Archive - Sep 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — State officials approved the budgets for Vermont’s 14 hospitals earlier this month, green-lighting a statewide average 9.5 percent increase in hospital rates, which tops last year’s increase by three percentage points.
Middlebury’s Porter Medical Center topped the list for approved percent rate increases with an 11 percent hike. But Porter officials explained that only a portion of its patients will actually feel the full brunt of this double-digit increase in fees.
“There aren’t that many patients that actually pay full rates,” explained Porter Vice President for Finance Duncan Brines, noting that many insurance companies, and certainly Medicaid and Medicare, have negotiated lower rates.
The increase in hospital’s approved spending plan for the 2009 fiscal year represents an 11.5 percent increase. It comes in at just over $57 million, up from a nearly $51 million expense budget for the previous year.
Two other Vermont hospitals had requested bigger rate increases than Porter — Northwestern Vermont Medical Center in St. Albans and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington had requested 11.4 and 11.8 percent increases, respectively. Porter itself sought an 11.2 percent rate increase.
But state officials at the Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA), the agency that regulates Vermont hospitals, determined the Middlebury health center would need to cut its rate increase by 0.2 percent, and the other hospitals by more.
Fletcher Allen Health Care, the state’s largest hospital, asked for and received a 10 percent rate increase. BISHCA gave its largest cut in a proposed rate increase to Rutland Regional Medical Center, which saw its requested 10.9 percent rate increased dropped to 9.6 percent.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh planning and zoning officials heard on Sept. 24 a preliminary proposal to build a McDonald’s Restaurant, Jiffy Mart convenience store and gas station on the 2.5-acre Route 7 parcel that was most recently occupied by the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and before then by Burdick’s Country Kitchen.
Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) has a deal to buy the parcel contingent on getting permits for its proposal, according to landowner Marcos Llona, who operated the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse until it was destroyed by fire in June 2007. COCO had no further meetings with Ferrisburgh zoning officials scheduled as of Friday morning.
Llona and his wife, Claudia, Shelburne residents, bought Burdick’s Country Kitchen, the 2.5 acres and a home on the property from Vergennes residents Sue and Greg Burdick for $450,000 in July 2006.
Llona said he and his wife decided it was too risky to rebuild the restaurant given the current economic climate, and added their window for rebuilding without a completely new and more costly septic system is also coming to a close.
“I would love to rebuild the restaurant, I really would. It’s a good site. It is needed ... But I don’t have the resources,” Llona said, adding, “I can’t do a second mortgage on my home and take that risk.”
COCO, which had been interested in the property before the Llonas, approached them this summer, he said.
Ferrisburgh officials said Wednesday’s meeting was not a public hearing because no formal application has been filed. It was described in the warning as a “special meeting” for “sketch plan review.” Such meetings often serve to give applicants feedback on possible issues with their plans.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — People who shop and dine in Middlebury will notice a slight jump in their bills beginning this Wednesday, Oct. 1. That’s the date on which a 1-percent local option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol will take effect in Addison County’s shire town.
The transition should be fairly seamless for most Middlebury merchants and lodgers, who will have to go through the time and expense of reprogramming their cash registers.
The state will collect the new tariff along with the existing state taxes. The Vermont Department of Taxes will then return 70 percent of the local option taxes it collects back to the town of Middlebury. The community will use the funds to help pay for the new Cross Street Bridge.
Backers of the new bridge are hopeful the new taxes will be painless for those who routinely shop and dine in Middlebury.
“I think during the course of people’s regular transactions, they aren’t going to notice it,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
Townspeople last May voted 305 to 102 in favor of implementing the local option taxes, projected to raise $7 million over the next 30 years. That money will be combined with another $9 million that Middlebury College has agreed to contribute to the $16 million bridge project.
A 1-percent local option tax on sales, meals, rooms and alcohol would’ve netted Middlebury a combined total of $725,319 in 2007, according to the Department of Taxes.
The new bridge, slated for completion in 2010, will link Main Street with Court Street over the Otter Creek, via Cross Street. The project, which will include a roundabout intersection at Cross/College/Main streets, is designed to move traffic more smoothly through, and around, downtown Middlebury.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday gave its final, conditional approval to a proposed Staples store in The Centre/Hannaford shopping plaza off Route 7 South.
Developers, however, will have much work to do if they are to proceed with their plans for the 14,737-square-foot office supplies store. The 24-page page decision calls for Middlebury Associates LLC, to, among other things:
• Submit a final planned unit development master plan showing that The Centre/Hannaford plaza will “be deemed fully built out with the Staples, based on the zoning limitations of traffic capacity, parking and town plan conformance.”
That limitation, according to the final decision, encompasses the former Middlebury Car Wash property at the southern end of The Centre, a site recently acquired by Middlebury Associates, LLC (aka Myron Hunt Inc.) and previously slated for a Starbucks. Starbucks withdrew its Middlebury plans earlier this year, amid a company-wide reorganization.
The DRB decision states that the former “car wash site asphalt must be reduced to accommodate only an egress drive for one-way exiting southbound traffic, while the remainder of the car wash site shall be restored to green space with grass, shrubs and tree plantings.”
• Build access connections between The Centre and the neighboring Middlebury Short Stop and former Dollar Market. The decision notes that developers agreed to those connections — designed to improve traffic flow and circulation into, and out of, the shopping plaza — on April 27, 2004, as part of the approval for the new National Bank of Middlebury building. Those connections have not been built.
• Carry out a series of sidewalk connections, entrance upgrades, crosswalks improvements and landscape additions to enhance pedestrian safety and aesthetics within the plaza.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — The Bristol Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) voted last Thursday to reject the contentious proposal from the Lathrop Limited Partnership to construct and operate a 39-acre gravel pit on its property at South Street and Rounds Road in Bristol.
The board’s decision, however, which comes nearly two months after the board wrapped up evidentiary hearings on the issue, falls short of closure for Bristol’s heated five-year debate on the project. Earlier this week, Jim Lathrop’s lawyer, Mark Hall, indicated that the Lathrops intend to file an appeal to the decision before the 30-day window for an appeal closes.
The ZBA voted 5 to 2 to deny the Lathrop application. Acting Chair Kevin Brown and board members Carol Clauss, Peter Grant, Paul Jackman and Brenda Tillberg voted to reject the project, with Bob Stetson and Ron Kowalski dissenting.
The ZBA found that the Lathrop application for conditional use did not fulfill a subsection in the town’s zoning bylaws that prohibits the creation of a gravel pit, “unless provision is made to refill such pit.”
The section in question — section 526 — deals specifically with commercial sand and gravel operations, outlining 10 requirements for these operations in Bristol. The board found that the Lathrop proposal met the majority of these requirements, and indeed was a stronger application than the original proposal submitted to the ZBA in 2003.
According to the ZBA’s decision, the second of these 10 requirements, which calls for any pit created to be refilled, is designed to favor small projects that can be refilled economically or the opening of a hillside where slopes and contours can be smoothed into the surrounding landscape.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — While other Addison County residents opened presents last Christmas, Jinny Duncan and her family were simply thankful to be spending the day in a warm house.
And the way fuel costs are going, Duncan isn’t optimistic there will be many gifts to open this Christmas, either.
“Higher fuel costs means the difference between having the money to pay for things you need every day, and having enough heat to keep the kids warm,” Duncan, a Bristol resident, said.
“It’s a very scary time to be a Vermonter.”
Many other area families are now sharing that same view on the cusp of a Vermont winter that will dawn with the national economy in a dive and heating fuel prices — already above an average of $3.50 per gallon — poised to rise further with demand.
“Everyone is really concerned this year,” said Karen Haury, executive director of Addison Community Action/Central Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity (ACA/CVOEO). “(Fuel prices) are on everybody’s mind almost everywhere you go. That’s what they are talking about.”
Haury on Monday conducted a survey of six Addison County heating fuel dealers and found prices for No. 2 heating oil ranging from $3.59 per gallon to $4.26 per gallon.
And that’s not where prices will stay, if recent history is any indication, according to Haury.
“Within a week, I expect to see a big spike up,” she said.
And when those prices spike as demand rises and the nights get colder, needy households — a broadening segment of the population in today’s economy — will seek assistance from ACA/CVOEO, other human services organizations and area citizen/church groups.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
CORNWALL — Klara Calitri is exactly the sort of woman you will, upon meeting, immediately wish were your own grandmother, or your own standing date for Sunday coffee and cake.
The 86-year-old Cornwall artist is compact and ebullient — and as full of stories as her house, which is packed to the gills with the results of her “painting and potting.” In places, the paintings are stacked three or four deep, leaning precariously against tables piled high with half-finished pots and brightly decorated fountains.
It’s something of a rotating collection — pieces of art are forever jumping in and out of the house for display. Calitri’s work is on display at the Brandon Artists’ Gallery, the Southern Vermont Arts Center and as far a field as California — and most recently, several of her paintings went up in the gallery space at the Bristol Dental Group on Exchange Street in Middlebury.
“I like to have people enjoy my pictures. I am not of the Ashcan School,” Calitri said, referring to artists creating work in the early 20th century that was serious and often dark in tone. “That’s not me. I want people to feel uplifted by what I’ve done.”
Remarkably enough, she’s produced the majority of this art in the 30 years since her retirement. She’s always been interested in art, Calitri said — but she certainly hasn’t always been an artist.
She emigrated from Austria in 1939 — “Hitler time,” Calitri notes. Her father was Jewish, her mother Catholic, and by 1939 she said it was “high time” for her family to leave. The affidavit — the $3,000 document required for emigration — came by way of a distant cousin the family had never known, who Calitri’s grandfather had helped during the First World War.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Faced with the most serious global economic slowdown in recent years, Middlebury College is tightening its belt and searching out ways to cut operating costs.
In a memo e-mailed to faculty and staff earlier this month, Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz expressed the need to prepare for “what appears will be a prolonged period of low or no growth” with plans that will “extend beyond the current fiscal year.”
The memo initiated the first community-wide discussion of plans to trim operating costs, though according to Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Norton, college officials have been having internal discussions about financial challenges for “about six months, ever since we saw the downtown in the market.”
“This is going to be a very transparent and open process,” Norton said. “The president’s memo set the tone for that.”
These conversations took on additional urgency last week, when major financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and AIG stumbled on Wall Street. (Richard Fuld, who heads Lehman Brothers, a 157-year-old investment bank that declared bankruptcy on Sept. 15, also sits on the college’s board of trustees.)
Norton said that the college’s endowment had very little exposure to either institution, but that Lehman’s bankruptcy and the federal government’s bailout of AIG “really validate what our path needs to be.”