How much of Coventry’s loss is insured?

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copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — How much of this town’s missing money is covered by its insurance policy with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLTC)?

Will VLTC continue to insure the financial performance of town Treasurer Cynthia Diaz, or will she be compelled to shop elsewhere for such coverage, at any price?

And what would happen if Ms. Diaz can’t find affordable insurance within ten days?

Those were the questions floating around Coventry on Tuesday afternoon. Some of them should be resolved at a special meeting of the select board on Wednesday, May 24, at 3 p.m.

Jeff Graham, a forensic auditor, reported in January that he could not account for $876,000 of town funds after completing an audit in January.

Kelly Kindestin, property and casualty claims manager for VLCT, met with Selectman Scott Morley, town attorney Paul Gillies, and town administrator Amanda Carlson on Tuesday afternoon.

What Ms. Kindestin told the three is still under wraps.

“There is a special meeting scheduled for tomorrow,” Mr. Morley said in an e-mail late Tuesday afternoon. “It is best to wait until then to discuss.”

At Monday night’s meeting of the select board there was speculation that, in addition to how much VLCT would be paying on the claim, the board might hear whether VLCT plans to continue to insure Ms. Diaz.

Town treasurers in Vermont must

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Panel discusses the future of migrant labor

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copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

HARDWICK — “Who will milk the cows?” asked panelists at a farm forum held at Hazen Union High School on May 17.

But the real question on the table was what happens on Vermont dairy farms if President Trump makes good on his promise to step up deportations of undocumented workers?

If deportations are stepped up in Vermont, it could be devastating to Northeast Kingdom dairy farmers. The vast majority of dairy workers in Vermont these days are Hispanic, mostly Mexican, said former farm worker Abel Luna, the campaign and education coordinator for the Burlington-based organization Migrant Justice. And most of them are undocumented.

The issue has united Vermonters from all sides of the political spectrum. Recently, all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, along with Governor Phil Scott, Attorney General T.J. Donovan, and Vermont Farm Bureau President Joe Tisbert jointly signed a letter to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“This is an urgent issue in our small state — when Vermont farms struggle, so too does Vermont’s entire economy,” the letter says in part.

In a far-ranging conversation that spanned the threat of deportations, treatment of farmworkers, and the economic challenges facing dairy farmers, the four panelists at last week’s meeting in Hardwick answered questions and traded observations with about 40 people.

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OCSU RIFs reflect uncertainty about Washington

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copyright the Chronicle May 10, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

The Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) is not renewing contracts for about 20 teachers and support staff for the 2017-2018 school year.

The higher than usual number of reduction in force (RIF) notices that went out in April is in large part due to the uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C., OCSU Superintendent Donald Van Nostrand said.

Some of the cuts are at the supervisory union level, and some are within individual school districts.

And not all of the RIFs can be blamed on the feds.

“Some reductions are occurring due to budgetary considerations for next year,” Mr. Van Nostrand said.

There are also some schools that are reducing the hours for certain programs.

Glover Community School, for example, will have an art teacher one day a week next year instead of a day and a half.

Those cuts count as RIFs but weren’t included in Mr. Van Nostrand’s figure of 20 people who aren’t getting contracts to sign this spring.

A few others were told they were going to be part of the reduction in force, he said, and then got the happy news that their jobs were safe after all, when other teachers or support staff in their districts announced retirements or other plans for leaving.

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VEC holds annual meeting

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copyright the Chronicle May 10, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

JAY — The word on a lot of peoples’ lips at Saturday’s Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) annual meeting was “curtailment.” That means cutting back on renewable energy production when local transmission lines and substations reach their limits.

In Lowell these days, the turbines are off more than they’re on, at least according to one VEC member who spoke from the floor during the question and answer period at the end of the meeting.

“Vermont is full of renewables but we only have four substations,” said electric cooperative CEO Christine Hallquist.   Transmission lines also need to be upgraded so they can carry more power.

The transmission problem was fixed in 2013 with major upgrades to increase the capacity of Vermont’s electrical system, she said, but as the amount of in-state power generation has increased, the area is finding itself up against the limits again.

“And we could have to fix it again in another four years,” she said.

In the meantime there are physical limitations to how much electricity can be moved around the state and out into the wider New England grid.

“Any new generation cannibalizes other generation,” Ms. Hallquist said.

She was explaining some of the stumbling blocks built into Vermont’s ambitious renewable energy program to a group of about 200 people — 120 members and 85 guests — who came to the co-op’s annual meeting at the Jay Peak Hotel and Conference Center.

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Albany Neighbors opposed to gravel pit

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copyright the Chronicle May 3, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

ALBANY — Father and son Christian and Clark Katzenbach are hoping to earn a living from a vein of gravel on their 203-acre property on Grigg Road. Christian Katzenbach has spent most of his life as a logger, and it’s time for a change, he said. And 18-year-old Clark just bought a truck and is keen to go into business with his dad.

That puts them at odds with their neighbors, some who fear for their own livelihoods, and others who worry about living near a gravel pit — about the noise, the traffic, the dust, or just the look of the thing.

Albany has no zoning, Selectman Chris Jacobs said at an Act 250 hearing held at the Albany Community School in April to consider the Katzenbachs’ application for a permit to open a three-acre gravel pit on the land that Christian Katzenbach has owned since 1994.

Rebecca Beidler and Jeffrey Ellis’ organic vegetable farm lies right along the edge of what’s now a dead-end dirt road.

Chris Katzenbach’s plan is to reopen a long-unused segment of the road, and he’s agreed to build and maintain it. It’s the most efficient way to get gravel trucks down to Route 14, he says.

Ms. Beidler and Mr. Ellis aren’t happy about having heavy gravel trucks rumbling past their fields many times a day, kicking up dust and spreading diesel fumes.

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Dave’s Rubbish is back in Barton

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copyright the Chronicle May 3, 2017

 

 by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — Dave’s Rubbish is back on track to pick up trash in the town of Barton.

Over the past two weeks, owner Dave Giroux has turned in all of the paperwork the select board had been asking for since last fall.

The board voted to revoke his right to pick up trash in the Barton Solid Waste Management District at a hearing on April 3.

Mr. Giroux appealed the decision on April 17, the day the ban was to take effect. On Monday night, he and his wife, Marcie, came to the select board meeting to hear the decision.

“You guys got the numbers to us,” Chair Bob Croteau said. “You guys did good. You seem to have done everything we asked.”

Selectman Jim Greenwood attended the meeting by speakerphone.

“I talked to the SWIP administrator and they’ve done everything they were supposed to,” he said.

SWIP is the solid waste implementation plan.

The select board revoked Mr. Giroux’ right to operate after finding that he had failed to comply with town rules about required recordkeeping for trash services.

The decision was to take effect in two weeks to give Barton residents time to make new arrangements to get their trash picked up.

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Facebook popup leads to scam

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — Sharon Bickford of Barton was on Facebook one evening last week when her computer screen suddenly froze. A window popped up, flashing an ominous warning — her computer was under a virus attack, and had been frozen to protect her files.

That’s the first step in a scam that’s been happening to a lot of people lately. It happened to me twice in the week before Ms. Bickford called the Chronicle with her story.

In fact, it’s happened so often lately that the State Police put out a bulletin last week warning people about tech support scams.

The popup message on Ms. Bickford’s computer told her to call a toll-free number immediately so that a technician could remove the infected files and restore her computer.

“It was completely frozen,” Ms. Bickford said. “I had to use control-alt-delete to get out of my browser. And then when I reopened the browser, it was back.”

Ms. Bickford called the number.

The man on the other end of the line said he needed remote access to her computer to fix the problem.

He told her it would cost $300 to remove the virus and install three years’ worth of anti-virus protection.

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Orleans sixth-graders learn how to make a difference

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copyright the Chronicle April 19, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

ORLEANS — How do ordinary people go about trying to solve big problems, like hunger, cancer and homeless cats?

That’s the question that Andrea Gratton’s mostly sixth-grade language arts students at Orleans Elementary School set out to answer each year.

The project, called “Make a Difference,” pairs each student with a nonprofit organization. Students study the nonprofits they’ve chosen, prepare a presentation, and do a project under the supervision of a mentor.

Last week, the students put the final touches on the displays they’ve created and spent the day teaching other students, teachers, and family members what they’ve learned.

Students start by choosing a nonprofit. They can pick one from Ms. Gratton’s list, or they can choose an organization they already know about.

“I ask them what’s a problem in the world that you care a lot about?” Ms. Gratton said. “It’s a very long project, so you’d better pick something you feel passionate about.”

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Glover voters approve bond for new garage

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

GLOVER — By a narrow margin, voters here directed the select board Tuesday to borrow up to $750,000 to pay for a new town garage. The garage will be built on the site of the recycling shed next to the present town garage on Route 16.

The tally was 73 in favor and 68 against.

Of the town’s 776 voters, 141 turned out to cast their ballots, including 25 who voted by absentee ballot ahead of time, and another 27 who voted by absentee ballot on Monday night at an informational meeting at the town hall.

About 40 people showed up for Monday night’s meeting in addition to the three selectmen and other town officials.

Passumpsic Bank has offered the town a fixed rate, 20-year loan at 3 percent interest, Selectman Jack Sumberg said.

Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars would be the most that the town would borrow. That works out to about $30 more taxes a year on a $100,000 property.

No grants are available to cover the cost of a new garage.

“If we’re going to do it, we have to pay for it,” Mr. Sumberg said.

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Dairy farmers and new farmers face a divide

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

 NEWPORT — When Dave Simonds and Sarah Gardner slept at a “farm stay” bed and breakfast not too long ago, their host apologized for the dairy farm down the road.

“We’re trying to clean it up,” she assured them. Her special angst was reserved for the silage pit, which was covered in plastic weighted down with tires.

“Horrible,” she said. “I call them dirty farms.”

What the bed and breakfast owner meant was that the farm down the road was a real working farm, not a glorified petting zoo like the carefully choreographed farm stay she was offering to tourists from the city.

What she didn’t know was that her guests were the director and producer of a film called Forgotten Farms, a documentary on how traditional dairy farms and dairy farmers are being left behind in the popular embrace of local food movements.

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