Newport reappraisal could lead to drop in tax rate

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The preliminary results of the citywide reappraisal are in and, while some property owners are unhappy with the jump in their assessment, Newport’s government is breathing a sigh of relief.

At present, the total value of the proposed Grand List stands at around $399-million, according to Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin. That is well above the $315-million valuation that was predicted last January.

That figure is far from the final word. Taxpayers have the right to grieve their assessment, and it will take a couple of months to resolve most challenges.

But if the result is close to the early figures, it could mean a substantial drop in the municipal tax rate.

The Grand List figure used for budgeting in 2015 and 2016 was $258-million. When members of the city council began work on the current budget, they believed the Grand List would rise to $330-million.

During their deliberations City Assessor Stewart Potter told the council that the actual figure would be closer to $315-million.

Newport’s budget was already expected to rise about $360,000 from the 2016 level of $4.81-million to $5.18-million.

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Newport hopes to improve its image

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copyright the Chronicle June 7, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — In a marathon meeting Monday night, the city council considered ways of improving Newport’s image, the future of its downtown program, a new music series on the waterfront, and a possible extension of the city’s recreation path to the Canadian border.

Newport has been looking for a new web master in the months since Mayor Paul Monette told the council that he will no longer be the volunteer custodian of the site. City Manager Laura Dolgin suggested making up for his loss by hiring a firm that will do public relations for Newport in addition to managing its web presence.

Ms. Dolgin argued for hiring John Gilfoil Public Relations, a Massachusetts company. City officials have been fielding an increasing number of complaints from city residents, and it would be a good idea to have someone putting out positive stories about Newport, she said.

Mr. Gilfoil, a former Boston Globe reporter who served as deputy press secretary for former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, spoke to the council by speaker phone. He said his company would build a new website for Newport and train employees to post information to it for $10,000 if the city also hires the firm at a cost of just under $1,000 a month to handle the city’s press relations.

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State unveils plan to clean up Memphremagog

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copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Lake Memphremagog has a phosphorus problem and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a plan to fix it. Actually, the plan is still in draft form, and Watershed Coordinator Ben Copans is touring the Kingdom looking for comments on the DEC’s proposal.

His first meeting on a three-stop tour of the Memphremagog watershed was in Newport where, in a meeting room overlooking the lake Monday, he outlined some of the measures called for by the plan. Mr. Copans will take his presentation to Brighton on May 30, and Craftsbury on May 31.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to set a total maximum daily load, Mr. Copans said. That’s the limit on how much phosphorus can flow into a lake from its watershed while it still meets water quality standards.

Mr. Copans said the U.S. end of Lake Memphremagog has phosphorus levels that are 20 percent higher than the 14 parts per billion standard set for the lake. Currently the levels in Vermont’s portion of the lake average around 17.6 parts per billion, but rise and fall during the year.

The Canadian portion of the lake is about three-quarters of Memphremagog’s surface area, although much more than half the lake’s watershed is in Vermont.

Officials from the two nations meet in the Quebec Vermont Steering Committee on Lake Memphremagog and are working together to reduce the nutrient load coming from both the state and the province, Mr. Copans said.

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New law could speed Newport’s development

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copyright the Chronicle May 17, 2017

 

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Vermont House and Senate have come to an agreement on an economic development bill that, among other things, will permit the creation of six new tax increment finance zones.

“We shook on it, but haven’t signed it,” said Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, who was a member of the conference committee charged with ironing out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, S.135.

The zones, also known as TIF districts, are designed to help communities attract development without raising taxes on its existing Grand List. A town that needs to upgrade some of its infrastructure in order to attract new development issues bonds for the cost of the work.

It can then use additional tax revenue generated by the new development to pay off the bond.

That includes municipal taxes and, in the past, 75 percent of the state education tax collected on the new development. Under the new bill that percentage would fall slightly to 70 percent, leaving the education fund with another 5 percent.

Some legislators are concerned the TIF program takes too much money out of the state education fund, Mr. Marcotte said Tuesday. S.135 calls for the Legislature’s economist, fiscal office, and the state auditor to see what effect the districts have on a community’s economy.

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Trade case could lead to jobs at Columbia Forest Products

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Columbia Forest Products, along with several other manufactures of hardwood plywood, scored a preliminary victory in an international trade case that could mean as many as 70 new jobs at the company’s Newport veneer mill.

The Coalition for Fair Trade in Hardwood Plywood, which includes Columbia and five other producers, filed complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce Enforcement and Compliance arm, in November.

The group complained that Chinese manufacturers have been dumping their products in the U.S. and get unfair support from the Chinese government.

The coalition tried to get the commerce department to slap penalties on Chinese plywood in 2012. That effort ended in failure when the ITC ruled against the domestic producers.

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Congressman swings through Northeast Kingdom

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch brought his spring recess tour of the state to the Northeast Kingdom on April 20 with a visit to Derby and Newport.

The state’s only Congressional member asked local leaders what they need from the federal government, but the news he offered in exchange was not particularly good.

Mr. Welch said the budget President Donald Trump proposed completely eliminates two programs that have provided a great deal of benefit to the region in past years. They are the community development block grant program and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Both have brought millions of dollars to Vermont for infrastructure, housing, and other community projects.

Mr. Welch said both programs are especially important in rural states, noting that a number of his Republican colleagues represent such areas. The Congressman said he thinks it possible that a bipartisan coalition will keep the proposed cuts from going into effect.

He held his first meeting of the day in Derby, where officials from Derby, Newport, and Derby Center came together to tell Mr. Welch the kind of work they will need to do over the next few years to maintain basic services.

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Can Newport emulate St. Albans’ renewal?

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Hall is an elegant structure, dating from the time it was known as the Railroad City. The high ceilings and tall wooden doors are indications of a past when citizens flaunted their community’s wealth through architecture.

Today city hall has just undergone a $2.3-million renovation and emerged as a stunning reminder of the past and a declaration of St. Albans’ present day ambitions.

City Manager Dominick Cloud has an office on the second floor looking out over Main Street. From his window he can point to a pair of the projects that are part of the city’s plan to remake itself. To the left, Mr. Cloud can point to a large Ace Hardware store.

He explained that the city bought the land where the store is, tore down a vacant building, and found a buyer, who was looking to expand an existing store.

To the left, Mr. Cloud indicated an empty lot and three vacant buildings that he hopes will soon get the same treatment.

The two examples hint at the larger strategy the city has been putting into practice over the past several years, taking calculated risks designed to expand St. Alban’s Grand List and make the downtown look sharper and more welcoming.

So far, Mr. Cloud said, St. Albans has invested $16-million and added $50-million to the Grand List.

“It’s a pretty good return,” he conceded.

St. Albans’ track record has certainly caught the eye of leaders in Newport, who hope to make use of the lessons it has learned as they look for ways to reinvigorate their city’s downtown.

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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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Raboin, Merriam named to Newport council

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Newport City Council is again up to full strength. After a special meeting Monday night to select two new members, the council is no longer the all-male bastion it has been since the death of Karin Zisselsberger ten years ago.

With the choice of Julie Raboin and James Merriam, the council has also given itself a more youthful appearance.

Ms. Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health, and Mr. Merriam, who is lead pastor at the United Church of Newport, were chosen from a field of four.   That field also included Woodman Page, who returned to Newport after a career in the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and Ira Morgan Jr., former owner of Hellbilly Hideaway in Derby, and a driving force behind the creation of Newport’s first skate park.

At its meeting on March 13 council members asked interested parties to submit applications for the seats left vacant by the surprise, and as yet unexplained, resignations of Steven Vincent and Neil Morrissette on Town Meeting Day.

Applicants were given until March 22 to volunteer for the post. The council decided to hold the interviews for candidates in open session, but to deliberate on their choice behind closed doors.

Mayor Paul Monette also invited community members to submit suggestions for questions to be asked of the candidates at the open forum.

 

 

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Health Department looks at root causes of addiction

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Preventing heroin addiction may be as simple, or as complicated, as paying attention to the difficulties individuals face in their early years and offering help to overcome those traumas.

That was the message offered at the latest in a series of meetings dedicated to dealing with an epidemic of opioid abuse that has become increasingly virulent in recent years. The meeting, held at North Country Career Center on March 9, was organized by Julie Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health.

Ms. Raboin pointed to studies that show young people use alcohol and binge drink more often in Orleans County than they do in the state as a whole. When those numbers are broken down by income, it appears that Orleans County’s higher rate of alcohol use is driven by people of lower socioeconomic status.

Young people from wealthier backgrounds have no higher rate of alcohol consumption than do others of their economic background in the state, Ms. Raboin said.

In fact, higher status youth in Orleans County use marijuana at a significantly lower rate than do their peers in the state as a whole. A much higher percentage of young people from less well-off families in Orleans County smoke pot than similarly situated youth in the rest of the state, she said.

Another survey showed that fewer than 50 percent of young people in Orleans County feel valued by the community, Ms. Raboin said.

Youth in the county are much more likely to be disconnected, that is not in school and unemployed, than in Vermont or the nation as a whole, she said.

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