Diaz pleads the Fifth, then testifies

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Immediately after she took the witness stand in Orleans County Superior Court on Monday, Cynthia Diaz invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“Hadn’t you better hear the questions first?” Judge Howard VanBenthuysen asked Ms. Diaz, who appeared in court without an attorney. “Some of them might be to your benefit to answer.”

The Coventry town clerk, treasurer, and delinquent tax collector was back in court to answer a motion for contempt. It was filed on behalf of the town by attorney Paul Gillies after she allegedly failed to meet a December 30 deadline to turn over all original town documents in her possession.

Ms. Diaz brought a thumb drive and a foot-thick stack of papers to court on Monday but that didn’t even come close to being what the town of Coventry believes is missing.

After a lengthy recess to allow Mr. Gillies, forensic accountant Jeff Graham, and 
Coventry Selectman Scott Morley time to look over the documents, Mr. Gillies pronounced them “insufficient.”

“The missing records we asked for would fill a six-foot by six-foot square about six feet tall,” Mr. Graham told Judge VanBenthuysen, “not the small pile she brought to court today.”

“Are these all the town documents you have?” the judge asked Ms. Diaz.

“All the original town documents, yes,” Ms. Diaz replied, stressing the word “original.”

Judge VanBenthuysen ordered Ms. Diaz to hand over all town records in her possession, whether she considered them original or not.

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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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Downtown business is slow this season

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copyright the Chronicle December 14, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Retailers are always anxious as the Christmas season, which can be make or break for a business, approaches. This year Newport’s merchants have had the arrival of Walmart in the area added to their normal concerns.

For some, business is somewhat slower, others say they are seeing a more drastic affect. No one is saying business is booming.

One business that appeared to be directly in Walmart’s crosshairs is the Vista Supermarket at Waterfront Plaza. The store’s landlord, Ernie Pomerleau, was in town in October working on plans to allow the supermarket to stay in town.

Tim Merrill, the general manager of markets owned by Associated Grocers of New England, a category that includes Vista, said Mr. Pomerleau’s ideas are important to the future of the store. But, he said his company is “pleasantly surprised” at how well Vista has done in the face of competition from the retail giant’s food department.

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Women queue up for business info

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copyright the Chronicle December 7, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

NEWPORT — When Tara Lynn Scheidet of Sutton lost her job in 2005, she started her own business making custom natural fiber clothing, particularly wedding apparel.

Since then, Ms. Scheidet has won all sorts of grants and awards to help her move ahead with Tara Lynn Bridals.

She even won the Lowell Barn Pitch this year, but lost out in the state competition in Burlington because her business is too small — nowhere near the $300,000 annual income that investors want to see planned before they put their money down.

So when she heard about a new program called ASPIRE!, which helps Northeast Kingdom women start and grow businesses, Ms. Scheidet was one of the first to sign up.

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Armed standoff in Newport

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copyright the Chronicle November 30, 2016

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — A standoff with a man armed with a rifle at Richard’s All Seasons Lodge, formerly the Bayview Inn, led to a heavy police presence here Tuesday afternoon and evening.

The situation was under control, but not resolved, said Dispatcher Laura Fisher at the Newport Police Department as of press time.

A Newport police officer at the scene said he suspected it could be a long night.

And there were reports that the man had barricaded himself in.

Despite rumors that hostages were involved, Dispatcher Fisher said there were no hostages.

Police closed that section of Pleasant Street off and were not allowing through traffic.

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A railroad runs through it

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copyright the Chronicle November 23, 2016

by Brad Usatch

 

Every rule is written in blood.

When Vermont Railway engineer Sean Harper and conductor Seth Rowell offered up this railroad maxim, they weren’t being dramatic. They were simply sharing the reality that undergirds the methodical repetition of procedures that marks every action they take.

The Chronicle was recently invited to ride along with a railroad crew from Vermont Railway to learn a little about this transportation corridor that runs through the heart of Orleans County. This reporter met with the crew on Friday at the Newport switchyard and eventually traveled south to its Lyndonville transload facility.

“I don’t like to think of it as a dangerous job,” Mr. Harper said.

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Congressman Welch visits Orleans County

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copyright the Chronicle November 2, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — Peter Welch spent half of Monday in Orleans County. He dropped by the Chronicle for a morning conversation before heading up to Newport for a meeting with city officials and legislators.

The state’s lone Congressman is running for a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives on both the Democratic and Republican lines, although he is a longtime Democrat.

In response to questions about the state of Congress, Mr. Welch said he’s worried about the Republicans.

“There’s an existential split in the Republican Party between the shutdown wing, and what I call the governing wing of the party,” he said.

The governing wing, he explained, “are conservatives who understand, at the end of the day, we have to pass budgets, and you can’t have a legislative body without compromises on legislation.”

Newport.

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Orleans-2 candidates agree on much

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copyright the Chronicle October 26, 2016 

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — It would have been difficult to tell what party the four candidates seeking to represent Orleans-2 belong to just by listening to them at Monday night’s candidate forum. The only clue was how Ron Holland, Judith Jackson, Mike Marcotte, and Gary Viens said they would register their disapproval of Donald Trump in presidential balloting.

The four candidates are vying for the two seats in the Vermont House district that represents Newport City, Newport Center, Coventry, Irasburg, and part of Troy,

Dr. Holland and Ms. Jackson, the Democratic candidates, said they would unenthusiastically vote for Hillary Clinton. Ms. Jackson said she would hold her nose while doing it. Dr. Holland said he picked Ms. Clinton as the one least likely to start a disastrous war.

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