. D,” as her students call her, means that the human voice is the one musical instrument that every person carries around all the time.

But on a more subtle level, it explains a lot about Ms. Doncaster’s teaching.

She’s all about finding the unique talents within each of her students. And that goes back to her own girlhood, when the love of music led an Irasburg farm girl to Boston University, where she double-majored in music theory and composition and piano performance. Eventually she earned a PhD from Brandeis University in theory and composition.

Ms. Doncaster comes from a family that lived and breathed music as naturally as they made hay and milked cows.

Her father, Wayne Doncaster Sr., didn’t learn to read music until his forties, when he bought a steel guitar and took his first lessons. Until then, he played by ear. He had a fine country and western voice and perfect pitch, she said.

Her mother, Elizabeth Doncaster, grew up a city girl in Newport, with piano and voice lessons.

And even though it was a financial hardship, the couple owned a piano, and all of their children played.

Elizabeth Doncaster was not only a farm wife and mother, but also a nurse. Still, she always found time for music.

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