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Here are 5 things to do in Franklin County this week

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Here are 5 things to do in Franklin County this week


Pop-Up Thrift Shop

When: 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12

Where: Snow Shoe Lodge and Pub, Montgomery 

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Details: Gently used clothes will be sold and the bar will be open for purchasing beverages. Vermont Wood Co. and Spiritful Creations will also be selling their handmade items.  

February Chamber Mixer

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15

Where: Northwest Technical Center, 71 S Main St., St. Albans 

Details: Join the Franklin Regional Chamber of Commerce for a night of networking and socializing. Chef Monette, the culinary instructor at Northwest Career and Technical Center, will be showcasing some of his award-winning creations. 

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Living with Bears

When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15

Where: Zoom Webinar

Details: Learn how to prevent conflicts with black bears and how to protect these creatures’ habitats. VT Fish and Wildlife biologist Jaclyn Comeau will discuss Vermont’s black bear population, their biology and habitat, and specific actions we can all take to prevent conflict. This free event is hosted by the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Wild and Scenic Committee. Register for the event here: http://tinyurl.com/3fw5wda8

Trails Alliance Kick-off

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When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16

Where: Greg Brown Lodge, Hard’Ack Recreation Area, St. Albans 

Details: Free fat tire demo rides, loaner snowshoes, live bluegrass music, action video from Vermont’s own Northeast Kingdom, firepit, food and beverages and a bike rack raffle. All trail users and the public are welcome to join. 

Winter Carnival

When: Feb. 16-17

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Where: Hard’Ack Recreation Area, St. Albans 

Details: Two days of fun for the whole family. Fat bike demos, live music, ice carving demonstration, snack bar, duct tape derby and more. Interested parties can pre-register for the derby at www.stalbansrec.com. 

Looking Ahead:

Puppy Yoga

When: 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18

Where: St. Albans City Hall

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Winter Flea Market

When: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, March 2

Where: Holy Angels Parish Hall, 248 Lake Street, St. Albans

Winter Yoga Series

When: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, 16, 23

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Where: Swanton Public Library





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Gov. Phil Scott signs bill enabling schools to postpone budget votes

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Gov. Phil Scott signs bill enabling schools to postpone budget votes


Gov. Phil Scott has signed a bill that enables school districts to postpone their budget votes past Town Meeting Day and repeals a tax break officials believe is partly to blame for an unprecedented rise in education spending.

Since the outset of the legislative session, one topic has dominated the rest: a predicted 20% rise in property taxes. And while schools face a series of acute inflationary pressures, Democratic lawmakers and the Republican governor alike believe that a temporary tax cap included in a recent retooling of Vermont’s education finance formula unintentionally created the incentive for districts to spend even more this year.

To mitigate the problem, lawmakers have fast-tracked H.850, which repeals that tax break and gives school districts extra time to revise their spending plans for the upcoming year.

Legislators worked at remarkable speed to enact the legislation, which was introduced and passed out of both chambers in just two weeks. Instead of taking the customary five days, Scott, too, worked quickly, signing the bill the day after it was sent to him by lawmakers.

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H.850’s impact

The bill, signed by Scott on Thursday, amends a law passed in 2022 called Act 127, which sought to encourage poorer, more rural, and more diverse districts to spend more on higher-need students. To advance that goal, lawmakers revised the state’s education funding formula, allowing those districts to spend more without seeing a commensurate spike in local tax rates.

The cost of that, however, would be that more affluent districts would experience the opposite effect — seeing tax hikes even if their spending remained the same. To ease those districts that would be disadvantaged by Act 127 into this new framework, the law included a provision that year-over-year homestead property tax rates were capped in the first five years of the law’s implementation.

Officials now believe that the tax cap has fundamentally divorced local education spending from local homestead tax rates, and encouraged all districts to increase their spending. So they’ve repealed it and replaced it with a far more targeted — and less generous — transition mechanism.

And while the impact of the tax cap’s repeal will have disparate impacts on different communities — some will see their tax rates automatically increase, others will decrease — the bill is intended to restore a cause-and-effect relationship between a district’s per-pupil spending and its tax rate. With the cap in place, districts found themselves in a situation where they might add — or subtract — millions from their budgets without seeing any shift in their tax rate.

It’s unknown at this point what kind of impact H.850 will have on the average property tax bill. Legislative fiscal analysts have said that, at this point, there are too many unknowns — chief among them: how many districts will actually decide to amend their budgets downwards in response.

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H.850 gives districts until April 15 to reschedule a new vote, and it also sets $500,000 aside to reimburse them for associated costs. The bill also requires town clerks to mail a new ballot to anyone that’s already requested an absentee ballot, although that falls short of what Scott wanted — a mail-in ballot sent to all registered voters.

A ‘necessary step’

In a letter sent to lawmakers alongside his signature on H.850, Scott on Thursday called the bill a “necessary step,” but warned that it would likely only have a marginal impact. And he scolded lawmakers for repeatedly rejecting the ideas he’d proposed in prior years to reduce education spending.

“Our work in this area has just begun, which is exactly the same thing I said when I signed S.287 of 2022 — the bill that enacted the 5% cap H.850 repeals,” the governor wrote. “… I called on the Legislature to address the cost pressures this bill added — and avoid adding more costs — ‘before this new formula takes effect.’”

“Had the Legislature worked with me to do so, we would all be in a better place today,” he added.

But lawmakers also emphasized that they do not believe their work is done. H.850 itself states that it is only an “initial step” in “transforming the educational system to ensure a high-quality education for all Vermont students, sustainable use of public resources, and appropriate support and expertise from the Agency of Education.”

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And indeed, multiple committees have already begun taking wide-ranging testimony about the cost drivers in Vermont’s pre-K-12 system. On the Senate floor on Wednesday, moments before lawmakers voted to send H.850 off to the governor’s desk, Senate leader Phil Baruth, a Democrat/Progressive from Chittenden-Central, called for a “groundbreaking” reform. The bill his colleagues were poised to approve, he said, was only a “first step.”

“The second step is to think about cost containment,” Baruth said. “And I think that is something we have to approach in a much different way than we have since I’ve been here.”

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Bill proposing changes to hunting and trapping rules spurs passionate testimony

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Bill proposing changes to hunting and trapping rules spurs passionate testimony


Lawmakers in Montpelier are once again considering big changes to the state’s hunting and trapping regulations.

Proposed legislation on the table this session has many hunters and trappers in the state very concerned — though groups that advocate for animal rights say the changes are necessary.

Lawmakers in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee have introduced a bill that would strip the state Fish and Wildlife Board’s authority to write hunting and trapping regulations. That body is mostly made up of people who hunt, fish or trap.

Instead, under the bill, the Department of Fish and Wildlife would write new regulations moving forward.

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Additionally, S. 258 proposes banning hunting coyotes with dogs in Vermont and proposes a ban on baiting coyotes. Additionally, it would require foothold or body-gripping traps for fur bearing wildlife be set more than 50 feet back from any trail, class 4 road or other public area, including when the trap is set under water or ice.

The move comes after lawmakers on the committee that oversees rulemaking — the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules or LCAR — told the Secretary of State this winter that new regulations the Fish and Wildlife Board adopted in 2023 for trapping and hunting coyotes with hounds do not do what they called for in law.

Generally, the Legislature sets the guiding direction for a change in regulation by passing a law, and state agencies draft the change, which comes back to lawmakers for review.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont has new trapping & coyote hunting rules. But some lawmakers want to change how they’re made

And while agencies, or in the case of fish and wildlife regulations, the Fish and Wildlife Board, are not required to change the regulations if LCAR objects to them, the ruling can be a mark against the rules if they are challenged in court.

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And the new regulations on hunting and trapping already have been.

In early January, a coalition of four wildlife advocacy groups in the state — Protect Our Wildlife, Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy and Vermont Wildlife Coalition — filed a lawsuit in Washington County Civil Court, alleging the new don’t do what lawmakers called for in statute.

Democratic lawmakers in the Senate Natural Resources Committee have said publicly they agree — though the Department of Fish and Wildlife stands by the board’s regulations and does not support the changes proposed in the bill.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Herrick told the committee Wednesday his department has issued 36 permits so far for hunting coyotes with hounds in the first ever permitted season on hunting coyotes in the state. The season ends in March.

“I recommend to you that we just implemented this — let’s see if it works the way you desired when you passed the bill,” Herrick said. “We haven’t even given it an opportunity to work.”

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He said the Fish and Wildlife Board has been effective, and that the existing system has served Vermont well. He urged lawmakers not to tear it down because they disagree with parts of a rule, a dispute he points out is being hashed out right now in state courts.

“If the board had proposed rules which addressed the law, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Sen. Mark MacDonald, a Democrat from Orange County. “We’re here today because the laws that were passed were not implemented … the system has failed as currently structured.”

Who gets to decide?

For several years, wildlife advocacy groups have told lawmakers that they feel the Fish and Wildlife Board does not listen to their concerns about animal welfare in designing regulations for hunting, trapping and fishing.

Advocacy groups in the state have called for legislation to specifically require that people who don’t hunt, fish or trap have representation on the Fish and Wildlife Board — and this bill would do that.

Bob Galvin with Animal Wellness Action accused members of the Fish and Wildlife Board of calling wildlife advocates “bunny huggers” at a board meeting during the last year.

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“I support hunters, trappers and anglers being on the board and having a seat at the table,” said Galvin. “And I want to see other folks like non-consumptive birdwatchers, hikers, scientists and other Vermonters who have spent considerable time in the field studying and understanding wildlife to also be involved in the conversation.”

“Non-consumptive” is a phrase hunters and trappers told lawmakers they take deep offense to, saying the language is “othering.” And they point out that some of the groups advocating for S.258have called publiclyfor a ban on trapping in the state.

Commissioner Herrick, with Vermont Fish and Wildlife, disputed the notion that organizations like the Vermont Wildlife Coalition haven’t had a voice. He said animal welfare groups were invited to participate in the working group that recommended the regulations the Fish and Wildlife Board approved — though groups including Protect Our Wildlife have been critical of that process.

“We’re not always going to agree, but I think it’s a mischaracterization to say that the department and the [Fish and Wildlife] Board do not hear from the public,” Herrick said. “The public is well represented. There’s a public comment period.”

Right now, the 14-person board is appointed by the governor, with members confirmed by the Senate.

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The new bill proposes the board be appointed by the Legislature and by the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, and it requires that the board include people who don’t hunt, trap or fish.

As proposed, the board would give feedback to the department about all rules and regulations, rather than just those pertaining to hunting, fishing and trapping as it does now — which the department could choose to incorporate or to ignore. Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says this change will overly complicate the way they manage wildlife.

And while animal welfare groups in the state say scientists at the department should make decisions about hunting, trapping and fishing, others say the current system puts hunters, trappers and anglers at the table in a way that generates effective regulations.

Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs says there is no justifiable reason for what he says is a “radical” change to how hunting, trapping and fishing are regulated in the state.

“Currently, the governor appoints these individuals based on their reputation, knowledge and experience of Vermont’s outdoors,” he said. “And yes, these historically have been ‘consumptive’ users. Under S.258, that board will be replaced by a politically driven board.”

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Bradley did acknowledge gubernatorial appointees are also political — but he and others said they were more comfortable with the existing process.

Heated testimony

Lawmakers are taking testimony all week, and on Tuesday heard passionate appeals from both hunters and trappers and organizations that oppose trapping and hunting coyotes with hounds in the state.

Brenna Galdenzi with Protect Our Wildlife said her group strongly supports the bill, and called hunting coyotes with dogs “a public safety concern.”

“This isn’t the Vermont, again, for better or worse, of the 1950s,” Galdenzi said. “Vermont is more populated, with more people recreating on public lands … there’s going to be continued conflicts with the public.”

She said this bill will make decisions about managing Vermont’s animal species more scientific and more inclusive.

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Sarah Gorsline with Project Coyote, which advocates for an end to Vermont’s open season on coyotes, said her group fully supports a ban on hunting coyotes with hounds. She said remaining apex predators are critical in the Northeast, where wolves and mountain lions have largely been extirpated.

“When personal traditions affect the larger community and public safety, then I would ask, how are those traditions going to adapt to new understandings provided by science, to living together with other community members in Vermont?” Gorsline asked lawmakers.

Mike Covey, a lobbyist for the Vermont Traditions Coalition who said he hunts coyotes with hounds and traps, said his group strongly opposes the bill. He said dog owners should be responsible for keeping their pets out of traps — and that Vermont should consider enforcing leash laws more strictly.

“Hunters, anglers and trappers are all wildlife advocates,” he said. “We’ve spent the better part of the century caring for, caretaking, stewarding and funding the sound management of wildlife throughout the country. And to suddenly be targeted as disposable in so many ways, that’s very off putting.”

Covey said anglers, trappers and hunters don’t feel heard and that there’s growing distrust in how regulations are written in the state, and trappers and hound hunters feel these changes whittle away at their ability to practice traditions that have been passed down in their families for generations.

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Former state Sen. John Rogers of West Glover said Tuesday he vehemently opposes the bill, and that as a farmer who has lost livestock to coyotes, he supports the ability to hunt coyotes all year.

Rogers said he believes changing the makeup of the Fish and Wildlife Board would make it easier for people who oppose trapping to eliminate it — and he said most hunters and trappers don’t have the time to spend advocating for their traditions before lawmakers. He said he’s seen animal rights activists have referred to hunters as “knuckle-draggers” on social media.

“These people do not have the time to spend in the Statehouse lobbying for their rights. They do not have the money to hire expensive lawyers,” he said.

The advocacy organizations that testified Tuesday in support of the bill pointed out that they also have hunters in their membership and say they support the right to hunt in Vermont.

Amendment Wednesday

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In an amendment Wednesday, lawmakers updated the language in the bill to eliminate the terms “non-consumptive and consumptive users.”

And they said they plan to look closely at whether any proposed changes to how regulations about Fish and Wildlife are written might disproportionately impact people from a particular socioeconomic background.

Testimony continues through the week, and lawmakers are scheduled to hear from a range of people Thursday, including those who hunt coyote with hounds and those who oppose it, as well as others concerned with the governance changes the bill proposes.

A list of testimony can be found here, and those who wish to testify can reach out to the committee directly.

Sen. Becca White, a Democrat from Windsor County who sponsored S. 258, called early in the week for respectful discourse about the issue, saying members of the committee have in the past received threats when debate over climate and environmental policy gets heated.

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“One of the problems I’m already sensing with this legislation is that this is a very broad conversation about the identity of Vermont,” White said.

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Williston VT gets another hotel, and as it turns out there’s probably a demand for it

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Williston VT gets another hotel, and as it turns out there’s probably a demand for it


WILLISTON ― Williston is getting another hotel, on Market Street behind L.L. Bean. Construction is in the early phases on what will be a Townplace Suites by Marriott, set up for extended stay with kitchenettes. If you’re wondering why we need another hotel, Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Matt Boulanger has some insights.

“There is quite a bit of demand (for hotels),” Boulanger said. “We’ve seen a couple of different things driving that. Some existing hotels have converted to temporary shelters, even around here. That’s part of it. There’s also some aging hotel stock.”

Aging hotels can start running into trouble filling their rooms, Boulanger explained. As an example, he cited the Sonesta Extended Stay Suites in Williston, where Boulanger discovered an entire block of suites is listed on the Airbnb site.

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“It’s not getting booked as a conventional hotel, so they’re looking for other options,” Boulanger said.

Sometimes a hotel gets purchased by Champlain Housing Trust and turned into apartments. That happened to a hotel on Zephyr Road in Williston. Now room opens up for another hotel because that one is gone.

Then there’s the housing crunch and the lack of workforce housing.

What else is driving the demand for new hotels in Chittenden County?

Boulanger pointed out that both the Townplaces Suites now being built and the nearby Hilton Home2 Suites are extended stay with kitchenettes.

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“It’s seeming like it’s taking longer for people when they’re between homes to get into the home they’re buying,” Boulanger said. “Some of that logjam shows up as not a lot of houses available to buy, but also the amount of time transactions take.”

So if you find yourself between homes with nowhere to go, or you found a house and it’s taking forever to close the deal, extended stay hotels come in handy. Now, let’s turn to that workforce housing problem.

“Some of the hotels in Williston, you’ll notice on Tuesday afternoon a lot of white vans and trucks with Texas plates or other out-of-state plates,” Boulanger said. “Clearly work vehicles.”

And let’s not forget good old tourism, which does still happen in Vermont.

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“I think all those things together are driving some of this demand,” Boulanger said.

The Project

Project Cost: $4 million.

Developer: Redstone, Burlington

Contractor: Opechee Construction, Belmont, New Hampshire

Architect: In-house at Opechee

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Engineer: Snyder Group, Shelburne

Address: 281 Holland Lane, Williston

Progress:

  • The first-floor steel and wall sections are partly constructed.

Features:

  • 115 extended stay rooms with kitchenettes in a four-story hotel totaling 59,034 square feet, Townplace Suites by Marriott.

What’s in the neighborhood:

  • Everything from Chili’s to REI.

Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or ddambrosi@gannett.com. Follow him on X @DanDambrosioVT.



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