Former addicts discuss routes to recovery

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — A panel of a dozen people, all with experience in the field of opioid addiction and treatment, engaged in a freewheeling discussion Monday night. The two-hour conversation, moderated by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, was the second part of a program called Conversations of Hope, sponsored by the HealthWorks Coalition, a project of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services.

In the course of the lively evening, Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett announced her intention to start a new drug diversion program that will allow some defendants to avoid a criminal record if they get treatment for addiction problems.

Three panel members: Gilles Gentley, associate pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church; licensed vocational nurse and graphic artist Savannah Bradshaw; and Community College of Vermont student Mitt Lyman, testified to the possibility of freeing oneself of drug dependency.

Another six panelists spoke of ways that goal can be accomplished.

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NCUHS search for principal narrowed to two

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copyright the Chronicle January 25, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT—The committee set up to find a new principal for North Country Union High School narrowed the field to two applicants at its meeting Monday night. At a meeting earlier this month the 16-member group picked four potential leaders for the school from an original group of 16, according to North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle.

The committee interviewed all four before deciding to place the names of Chris Miller and Jessica Puckett before the high school board for its consideration.

Ms. Puckett already works at North Country, serving both as director of special programs and as one-third of the tri-principal group that has been leading the high school this year. The other two in the group are assistant principals Anita Mayhew and Bob Davis.

Mr. Castle said that neither Ms. Mayhew nor Mr. Davis applied for the job.

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State spells out plan for use of Great Hosmer

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copyright the Chronicle January 25, 2017

 

 by Joseph Gresser

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — At a community meeting here Saturday, the state proposed a framework for deciding what kinds of activities will be allowed on Great Hosmer Pond. More than 110 people gathered in the Craftsbury Academy gym to hear the idea put forward by a study committee, but it was unclear how many were optimistic about the outline.

For some time there has been friction between people who want to enjoy water skiing or other activities involving speedy power boats and those who like kayaking, canoeing, or sculling. Many of the scullers are connected with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which runs a sculling program that uses the pond for its classroom and practice area.

According to Rebecca Ellis, senior counsel for government affairs for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), a six-member task force met three times and came up with what was called a straw proposal.  It provides a framework for changes to state regulations governing the pond, Ms. Ellis said.

The two parts of the proposal said:

  1. Racing shells and rowing sculls are allowed at all times except not between… and ….
  2. Waterskiing and any towing of persons by a motorized vessel is allowed between… and …, or when other boats are not on the water.

The blanks will be filled in with set times and a new regulation put in place by late summer, according to Ms. Ellis.

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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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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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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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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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Plans for Spates Block hole developing

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copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — If a joint effort between Newport, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), and Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) is successful, city residents may see progress toward rebuilding Main Street in the New Year.

According to NVDA Executive Director David Snedeker, the court-appointed receiver who controls property belonging to Ariel Quiros hopes to offer the site of the former Spates Block for sale early in 2017.

If a deal can be struck, Mr. Snedeker said, the property might be held by a nonprofit corporation already created by NCIC until it can be developed.

Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin said Friday that she is seeking more grant funding to hire a real estate consultant to advise on the best use for the downtown site.

According to the city’s form-based zoning code, whatever is built on the block between Center Street and Second Street must have off street parking, retail space on the ground floor, office or commercial space on the second, and housing on the higher floors.

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Newport City Council urges deep budget cuts

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copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — For years the Newport City Council has set budgets that cut city spending to the bone. Based on the discussion at Monday’s meeting, the 2017-2018 budget may cut even deeper.

By the end of the meeting, Mayor Paul Monette was suggesting the council might have to consider eliminating personnel and services.

He said it might be necessary to close down the Department of Parks and Recreation and zero out the entire capital budget for the year in order to get budget numbers to the level aldermen hoped to hit.

No action was taken on either suggestion, and it was unclear whether the mayor was advocating for the changes or pointing out the consequences of cutting the budget too deeply.

Mr. Monette drew the line on proposed cuts to the road repaving budget, arguing that strategy was tried in the past. Its result, he said, was the need to float a million dollar bond to get city streets back into shape.

The aldermen overruled the mayor’s objections.

Over the past several years, council members have gone to great lengths to keep municipal taxes from rising. Last year the city’s tax rate even saw a small decrease.

Their decisions were made with the implicit understanding that development projects promoted by Jay Peak would provide eventual relief by adding to the city’s tax base.

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