Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 26, 2013

The woman who served as town clerk and treasurer for the town of Weybridge for more than 26 years pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing from it.  Karen Brisson admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2006 and 2012.  The initial estimate of the embezzlement was 150-thousand, but an independent audit now has it closer to 475-thousand dollars.  Brisson pleaded guilty to one count of federal embezzlement and could face up to ten years in prison.

New York State lawmakers are considering a bill that would make killing or injuring a police dog a felony.  The bill says that the loss or injury to a police dog is not only a loss to the police or emergency service department, but also to the citizens of New York.  The measure passed the New York Senate yesterday.  The legislation now moves to the Assembly.

Replacement of the ailing Moriah Center Bridge is expected to get under way very soon.  The Essex County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved payments for temporary easements for the detour around the span on County Route 7.  The Moriah Center Bridge was built in 1920 and gets about 5,000 cars a day.  Its main problem is deterioration of the steel girders that support the wooden deck.  The new Moriah Center Bridge is expected to cost about $1.7 million, with 80 percent from the federal Highway and Bridge Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Project.

Vermont State Police are investigating an armed robbery at the Smart Shop store located on North Main Street in Wallingford.  Police say a pregnant employee was walking into the store when a male approached her with a knife and forced her inside.  The employee was then forced into the bathroom while the robber stole an undisclosed amount of cash.  The employee wasn't injured during the incident.  Police say the employee's car was also stolen, but was located on Creek Road near the overpass of Route 4 in North Clarendon.  Anyone with information is asked to contact the Vermont State Police.

A provision buried deep in New York's tentative budget shows taxpayers will get part of the bill for raising the minimum wage.  The deal to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 by 2015 includes a "minimum wage reimbursement credit" for employers.  It would make up some of the wage difference for seasonal workers ages 16 to 19 and still in school.  The credit would apply to small businesses as well as major chains.  The total cost of the credit won't be made public until after the budget is enacted.

It's crunch time for taxpayers to wrap up their federal income tax returns or in the case of some to start working on them.  Get started by collecting basic paperwork like social security numbers, wages and earning statements like W-2s, a copy of last year's tax return, and bank routing and bank account numbers if you plan on having your refund deposited or a payment automatically withdrawn.  Also Consumer Reports advises asking preparers for a fee list up front.  Some will try to tack on extra charges under headings like processing or document preparation.

Monday, March 25, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 25, 2013

Federal court records show that a former Vermont town clerk and treasurer has agreed to forfeit $400,000 in a plea agreement with prosecutors.  Karen Brisson is scheduled to plead guilty to embezzlement charges today in U.S. District Court in Rutland.  Brisson served for about 28 years in Weybridge.  Officials say Brisson stole money from 2006 to 2012, with a forensic audit putting the town's loss at $476,000.  Brisson's attorney says Brisson's home is for sale and she has signed the mortgage over to the town.  The town says it has a $500,000 insurance plan through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

An Essex Junction man is being charged with embezzling more than $5,000 from a store in Bristol.  On Friday, the Bristol Police Department received information from the Vermont Department of Liquor Control concerning suspicious activity related to sales transactions on the Liquor store cash register at Champlain Farms.  It was determined a large amount of liquor inventory exceeding $5,000 was unaccounted for.  Bristol Police continued the investigation and have sited 42-year-old Jeffery Wallace to Appear in Addison Superior Court at the end of next month. 

Lawmakers had until 5 PM last Friday to put together a tax package, and several increases are likely if approved in the House and Senate.  The House Ways and Means Committee came up with a 50-cent tax on cigarettes, increasing the room and meals tax by half a percent, and imposing a six-percent tax on soda, bottled water, candy, and also on clothing sales of more than 110-dollars.  The governor has already said he disagrees with some of those, and plans to work with other lawmakers to adjust the budget before it's passed later this session.

The maple sugaring season is in full swing, and sugar houses across Vermont opened their doors over the weekend to show the public just how maple syrup is made.  More than 70 sugarhouses participated in the special event.  Vermont is the top maple state not only in New England but also the nation, and as of last year, produced 39-percent of the maple syrup in the country.

Vermont lawmakers are set to begin taking testimony this week on whether to decriminalize marijuana.  As currently proposed, House bill 200 would replace criminal penalties with a $100 fine for those over 21 caught carrying less than two ounces of pot.  The bill would also decriminalize growing a small number of marijuana plants.  Sponsors of the bill say the measure would not change the penalties for being under the influence while driving.  A proposal in the Senate to go a step further and fully legalize marijuana is not expected to draw serious consideration.

Scenes for the new Ninja Turtles' movie is being shot in Tupper Lake.  According to village clerk filming began today.  Paramount Pictures is filming part of the movie at the dormant Big Tupper Ski Area.  The movie is mainly being shot in New York City.  Crews will be filming scenes for the movie for most of the week.

A local chef in Rutland is being honored as one of the country’s top culinary talents in the inaugural edition of "Best Chefs America".  Chef Stephen Sawyer of Table 24 Restaurant in downtown Rutland has been showcased in a 386-page coffee table book that was released on March 1.  "Best Chefs America" is the first-ever industry peer review guide of chefs.  Honorees were chosen based on the outcome of more than 5,000 telephone interviews between chefs from across the country and "Best Chefs America" analysts. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 21, 2013

The Vermont House today voted 105-37 to increase the state sales tax on gasoline.  The tax will add a 4 percent increase to the price of gasoline at a time when many small businesses, including farmers and other working Vermonters, are struggling to make ends meet.  Debate over the increase lasted nearly all day yesterday with Republicans proposing various amendments.  The bill is now cleared for a final, formalized vote in the State House within a few weeks.  If it passes, the tax would be phased in over two years.

The Addison Central Supervisory Union Board on Wednesday evening offered the job of superintendent to Peter Burrows, principal of Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore., and Burrows accepted.  Burrows will replace Superintendent Gail Conley, who will retire at the end of June.

A new report is showing thousands of Vermont children are living in poverty.  The report released Wednesday by Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals child poverty rates have not improved in 13 years.  The highest rates are in Orleans and Essex Counties with 27-percent of kids living in poverty.  The county with the lowest level is Chittenden, at eleven-percent.  Various organizations in the state are working hard to keep children in their homes and fed, and say they've seen a steady increase in need, blaming unemployment and a high cost of living.

Lawmakers in Montpelier have tabled the idea of new tax to satellite television subscribers.  Satellite subscribers across the state got an email this week telling them the House of representatives is quote "considering a tax hike that will force you to pay 5-percent more EVERY month for the service you love”.  The bill had no sponsor and had been floated by the cable industry.

New York Lawmakers have reached a deal, signing off on a new budget last night.  New York's budget is due each year by the end of March.  Governor Cuomo and legislislative leaders announced last night that they have an agreement on a 136-billion-dollar budget.  That means a spending increase of about 2-percent over last year.  The budget includes plans to raise the minimum wage from 7-25 an hour to 9 dollars an hour, in stages over the next few years,  and a 350-dollar tax rebate for middle class families.

The maple syrup season is on hold right now, due to the most recent storm and very cold weather.  While the sap had been running, temperatures dipping into the teens brought it to a halt.  Owners of maple syrup operations say if there's a frozen obstruction in the one-inch lines running from trees it takes more than one 34-degree day to free it up.  The hope now is the slowly rising temperatures will get the sap flowing once again.

The Vermont State Police will be going cyber tomorrow, joining more than 100 agencies across six countries in one giant Twitter event.  It's a 24-hour Tweet-a-thon to draw attention to the use of social media by law enforcement.  Agencies will tweet using the same hash-tag to create awareness about police work.  So far, the agencies who will take to Twitter tomoow include dozens in the U-S, Canada, England, Sweden, Iceland and Australia.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 20, 2013

Vermont State Police have recovered a stolen dirt bike.  The motorcycle was stolen during a deal that had been set up on craigslist.  The victim met the suspect in the parking lot of Broughton's True Value in Bridport.  The victim was handed a closed envelope which was suppose to contain $4000 in cash with the suspect asking to take the bike for a quick test ride.  The suspect took off as the victim opened the envelope which contained cash size clipping from different magazines.  The suspect was last seen headed west across a field near the Bridport Elementary school and then heard turning north.  The dirt bike has since been recovered on Route 22A in Orwell.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has signed the pension reform bill into law.  The new law will allow judges to order any public employee to forfeit some or all of their pension if they are convicted of certain financial crimes related to their employment.  The law applies to felonies like embezzlement, theft, bribery and other crimes that involve an abuse of public office for financial gain.  The new law, however, will not effect cases already prosecuted or being prosecuted.  The changes will only apply to new convictions.

State Police from the New Haven Barracks are investigating a residential burglary in Bristol.  Investigators say someone forced their way into the residence and garage and stole an undisclosed amount of personal property to include tools, electronics and a safe that was located by Williston State Police in Charlotte.  This case is being actively investigated; anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Vermont State Police (388-4919).  Information can also be submitted anonymously online at www.vtips.info or  text "CRIMES" (274637) to Keyword: VTIPS.

The Moriah Chamber of Commerce is reorganizing with the support of the town board.  Town trustees recently voted to enter into a contract with the chamber for economic development services. The town will pay the chamber $2,000 this year.  The town and village of Port Henry have assisted the chamber in the past with community events such as the annual Labor Day celebration, but the $2,000 agreement is new. 

Parking in Downtown Rutland will remain free on Saturdays for the foreseeable future.  The Mayor recently vetoed a measure to enforce the parking meter ordinance on Saturdays.  A review of city records found that the board has the authority to set the times of enforcement and voted in 1994 to enforce it Monday through Friday.  While the board of the Downtown Rutland Partnership had opposed Saturday enforcement, it was promoted by some individual merchants who are concerned that workers in the downtown area are using parking spaces on the street; not leaving many spaces for customers to use. 

The fifth annual Middlebury Rotary Club online auction ends this Friday at midnight.  More than 400 items including gift certificates, services, products and travel opportunities worth more than $37,000 are up for auction this year.  The funds raised this year will benefit a number of organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics of Vermont, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, and many more.  The auction can be found by doing a Google Search for “Middlebury Rotary Club Auction 2013”.  Or Clicking Here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 19, 2013

The Vermont Legislature is back at work, with a busy week of action on the House and Senate floors.  The House is expected to take action on boosting transportation funding by increasing the gasoline tax. The bill moves to add a percentage sales tax on the per-gallon cost, in addition to the flat fee now assessed.  The new tax would be phased-in over two years.  In the Senate, final passage is expected on a bill that would open some police investigative records to public review when that would not interfere with an active investigation.  The move is opposed by police and prosecutors.

A North Carolina man was sentenced yesterday to 150 months in prison and 4 years supervised release for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and for assaulting a police officer.  A press release says 35-year-old William Parker pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine in the Burlington area.  Parker also received a concurrent sentence of 6 months for assaulting a police officer in the Post Office on Elmwood Avenue in Burlington.  Investigators say Parker and several other individuals with ties to North Carolina, New York, and Georgia distributed crack cocaine in and around Burlington from about June 2011 through February 2012.  Parker also sold heroin in Chittenden County.

More than 90 people turned out to tell the Essex County Board of Supervisors the State SAFE Act needs to be repealed.  And the Board of Supervisors decided they also want it gone.  Out of the 13 people who spoke at the meeting, 10 wanted the act repealed and three advocated amending it instead. 

A driver is in fair condition after her car slammed into the back of a stopped school bus.  The accident happened Monday in Rutland Town, as the bus had stopped at a train crossing on U.S. Route 4 where the railroad signs were flashing.  The driver of the car, Paulette Sheldon of Granville, New York was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center.  Neither the bus driver nor any of the 15 Fair Haven Union High School students on the bus were hurt.

The Vermont Public Service Board plans to hold a public hearing Thursday about the Addison Natural Gas Project. It will take place at 7 p.m. in the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium.  Vermont Gas Systems is proposing to extend a 12-inch pipeline from its existing mainline in Colchester to Exchange Street in Middlebury, add five miles of 6-inch distribution pipeline and install three new gate stations on the route.  The proposal has provoked strong feelings in several communities in Chittenden and Addison counties and resulted in protests to the board and to Vermont Gas. Opponents of the project plan to host a rally before the meeting Thursday, too.

Crown Point Telephone officials are hopeful that a local problem will be closer to being solved.  For more than a year phone patrons have reported problems receiving long distance calls, but the issue isn’t a local one.  The issue is known as “failure to complete.”  Problems include incoming long distance calls not connecting or, if they do connect, poor voice quality.  Last month, as part of an FCC investigation, Level 3 Communications agreed to a voluntary contribution of $1 million to the U.S. Treasury and to cease using poorly-performing intermediate providers.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 18, 2013

A winter storm warning has been posted for the entire listening region by the National Weather Service.  Meteorologist with Fox 44 and ABC 22 say we will see snow fall begin tonight between 6 and 8 PM to the south and make its way northward as the night progresses.  BY morning we should see 2 to 6 inches.  Snow fall will continue throughout the day with heavy snow fall in the afternoon.  Total accumulations will be between 6 to 12 inches with as much as 18 inches in the higher elevations.

The New York State Department of Transportation is planning to investigate why some of the lights on the new Lake Champlain Bridge to Vermont aren't working.  The $76 million bridge opened late in 2011 after its predecessor at the same location was found to be unsafe.  The bridge's lighting system includes 66 LED floodlights, and 276 2-foot long LED pedestrian lights on the handrails. Many are not working.  A New York DOT spokesman says the problem will be investigated this spring when it's warmer so engineers can get onto the bridge and look at the wiring.

The Vermont House passed a same-sex couple health care coverage bill Friday.  According to the bill, H. 315, any employer operating outside of Vermont is required to offer the same health care coverage and benefits to same-sex spouses that they would offer to opposite-sex spouses.  Legislators passed the bill 139 to 5.

Vermont's unemployment rate for January 2013 drops to 4.7%.  According to the Vermont Department of Labor, this represents a decline of two-tenths of a percent from the prior month's revised estimate of 4.9 percent.  January's unemployment numbers mark the sixth consecutive month without an increase in the unemployment rate in the state.

Vermont lawmakers are considering adding candy to a proposed sugary-beverages tax.  In the House Ways and Means committee Friday, lobbyists from the Vermont Grocer's Association argued against the proposed tax, or removing sugar-loaded items from the sales tax exemption.  Health advocates lobbying for a sugar-sweetened beverage tax do not want to see that happen by simply lifting the sales tax exemption.

The Castleton fire department wants a new station and has petitioned town officials to put its construction on a special bond ballot.  First Assistant Chief Richard Combs says the petition asks for a $1.5 million bond to construct a new emergency service building on land near Castleton Corners, less than 2 miles from its current location near the college.  Once the petition is verified, meaning the signatures on the petition are from legal voters, town officials are required to warn a special vote.

The Shoreham Zoning Board of Adjustment has given its approval to WhistlePig’s proposal to establish a whiskey distillery at its property off Quiet Valley Road.  The main stumbling block in the project now is other interested parties want to see a separate Act 250 review of the proposed WhistlePig distillery, which would involve conversion of an existing, on-site dairy barn and construction of a 50-foot-by-90-foot storage barn.

Friday, March 15, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 15, 2013

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to buy out 90 properties across Vermont that were damaged by 2011 flooding, most from Tropical Storm Irene.  Eight structures were deemed ineligible for the federal hazard mitigation program and 24 applications are still pending.  Of those, FEMA has committed $12.8 million. The pending acquisitions total $6.1 million.  Earlier this week, state officials agreed to help buy out 5 of the properties that were rejected by FEMA.

A Port Henry man has admitted he tried to burn down part of the business district last year.  Joseph King plead guilty to arson and other charges in court yesterday. The 44-year-old was accused of setting fires at buildings owned by Mountain Lake Services in Port Henry back in January of last year.  He will be sentenced in May and faces up to 14 years behind bars.  Repairs to the building are expected to begin in a few weeks.

The higher gas tax proposal made it out of the Vermont House Ways and Means Committee today.  The proposal passed by a 10-1 vote.  The higher gas tax proposal calls for a 2% hike in the gas tax this year and another 2% in July of next year.  The high gas tax proposal passed the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.  The proposal now moves to the House Appropriations Committee.

A veteran police officer in Rutland, who was suspended following an altercation at a hospital has been cleared of any criminal conduct.  Thomas Fuller, a 26-year veteran of the force, was placed on paid administrative leave following the incident at Rutland Regional Medical Center on December 1.  The details of the altercation have not been disclosed.  The Attorney General’s Office says there was insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Fuller will remain on leave until an internal investigation is completed.

A bill moving through the Senate would allow larger producers of raw milk to sell their product off the farm.

The consumption of raw milk is part of growing trend in Vermont and around the country.  Many say the non-pasteurized product not only tastes great, but also has health benefits.  Lawmakers four years ago allowed producers to sell the milk at their farms.  The new bill would allow a handful of larger producers to sell at farmers markets.   It does not address smaller producers -- in part -- because of safety concerns.

While some deal with major funding cuts, the IRS says others are missing out on getting money!  Turns out, there's still close to $920 million in unclaimed tax refunds from 2009.  That's because close to a million taxpayers never submitted returns for that year.  The IRS says it breaks down to about $500 a person.  If you're one of those people, time is running out. You have until April 15 to collect otherwise the money goes to the U.S. Treasury.

Police will be out patrolling the roads this weekend.  Troopers in Vermont and New  York say they will be highly visible on the roadways throughout the weekend as people celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  They also remind you to choose a designated driver or have an alternate plan for transportation -- before drinking any alcohol.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 14, 2013

For the second year in a row, Ronan Howlett, an 8th grader from Middlebury Union High School, has won the Vermont State Spelling Bee.  Howlett beat 42 other students that were competing in the Vermont State Spelling Bee.  The press release says Emily Ballou, of South Royalton School, came in second. Nicholas Knudsen, of Frederick H Tuttle Middle School came in third.  Next Howlett will travel to Washington D.C. to compete against top spellers from every other state in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June.

Governor Peter Shumlin and Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross announced a statewide Workplace Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program today.  The program will allow Vermont State employees to purchase locally grown food and produce at numerous sites around the state.  More than 30 employees participated in the pilot project in 2012, about 75 percent had never previously participated in a CSA.  About 15 state buildings across the state have been identified as possible sites.

A young man whose father lives in Vermont is one of the latest casualties in Afghanistan.  Twenty-one-year-old Army Specialist Zachary Shannon was one of five people killed Monday when a Black Hawk helicopter went down.  The Vermont National Guard says Shannon's father lives in Guildhall, plus his grandfather lives in Vermont as well.  Shannon, who graduated from high school in Florida, was assigned to an aviation regiment out of Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia.

Lawmakers are taking testimony today on a controversial bill that would allow migrant farmworkers in the country illegally to get Vermont driver's licenses.  Sen. Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Mazza said today that the bill has a lot of issues that need to be resolved before it can be voted on by the committee and then the full Senate.  Vermont dairy farms employ an estimated 1,500 Mexican farmworkers who say they are isolated in rural areas and have to ask farmers or others for rides to the grocery store or doctor.

A rollover crash on Route 7 yesterday sent a Salisbury man to the hospital with abrasions and contusions.  Police say 77-year-old John Lewis was driving north on Route 7 when he drove onto the shoulder, eventually leaving the road and hitting trees.  His Jeep Patriot was destroyed.  Lewis was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center for treatment of his injuries.

Rutland City is getting a big financial surge to fight domestic abuse.  A new federal initiative aimed at reducing deaths in domestic abuse cases is awarding 200-thousand dollars to the city.  Rutland is just one of a dozen cities getting the federal funding.  The Lethality Assessment Program in Rutland has victim advocates and police working together to identify high risk offenders and potential victims.  City officials believe their work with that program is what earned the attention and award from the feds.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 13, 2013

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is urging people to take down their bird feeders to avoid attracting hungry bears as they emerge from their winter dens.  The department recommends taking down the bird feeders and not feeding birds again until December 1.  Bears often eat seeds in the wild, so a birdfeeder full of seed is a great source of what a bear considers natural food.  The department also advises you not to leave pet food outside and washing down barbecues after using them.  Garbage containers also should be secured.

State Police in Bristol recovered a stolen car.  While on patrol, they saw the vehicle and ran a check of the registration which showed that it was a stolen vehicle.  They stopped the driver and it was confirmed to be the stolen vehicle in question.  Investigators say the driver, 35-year-old Shannon Gilmore-Manning or Ripton, was not involved in the theft of the vehicle and has been released with a citation to appear at the Addison County Court Criminal Division for possession of marijuana.

While states around the country are working on gun control legislation, it's unlikely that any legislation will be passed in Vermont this session.  That didn’t stop protesters from rallying at the State House today.  More than 50 people were at the rally, including former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin.  She was addressing gun control legislation in the Cedar Creek room at the State House.  Kunin acknowledges that gun legislation won't pass this year.  Instead, she urges gun owners to promote safe practices like gun locks.

A legislative committee has given its stamp of approval to higher gasoline taxes in Vermont.  The bill, which advanced out of committee earlier today, would add a 2 percent sales tax to the existing per gallon tax. The new tax would raise an estimated $26 million for the transportation fund.

A while back, Target was eyeing an area to build a store in Williston.  However, a company spokesperson says they have no plans to put a new store there.  The area that was being considered was on the old driving range at the corner of Williston Road and Maple Tree Place
Target says while the plans to build a Target in Williston fell through, they are always exploring new opportunities to expand and serve their guests.

Organizers have canceled the "Wings Over Vermont" air show, saying they couldn't continue with plans for the August event after studying the impact of automatic federal spending cuts that took effect this month.  The Vermont National Guard Foundation announced the cancellation of the show this morning.  The U.S. Air Force Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds, were scheduled to headline the show.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 12, 2013

Vermont's largest utility is laying off more than a dozen meter readers.  Green Mountain Power says the technology known as smart meters is the reason, and the layoffs have actually been planned for nearly three years.  92-percent of GMP homes now use smart meters, which means there's simply no need for as many meter readers to travel to over a quarter of a million homes each month.  The company says this ends up saving costs, which will be passed along to customers.

Lawmakers returned to Montpelier today, and it's going to be a busy week.  Most of the bills have to be voted out of committee by Friday, or else set aside for next year.  This is what's known as cross-over week, with the mid-session deadline in order for both sides to have time to review each bill.

A Vergennes man says he's not guilty of attempting to lure a minor.  Police say 21-year-old Robert Ritchie is accused of using Facebook to send inappropriate pictures to a 15-year-old boy and attempting to lure that boy into a relationship.  Prosecutors say this case shows how predators use social media the way they might have used the phone only a few years ago.  After pleading not guilty to the charges, Ritchie was released on conditions as he awaits trial.

A bus carrying the St. Michael's College men's lacrosse team has crashed in New York.  Officials with St. Mike's confirm no students were injured.  New York State Police say one person in another vehicle was killed in the crash.  Police say the accident happened just before noon on Interstate 87 southbound in Clifton Park.  The team was headed to a game in Westchester County when a car spun out on the wet road and hit the bus.  The bus landed on its side off the road.

The state of Vermont is going to use grant money to help towns buy out homes destroyed or damaged by Tropical Storm Irene that are ineligible for a federal program.  The money will come from a $21.6 million community development block grant.  It's unclear how many homes will be affected.

Brandon may be the home of new medical marijuana dispensary.  A town development review board changed the use of a building to allow for a dispensary.  The building housed a wood furniture manufacturing center until last year.  The state has approved up to four dispensaries. So far, one has been approved in Burlington and another one has been approved in Waterbury.  Communities are allowed to pass ordinances that ban dispensaries, or ban them through the town or city's zoning ordinance.

A committee of the Vermont Senate has killed legislation that would have given independent child care center operators the right to unionize.  The Senate Economic Development Committee voted 3-2 to kill the measure today after Sen. William Doyle expressed reservations about allowing only state-subsidized day care providers to vote whether to join the union.  The hotly contested child care unionization effort has been discussed by lawmakers for the past three years, and is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin.  It would have allowed independent child care operators to unionize for the purposes of negotiating subsidies and regulations with the state.

Monday, March 11, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 11, 2013

Bridport Central School re-opened this morning after taking Thursday and Friday off last week due to the high number of illnesses.  Last week, 71 of the 81 students were sick on Wednesday and not at school.  School officials contacted local and state health officials and the plan they came up with was to completely sanitize the entire school to try and help stop the spread of the stomach bug going around.  Most of the students returned to school this morning, in fact only 2 students were absent today. 

Vermont clearly has the numbers now to back up an ominous fact:  the population in the Green Mountain state is shrinking.  There were two-thousand fewer babies born in Vermont than there were 20 years ago, and many young people are simply not staying.  Besides the baby count dropping, in the past two years Vermont has lost more than two-thousand people to other states.  The last time the state's population declined like this was in 1944.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says the automatic federal budget cuts will hurt Vermonters.  At a news conference this morning, it was announced that as many as 4,400 families could be affected by cuts in rental assistance, crisis fuel aid and other emergency assistance programs that help keep families in their homes.  As many as 170 children out of the 1,500 enrolled in Head Start in Vermont may also be affected.  Sanders says to reduce deficits, he is calling for closing tax loopholes that let profitable corporations and wealthy individuals shelter income in offshore tax havens.

Vermont State Police are looking for a driver who ditched a truck in a field after fleeing to evade a traffic stop early Saturday.  Police said they were in the area of a reported underage drinking party shortly before 1 AM when they spotted the driver of a truck committing a traffic violation on Basin Harbor Road.  The driver fled when signaled to stop and the truck was later found in a field.  Anyone with information is asked to call Vermont State Police.

Foreclosures are spiking in Vermont, but experts say they don't expect the trend to affect home prices.  As other states begin to rebound from the housing crisis, negative effects are now beginning to ripple through Vermont.  In January, Vermont home sale prices went up six percent.  But in February, 159 foreclosure procedures began in the state.  The foreclosure spike is expected to last for about a year.

Ice fishing shanties in New York have got to go by the end of the week.  That's the word from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Owners who do not meet the Friday deadline will be fined $100.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is offline for a while, but it's all planned.  The nuclear reactor was taken offline Saturday night for scheduled refueling.  The plant has not gone off the grid since November 2011, but at times has been scaled back on its power output due to various problems.

Friday, March 8, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 8, 2013

The bridge over Lake Champlain linking Addison and Crown Point is new, but has had a problem for months.  Drivers say there is no issue but those that walk over the bridge say they have problems seeing at night because the arch and hand rail lights only work on one side of the bridge.  New York Transportation Officials say it is too cold to investigate right now because the wiring will be too brittle but they do plan to start fixing the bridge lights this spring.

A re-vote has been scheduled for the Rutland City School Budget.  The proposed budget of over $8-million dollars was rejected on Town Meeting Day.  The school board wasted no time trimming $128,000 from the budget.  There will be an informational meeting on March 25 at 7 PM at Rutland Town School. Voters will cast their votes the following day, from 7 AM to 7 PM at the Town Hall and the school.

Vermont Gas has announced they will change a segment of its 42-mile-long proposed Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline route.  The proposed line is supposed to follow the current utility corridor that exists in the Hinesburg-Monkton-New Haven area.  Many Monkton and Hinesburg residents expressed concerns during Town Meeting about the pipeline's route in their part of Chittenden County.

Vermont has been ranked 4th in the nation for Highest Taxed States by a non-partisan group.  The Tax Foundation's 2013 State Business Tax Climate report ranked the best and worst states for taxes to enable business leaders, policymakers, and taxpayers understand how their states measure up.  According to the report, Vermont gets slammed for high property taxes, which are the third highest in the nation with a 5.27 percent effective rate.

Hunger Free Vermont is the recipient of this year's anti-hunger advocacy leadership award.  The nonprofit focused on feeding the hungry received the award at a national conference in Washington, D.C., this week.  But now they are back in Vermont and focused on their new goal of providing free lunch for all low-income kids in Vermont.  They are using the efforts of free breakfast as the baseline for success. Hunger Free Vermont estimates free lunch for low-income kids would cost the state $300,000 and will result in an additional $400,000 from the feds.

A House Committee will be holding hearing next week to discuss protections for the shores lakes around Vermont.  A new proposed bill would call for the state Agency of Natural Resources to write new rules requiring buffer zones around the edges of lakes, stopping runoff from immediately entering waterways.  Existing lakeside cottages would be exempt, unless they were being enlarged or undergoing other substantial changes.  Some property owners are concerned the bill would infringe on their rights.

A new survey by the state of Vermont finds the number of residents without health insurance has dropped by nearly a third in the past seven years, mainly due to growth in government programs.  Results made public yesterday at a meeting of the Green Mountain Care Board show more than 61,000 Vermonters were without health coverage in 2005, or 9.8 percent of the population. The number dropped to 42,760, or 6.8 percent, by 2012.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 7, 2013

Some of Vermont's lawmakers are considering expanding the state's beverage and bottle deposit program.  Right now, five-cent deposits are only added to beer, soda and hard liquor.  However, it's now suggested to add a nickel deposit to bottled water, sports drinks, and iced teas.  Milk and other multiple-serving containers would not get the tax.  Benefits seen are raising more money for the state plus encouraging recycling.  Other states, including Maine have already done this.  Opponents say they doubt it would have much effect.

Vermont State Police troopers responded to a report of a burglary at a residence on U.S. Route 7 in Wallingford.  Investigators say two handguns, a .357 Taurus and a .9MM Star, two Apple Ipods, and $50 cash were stolen from the residence.  Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Vermont State Police at Rutland, 802-773-9101.  Information can also be submitted anonymously online at www.vtips.info or text CRIMES (274637) to Keyword VTIPS.

Rutland's Police Chief says the city has applied for a $1 million U.S. Department of Justice grant to target mental health, substance abuse, poverty and other quality-of-life issues in one neighborhood.  Chief James Baker says a higher percentage of Rutland County's burglaries, thefts, vandalisms and assaults take place in a five-block-wide section of the city.  Baker distributed handouts at a public forum last night describing the northwest neighborhood as a "hot zone' for criminal acts. He said of the 13,000 police calls each year in the city, about 73 percent are in the neighborhood.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is urging the USDA to choose New York for their Greek yogurt pilot program.  A press release outlined the state's interest in being chosen for the pilot program, as well as encouraged USDA to amend the protein crediting standards to better reflect the nutritional value of Greek yogurt.  The press release says New York's yogurt plants have more than doubled in production and grew by 850 million pounds.  The USDA pilot programs would be a part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. This program provides meals in both public and private non-for-profit schools.

Police say two people were killed this morning in a crash in Quechee.  It happened on Route 4 at about 9:30 between the Quechee Gorge and the Fat Hat Factory.  Investigators say a 63-year-old woman from Woodstock was headed east when she crossed the center line and hit a trailer being towed by a westbound truck.  She then hit a westbound car head on.  Route 4 was closed and traffic was re-routed to Quechee Main Street for several hours so police could investigate.

If you heard some loud booms yesterday, you're likely to hear a few more this month.  Blame it on the Massachusetts Air National Guard.  The Guard already did some training in the skies over southern Vermont last month, and need to get a few more days of practice in.  Training is scheduled from about 9 AM until noon each Wednesday remaining in March.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 6, 2013

Bridport Central School will be closed tomorrow and Friday.  There are currently 81 children enrolled in the school and 71 were out sick today and unable to attend classes.  School official have contacted health officials on both the local and state level and the plan moving forward is to take the next two days to completely clean the school, top to bottom, to try and help stop the spread of a stomach bug that is going around.  Bridport Central School will re-open Monday morning.

Police in Hinesburg are looking for a hit-and-driver who they say struck a kid on his way to school this morning.  According to reports, the 8-year-old boy, whose name is being withheld, was in the crosswalk outside the Hinesburg Community School at 7:45 when a blue SUV hit him and sped off.  The boy was transported to Fletcher Allen in Burlington with minor injuries.  Authorities believe they have located the vehicle but have not released a suspect’s name. 

Yesterday was Town Meeting Day and in Rutland, Mayor Christopher Louras was re-elected to a fourth term.  It was a tough fight against current board of aldermen chair Dave Allaire, but Louras won by a margin of about 400 votes.  In Vergennes, voters said no to a bond for the new police station.  The city was asking for bond purchases not exceeding $1,850,000 for real estate and the construction of a police station.  The article failed by 10 votes.  The vote was 292 “yes” to 302 “no”.

New Yorkers’ earning minimum wage may soon be getting a raise.  The state Assembly voted yesterday to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour with automatic increases tied to inflation. The bill now goes to the Senate.  Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Governor Andrew Cuomo had proposed an $8.75 an hour wage.

New York State Police shot and killed a man after leading them on a high speed chase last night.  Authorities say when they tried to stop 28-year-old Richard Aubin, of Ausable Forks for speeding on I-87, he took off.  Aubin turned off I-87 onto Route 9 in North Hudson.  At that point police put spike strips down in an attempt to stop Aubin's pickup truck.  When his truck stopped working, he fled into the woods.  When Aubin was finally located by the two officers pursing him, a fight broke out.  Police tried using pepper spray, but it didn't work.  Aubin was shot after, police say, he tried to grab for a trooper's gun.

Vermont is one step closer to becoming the first state to put mandatory labels on genetically modified food products.  Last week, the the House Agriculture Committee, voted 8 to 3 in favor of requiring producers to put labels on food products that are genetically engineered.  The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee for review, then to the floor for a vote.

Coming up this Saturday is the 5th Annual Vermont Chili Festival in Middlebury.  The Vermont Chili Festival has been named a Top 10 Winter Events for the past four years by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.  All the fun starts at 1:30 Saturday afternoon with street jugglers, face painting, entertainment for kids, live music, a beverage tent, and award-winning chili.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 3, 2013

A number of issues and articles were discussed and passed during last night’s Town Meeting in Middlebury.  By a vote on the floor, residents approved the proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget of almost $9-million with over $6-million to be raised through taxes.  The rest of the articles are being decided by Australian Vote today.  The polls are open till 7 o’clock.

As thousands of voters head to the polls across Vermont today, voters in Rutland have to decide on who will lead their city.  The current Mayor, Chris Louras, has been in other elections before, and has run without any opposition.  That's not the case this time, as long-time Board of Aldermen leader David Allaire is also running for mayor.  Louras has been in office six years, and Allaire says it's time for a change.  Louras says the city just needs to continue with its momentum of moving forward.  Voters will have the final say.

If the sequester continues for a while, Governor Peter Shumlin says he'll have to re-evaluate his stand on no new taxes.  The forced federal budget cuts reduce federal dollars coming into Vermont by about 15 million over the next seven months.  Educational and environmental programs will take the biggest hit, with up to a thousand defense-related jobs being impacted as well.  Shumlin says he's worried about what this all does to Vermont's economy, and is afraid of another recession.

The Essex County Sheriff's Department is receiving praise from the U.S. Marshals for their handling of federal prisoners.  Since 2008, the Essex County Jail has housed more than 800 federal prisoners awaiting sentencing for the Vermont District Marshal Service which covers Northern New York, Vermont and New England.  The marshals have named Essex County one of the top two prisons among the 15 they work with in the region for their professionalism, organization and support of the operation.

Gun owners opposed to the New York State SAFE Act packed the Essex County Board of Supervisors chambers yesterday.  Many were members of the Essex County Fish and Game Club.  The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, passed Jan. 15, will limit ammunition magazines to no more than seven rounds, or 10 if the magazine is pre-existing. It also, among other details, requires background checks for all gun sales and ammunition purchases.  The ammunition requirement takes effect Jan. 15, 2014, and the magazine rule, April 15 of this year.

The Winter Middlebury Farmers Market opens at Mary Hogan Elementary School off Court Street in downtown Middlebury this weekend.  The market will run every Saturday from 9:30 AM to 1 PM.  Each week, local vendors will offer a variety of goods including greens, beans, radishes, beets, potatoes, eggs, meat, fresh bread, pastries and more.  The market will move to the Middlebury Marble Works in May.

Friday, March 1, 2013

WVTK Local & State News March 1, 2013

New protections for the lakeshores of Vermont are laid out in a bill now before the House committee.  The bill calls for the Agency of Natural Resources to come up with new rules restricting what can be built on lakeshores, and also requiring a buffer of vegetation between the shoreline and buildings.  Testimony Thursday from opponents said there's concern about the state getting involved in regulation normally left up to towns.  Environmentalists spoke in favor of it, saying Vermont is behind neighboring states when it comes to protecting its lakes.

If the sequestration cuts go through today, hundreds of civilian defense employees in the Vermont National Guard will be affected.  More than 500 could face furloughs of at least one day a week, with their paychecks cut by 20-percent.  That could begin as early as April, with Governor Peter Shumlin calling this "the unthinkable."  Incoming Adjutant General Steven Cray says the Guard will still continue to recruit and prepare for natural disasters and foreign wars, no matter what.

Cumberland Farms will pay $150,000 in civil penalties for multiple violations of Vermont laws.  The violations have to do with underground storage tanks at ten of its convenience stores at which it sells gasoline.  Most of the 39 violations relate to Cumberland Farms’ failure to conduct and maintain documentation of release detection monitoring of tanks and associated piping

The U.S. Department of Defense says the grounded F-35 fighter jets can take flight once again.  Officials say after finding a cracked engine blade.  The fighter jets have been thoroughly inspected and are cleared for take off.  Officials are still deciding on where to place the F-35 fighter jets. A preliminary report on the environmental impact of the F-35 in Vermont says the plane would have a greater noise presence than the F-16s.  A final draft of that report is expect to come sometime in late April or early May.  The Secretary of the Air Force will make the decision of where to place F-35s 30 days later.

The Vermont Transportation Agency is warning people that trains will be moving faster between the Massachusetts border and St. Albans.  On March 11, train speeds are being increased to up to 79 mph south of White River Junction and up to 59 mph to the north.  The speed increases follow upgrades to the tracks.  The upgrades included improvements to 46 road crossings, but there are still a number of non-gated crossings.  People are also being reminded to stop, look and listen when approaching a rail crossing.

A new poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute shows that the majority of Vermonters favor banning the use of cellphones while behind the wheel.  According to the poll, released yesterday, about 68 percent of Vermonters polled said they would support “making it illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving in Vermont.”  This is down 12 points from a previous poll the institute conducted back in May.  The poll also showed as the respondents got older, more of them supported banning cellphone use while driving.