Lamoille in the News
by Andrew Martin
A Lamoille County woman has been sentenced after being convicted of embezzling $42,615 from Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. On Wednesday, January 14, Andrea Miller, age 47, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and will be eligible for parole after a year. The 35 counts of False Pretenses that Miller was originally charged with, stem from a number of incidents that occurred at the ski resort from April of 2011 to October of 2013. Miller was arraigned on the charges in April of 2014, when she entered a plea of not guilty.
Lamoille County Deputy State's Attorney Christopher Moll said Miller was scheduled to turn herself in to the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington by 5 p.m. on Friday, January 16.
While Miller initially pled not guilty to the 35 charges at her arraignment that eventually changed as part of her plea agreement – which was first proposed by now-retired State's Attorney Joel Page. As part of the plea agreement, she admitted to and accepted the obligation of all 35 counts and was convicted of three felonies. According to Deputy State’s Attorney Christopher Moll, the three felony convictions keep the sentencing structure in line with State’s Attorney Joel Page’s original recommendations.
Moll also explained that Miller only has to pay back $1,000, which she has already paid. By state law someone convicted of embezzlement type crimes is only responsible for the out of pocket expenses to the victim. Because Smugglers' Notch has theft insurance, Miller only has to repay that for which they are not insured, in this case their $1,000 deductible.
Smugglers’ Notch Chief Financial Officer Brian Stevens said he has been told by the ski resort’s insurance company that they intend to seek restitution for the remainder of the money.
This marks the second time that Miller has been convicted of crimes related to embezzling. She is still currently paying back another former employer whom she embezzled from in the 1990s. Smugglers' Notch Ski Resort Owner Bill Stritzler explained that they were hoping to give Miller a second chance when she was hired as an assistant to the housekeeping director at the ski resort in 2002. He said she grew into more responsible positions as time went on. Miller began stealing money in 2011 by creating fraudulent invoices and then taking that cash.
After she is released from prison, Miller will be on indefinite probation. She will be unable to be employed in any position where she would handle money, and she has been banned from Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
by Mickey Smith
MORRISTOWN – Weather permitting, it seems construction crews can be seen around the new CVS Pharmacy lot at the corner of Brooklyn Street and Route 15 in Morristown. Despite all this work, the developers expect it will be mid-June before the store opens.
Lou Eyster, of the development firm TM Crowley, said the crew got a good start in the fall and has done as much work as they can over the winter when the weather allowed. He said the steel is going up right now. A CCS crane could be seen moving steel beams around this past weekend. Eyster said this will probably be the last of the work until the end of February or early March, depending on the weather.
At that time, he said the building will really start to take shape over March and April, but he said inside work and setting up the store will put the opening “ideally” at mid-June.
by Andrew Martin
The continued efforts by Morristown residents and business owners to change the names of what was known as Route 100 through downtown and the new bypass may be paying off. On Monday, January 5, Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter sent a letter to the Lamoille County Planning Commission and the Town of Morristown informing those parties that a potential change in the names of the two roads could be possible.
“I am aware that there have been concerns voiced within the Morristown community regarding the numbering/naming of the recently opened Alternate Truck Route (currently VT 100) and the state numbered highway through downtown (currently Historic VT 100),” Secretary Minter stated in her letter.
“In response to the concerns, VTrans [The Vermont Agency of Transportation] is willing to consider renaming/renumbering these two highways in coordination with the Town and the Region,” Minter continued.
In the letter Minter requested that both the Town of Morristown and the Lamoille County Planning Commission send in letters to VTrans regarding their preference for how the two highways be renamed. Minter explained that the naming options for the new bypass include Vermont Route 100 or Alternate Vermont Route 100, which was the option she quoted as having been requested in the petition circulating in Morrisville. Minter also outlined the options for the downtown route, which included Historic, Alternate, or Business Vermont Route 100 or just simply Vermont Route 100.
According to Morristown Town Administrator Dan Lindley the Town of Morristown has already drafted a potential letter to send to VTrans. That draft will be presented to the Morristown Selectboard at their meeting on Tuesday, January 20. Lindley explained that the draft currently recommends that the highway passing through downtown Morrisville be renamed Vermont Route 100. The letter also recommends that the new bypass be referred to as Vermont Route 100 Alternate Truck Route. According to Lindley the town is recommending a slightly different name for the new bypass than the options listed by Minter because that is what is actually requested in the petition that has been circulating in Morristown.
Lindley further explained that while the board will be presented with this draft letter for approval at their meeting on Tuesday he is unsure of a final timeline on when the name changes could take place.
The Lamoille County Planning Commission will also be sending in a letter with recommended name changes for the two roads. According to LCPC Executive Director Bonnie Waninger, her organization is planning to conduct a broad public outreach over the next few weeks before sending the letter. Included in that outreach will be an online survey, and the LCPC will also be soliciting written comments. The LCPC Board of Directors will meet on January 27 to review the information and make a recommendation. Waninger expects the letter to be sent the next day.
“We are trying to turn this around quickly recognizing that this is an issue of concern for lots of folks locally,” Waninger added.
Town Administrator Lindley added that he expects VTrans to respond quickly once both letters are sent.
“VTrans has been pretty responsive when dealing with our recent requests regarding signage and other issues on the bypass,” Lindley explained, “It shouldn’t be long, we expect a quick return.”
“Once we have received these letters, VTrans will work with you to confirm the preferred designation and make changes accordingly,” Minter concluded in her letter.
About 500 Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) members awoke Monday morning, January 19, without power due to a storm that brought heavy, wet snow to the region. Line crews worked overnight and have restored about 2,000 outages so far. VEC crews assisted by contract crews will continue to work throughout the day, and VEC expects to have all members back on by nightfall.
Overall, this storm has not been as damaging as expected. In the aftermath of Winter Storm Damon, which left many members without power for several days last December, VEC was prepared to respond to extensive damage.
VEC members without power may call VEC for an estimated restoration time or visit VEC’s outage page. VEC’s new SmartHub app may also be used to receive outage alerts by mobile phone or computer.
For more information please visit VEC’s website at www.vermontelectric.coop/outage or call 1-800-832-2667.
by Mickey Smith
Students at the Bishop John A. Marshall School (BJAMS) will be eligible for the Agnes Favreau Most Improved Student Award, as a tribute to the longtime teacher who passed away this past fall.
Favreau began her teaching career in 1949 at a one-room school house in Fletcher. She went on to teach third grade at Hyde Park Elementary School before becoming the kindergarten teacher for the Holy Cross Parish in Morristown. After retirement, she served as a teachers' assistant at both the Morristown school system, as well as BJAMS.
“She had a deep and true love of teaching young students,” states the School's outline of the scholarship. “Among the many different types of learners she encountered, she had a special place in her heart for students whom she knew had hidden talents and potential.”
The award will be given to the student felt to have shown the greatest overall growth during the course of the school year.
“The reward acknowledges the hard work on the part of the student to grow as a person, beyond academics,” states the outline.
Students are nominated by their teacher, reviewed by a committee and then selected by the Head of School and will have $250 of their following year scholarship paid.
The Lamoille County Planning Commission (LCPC) is seeking input from Lamoille County municipalities, businesses, and residents on the naming of the Morrisville “truck route,” which opened October 2014. Comments must be submitted by 4 p.m. on Monday, January 26, 2015. The LCPC Board of Directors will consider comments and make a recommendation to the Vermont Agency of Transportation at its January 27 meeting.
The Agency requested LCPC provide regional perspective on the road naming. Currently, the “truck route” has been designated “Route 100,” and the old route through downtown Morrisville and Brooklyn Street has been designated “Historic Route 100.” Members of the community have voiced concerns over this naming and numbering.
LCPC represents the 15 towns and villages of Lamoille County. It worked to ensure completion of the “truck route” from its inception on behalf of the county. To ensure broad public input on this critical piece of the regional transportation network, LCPC is offering multiple opportunities for community input:
An on-line survey for Lamoille County residents and businesses at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VT_Rt_100_Naming. The survey includes imagines of what potential route signs might look like. Hard copies of the survey are available at LCPC’s office, 52 Portland Street, Second Floor, Morrisville (above Caplans).
Written comments can be submitted to:
Lamoille County Planning Commission
PO Box 1637
Morrisville, VT 05661
By Andrew Martin
Potential changes for the Village of Johnson Water & Light Department (JW&L) could be on the way. The village trustees are currently in the process of negotiating with Morrisville Water & Light to have that department do the ‘outside’ work of the utility that JW&L has done itself in the past. The majority of that outside work would consist of linework on the roughly 28 miles of distribution line that serves the JW&L’s 950 customers.
“The majority of our linework would be performed by Morrisville Water & Light under the new plan,” explained Johnson Municipal Manager Duncan Hastings, “That’s a pretty big change. The village has had a water and light department and done all its own work since 1894.”
According to Hastings the decision to contract the linework for JW&L was one reached by the trustees due to a number of factors. One such factor was that longtime Village of Johnson Superintendent of Public Works Steve Towne recently retired. An extensive search for Towne’s replacement was unable to find the proper multi-skilled and qualified replacement, and the anticipated retirement or departure of several other JW&L employees in the near future led the board to consider new options.
“Replacing qualified employees is a real challenge,” Hastings added, also explaining that JW&L has actually seen a slight decrease in its load rather than load growth in recent years. The fact that JW&L’s lineworkers have to be fully certified in that trade, but spend less than 50 percent of their actual time doing linework also complicates the search for qualified replacements. Along with the linework, the employees also do other work for the village such as snow removal, sidewalk maintenance, and tasks associated with the water and sewage departments.
All of these factors combined will only lead to increased rates for the ratepayers of JW&L. In order to prevent those increases, the trustees of the utility decided to contract with MW&L to have the department’s linework done.
According to Hastings such an agreement is not uncommon in Vermont. He pointed to several examples, including the electric utility in Northfield which contracts with Green Mountain Power to have its linework done and has lower rates than JW&L.
While the details of the agreement between JW&L and MW&L are still being worked out, Hastings expects that workers of his utility will still be responsible for the tasks of meter reading, disconnect and reconnects, and line trimming.
“The details are still being worked out,” Hastings emphasized, “No contract has been finalized for review by either utilities’ board of trustees yet. It’s a work in progress.”
Hastings also added that Johnson Village will still maintain a crew for other public works related to the water and sewage department as well as other basic functions. A smaller crew than is now employed by the village would likely be needed, and ultimately none of the workers for JW&L would need to be certified in linework. The village currently has four employees certified in linework, the same number as MW&L.
“That’s a big deal, it’s very costly to employ people who have those certifications,” Hastings explained, “We have to compete with larger utilities in attracting employees with extensive training. Those people command higher salaries, and yet they are only doing linework 50 percent of the time for us.”
Hastings added that while JW&L employees will no longer be performing linework once the agreement with MW&L is finalized he does not anticipate the utility letting employees go in the near future. The only likely reduction in staff will occur when the planned retirement or departure of current employees occurs. As part of the new contracting plan, Steve Towne’s vacant position will not be filled.
While the potential switch will help keep lower rates for customers of JW&L, there could be one trade-off. Hastings explained that JW&L has always prided itself on exceptionally fast response time during power outages. However, if MW&L is doing all of the village’s linework the response time and power restoration may take slightly longer. This slower response time would partly be due the fact that lineworkers from MW&L would not only have to work on outages in Morrisville if they occur at the same time as outages in Johnson, but also would have to drive to Johnson in such a situation, adding to their response time.
“That was one of the greatest areas of concern when the trustees were considering this move,” Hastings added. “It’s the only possible negative we see resulting from this agreement.”
Hastings did not anticipate this possible slower response time to be a major issue though – pointing to the fact that JW&L normally does not have a large number of outages each year and that the outages that do occur are not normally widespread.
“Morrisville has a great, professional crew as well,” Hastings added, “I feel they can provide good service to our customers.”
Hastings explained that the next step in this process is for he and MW&L Manager Craig Myotte to finalize a plan for the work sometime in the next few weeks. That plan will then be presented to the board of trustees of each utility, who will approve or deny it.
“There are a lot of moving parts for both utilities,” Hastings stated, “Once the details are worked out, the village trustees will review it.”
The earliest that Hastings believes MW&L could take over the linework for JW&L would be February 1. Until that time business will continue as normal for JW&L, although Hastings expects that his utility will be working with MW&L if any problems or outages occur before the switch.
“We don’t anticipate any disruption in service during the switch,” Hastings concluded, “It’s been an interesting and somewhat arduous process.”
“It was a very tough decision for the board to arrive at. I give them credit for stepping up and doing what they thought was right for the utility and the ratepayers.”
This Week's Photos
A banner unveiling was held on Friday, January 9, before the varsity boys’ basketball game to celebrate the state and national snowboarding championships won by Lamoille student Olivia Shively during the 2013-2014 season. Shively won her state championship in the Giant Slalom event and her national championship in the Banked Slalom event. She can be seen to the right as she unveils her banner, which can be seen above hanging on the wall in the Lamoille gymnasium. - Martin photo
by Mickey Smith
The annual Legislative Breakfast series, co-presented by the Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce (LRCC) and the Stowe Area Association, kicked off their season Monday morning, January 12, at the Stonegrill Diner in Morristown.
First time Legislator Avram Patt (left) talks with constituents during the season’s first Legislative Breakast, held at the Stonegrill in Morristown on Monday, January 12. - Smith photo
LRCC Executive Director Max Neale welcomed the crowd and legislators noting the Legislative Season got off to an “energized” start last week, as she alluded to the sit-in protests in Montpelier during the Governor's speech.
She said they decided to change things up slightly for the breakfast, having the legislators sit at tables with constituents rather than at one large table. Each legislator was given two to three minutes to address the crowd, but as their talks grew longer she reduced it to a minute in order to keep the breakfast on-time.
Speaker of the House Shap Smith, of Morristown, began the legislative reports and said there were four areas he saw as important going into the session. His four areas included: economy and jobs; sustainable education; healthcare; and the State's waterways.
Smith said education is going to need to be looked at from both the financing aspect as well as quality. He said he is not under any illusion this will be easy to solve. He also echoed Governor Shumlin's recent push for work on Vermont's waterways, most notably Lake Champlain.
“Lake Champlain is dying,” said Smith, adding if we as a State don't do something about it the Federal Environmental Protection Agency will, which won't give Vermonters as much say into what happens.
Smith also touched on the protests last week, noting it was harder to get out of the Legislative Chamber than it was to get in this year.
Lamoille County Senator Rich Westman maintained one of the critical priorities is going to be how to close the $100 million shortfall between expenditures and revenues. Westman said, generally speaking, the shortfall could be one-third attributed to a cost of living adjustment in the State employees new contract, one-third is associated with the State's practice of using one-time revenues to fill holes and one-third a drop in Medicaid reimbursements. Westman said the Governor has promised no new taxes, leaving a reduction of the state workforce as the most obvious place to close the gaps.
Senator Westman sits on the finance and transportation committees in the senate.
When pressed later in the meeting, Westman said he does not have a specific mechanism in mind for reducing the workforce; he was only pointing out the most obvious area where the state is going to need to look. Bonnie Waninger, executive director of the Lamoille County Planning Commission, urged the legislators to look further than just attrition through retirement, as that does not always keep the true needs of an organization filled.
Stowe Representative Heidi Scheuermann said off the top of her head she could see cuts with the Department of Innovation and Information might be the first place to look. She noted despite the creation of this technical department, the Secretary of State's office contracted out the building of their website and did it within their own budget.
Lamoille County's newest representative, Avram Patt, of Worcester, serves on the healthcare committee. He said with the push moving away from universal coverage right now, his committee needs to look at system issues and costs. He said during the 16 years he ran Washington Electric, they changed their health care plans five times due largely to double digit percentage increases in rates.
Scheuermann, who sits on the commerce and economic development committee, said universal access to quality healthcare at an affordable cost is a reachable goal, but she said there is a lot of work to go to get there. She used as an example, her sister in Florida's platinum health care plan that costs her $5 more a month than Heidi's Vermont-based bronze plan.
Martin’s big push, though, will be on the economy as she and Lt. Governor Phil Scott co-sponsored an economic pitch on the first day of the Legislature. She said that discussion already produced two draft bill requests, designed to move the dial to becoming more business friendly. She said she didn't expect shocking changes, but instead the changes would be strategic and smart... not giving everything “including the kitchen sink” like New York State did.
Scheuermann said education is definitely at a crisis point so the State needs to make sure they do not simply Bandaid the crisis. She said this is a chance for real improvement from the current 19th/20th Century system that is currently in place.
Cambridge Representative Bernie Juskiewicz sits on the education committee and will be vice-chair this year. He said he was surprised to see, when he arrived two years ago, the committee was simply a police committee. From his school board days, he knew policy ideas worked hand-in-hand with budget talks. Changes to the committee structure have brought in people with experience on ways & means and appropriations, which should help change the thought process.
“It's been a delicate and fixed structure,” said Juskiewicz, “but it won't change overnight.”
Juskiewicz said Vermont is amongst the highest costs per pupil states with one of the lowest teacher to student rations and yet tests results remain in the middle.
“The bottom line is we need to change,” said Juskiewicz.
Mark Higley, whose district includes Eden, said two of his towns consolidated schools and they saw tax rates shoot up 18-19%.
Johnson's Mark Woodward also serves on the healthcare committee. He agreed the health care exchange needs to be straightened out. He said he continues to see places where the exchange is at fault and it is messing up people's lives. He said people don't have the security of knowing how much things will cost.
He said he is also concerned with Johnson State College, both the health of the school as well as the debt students are building up before they leave. He also said he wants to know why gas in Lamoille County is 30 cents more than at the Willey's Store in Greensboro?
Wolcott's Linda Martin serves on the government operations committee. She said last week showed them they need better security at the State House. She was concerned visitors to the building were put into a situation where they were scared for themselves and their children. She said she also sees her committee looking into the issues with 911 system that caused it to go down last month.
A question from the audience after the reports from the legislators was from Eugene Dahmbach, of Elmore. Dahmbach said the heroin issue in Vermont keeps rising. He said his family has seen it first hand recently and wants to know what legislators are doing about it.
He told how New York drug dealers are looking at Vermont as a business venture, because they can make a higher profit here and the law enforcement efforts aren't as strong. He said how Vermont in many ways is touted as a place where people want to raise their kids, but the heroin problem is making Vermont New York City scary and articles like one that appeared in Rolling Stone about Vermont's problems is sending more drug dealers and abusers here. After the meeting he cited a documentary called “The Opiate Effect” that looks at the struggles of one family when their son overdosed the first time he used heroin.
The legislators described it as a “process” but agreed there was more that needed to be done, including getting the dealers in jail and the users in treatment.
As the meeting came to a close, Smith said the dollars are constrained right now and the State is going to have to realize it can't be everything to everyone. He said they are going to have to look at areas where their money is doing the best.
by Mickey Smith
The woman accused of killing 48 year-old Chris Cafferky is scheduled to go to trial later this month. The Lamoille County Superior Court Calendar shows the trial is expected to last until January 30.
Benjamin Luna is the acting State's Attorney, handling the case against Jeanette Maxfield, 23, who police allege stabbed Cafferky at the home they were sharing last February. David Sleigh is listed as the defense attorney, with Kyle Hatt and David Tartter as co-counsel.
The trial is scheduled to continue January 21 (Maxfield's 24th birthday) through January 30.
Maxfield and Cafferky were home alone on the evening of February 17. At the time of Chris Cafferky’s death, she told police she had been visiting a friend all day and had been drinking. According to court documents, she did not remember what happened during the course of the evening but awoke to find signs of a struggle, a lot of blood and Cafferky's lifeless body near her.
by Andrew Martin
Anyone familiar with Lamoille County is likely aware of the seeming decrease in dairy operations around the area. However, while the number of dairy farms in the county is slowly decreasing the dairy industry itself continues to do well in the Lamoille Valley.
According to the USDA Farm Service Agency total there are 36 dairy farms in Lamoille County that ship milk commercially that are also registered and do business with the Farm Service Agency. According to Heather Mateja, who serves as the County Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Lamoille and Orleans Counties, the town in Lamoille County with the most dairy farms is Morrisville with 11. The town of Cambridge has eight dairy farms, while Stowe is home to five. There are four dairy operations in Johnson and an additional three in Hyde Park. The Farm Service Agency also lists two dairy farms in Wolcott, one in Waterville, one in Eden, and one in Elmore.
According to Mateja there are also a few farms in the county that do not work with the federal government at all or that are not registered with her department, meaning that they have no record of them. There are also a number of small operations that do not ship their milk. USDA Farm Service Agency records indicate that Belvidere is the only town in the county that is not home to at least one dairy operation.
Mateja also explained that while a number of farms have gone out of business in recent years Lamoille County has actually seen three new small dairy operations begin in the last calendar year. She also added that while there are less farms overall than in years past – overall many of the farms are getting larger.
“The amount of land used for agriculture is actually expanding,” Mateja stated, explaining that this is due not only to farmers in Lamoille County expanding the land they are utilizing but also to farmers from Orleans and Franklin County that are growing crops on land in the county. The growth of larger farms is one reason for this expansion due to the fact that these large operations require more resources. While none of the farms that Mateja works with milk over 500 cows, some are very close to that figure, and such large numbers of cows require much more land set aside to feed them. Even Belvidere, which is listed as having no dairy operation, is home to lands that are being used for agriculture by farms outside the town.
“The number of dairy operations in the county has definitely decreased in the last 15 years,” Mateja stated, “However, both the amount of cropland in use and the number of cows seems to be actually increasing.”
The growth of the remaining dairy operations in the county is not the only reason for the increased amount of land being used for agriculture. According to Mateja there has been a boom in produce farms in the last 10 years, especially organic farms. These operations can range in size from only half an acre to entire farms and often require less capital, are easier to start, and maintain than a dairy operation. Other farmers have also begun raising beef cows rather than operating a dairy farm.
“There is a lot of diversity for sure, and that’s a trend around the state,” Mateja stated. She also went on to add that Lamoille County has actually done better than some other counties during the environmental disasters in recent years.
“Other counties have had bad corn yields, but Lamoille County has been staying strong,” Mateja added, “That’s actually leading to more pressure from outside counties like Orleans and Franklin.”
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