Spring has arrive with the sounds of many different birds to greet us on this serene Saturday morning.
- Grand Isle County Stronger Together -
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Towns, schools, businesses and public safety agencies in the Champlain Islands – like all of Vermont and the nation – are bracing on how to best deal locally in the wake of the growing outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
During these unprecedented times Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has ordered schools closed by Tuesday afternoon and children will remain at home until at least Monday April 6 – and most likely longer.
It remains unclear how children will meet their mandatory school days, or what normal class learning can be done at home during this ever-changing worldwide medical crisis. More will be known in the coming days and weeks.
As of noon Monday, Vermont had 12 confirmed cases for COVID-19 – eight are Vermonters and four are non-Vermonters.
Out of the four newest cases, two are from Chittenden County. Both were in their 30s, one is a woman and one is a man, the Vermont Health Department said.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s Health Commissioner, said 415 tests have been conducted statewide.
Levine also noted the confirmed cases show the virus was spread through community contact and not by distant travel.
Scott also is seeking to limit gatherings to 50 people or less. That could have impacts on some government meetings, various public events, Church services, including weddings and funerals.
North Hero officials were due to discuss the continuity of operations in light of COVID-19 on Monday evening at its Selectboard meeting, according to one of its members, Ben Joseph.
Additional extraordinary emergency steps are foreseeable as Vermont tries to meet the challenges.
Numerous public events across the Champlain Islands are being postponed indefinitely. Others have been cancelled completely.
Federal, state and local officials say it is important for residents to following the directives designed to keep people safe and to keep informed on the once-in-a-lifetime medical issue.
In an effort to keep the Grand Isle County region up to date, The Islander has created a special website designed to provide information and assistance needed, according to Owner/Publisher Tonya Poutry.
The “COVID-19 Resources for Grand Isle County” website can be accessed through The Islander’s regular website, she said.
Besides a link for COVID 19 local information, the site has separate links on how to get local assistance and also how to give help to your neighbors in need.
Meanwhile local businesses, including those that supply essentials like food, are trying to make adjustments to help the community.
Keeler Bay Variety in South Hero has begun a free delivery service to area homes and will offer curb service for those that prefer not to leave their car in the parking lot.
The deliveries are available in South Hero, Grand Isle and North Hero to start, according to Wendy Horne, one of the owners.
She said the extra services are just starting and could be expanded going forward depending on what the store hears from customers.
“We are still going strong,” she said.
While they had run out of some items by Monday, a delivery truck from the store’s wholesaler was due to arrive Tuesday, Horne said.
Mandy Hotchkiss, co-owner of the Blue Paddle Bistro, said the South Hero restaurant has begun delivery service of meals to area towns. The plan is to offer it in South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero and to go over the causeway into the West Milton/Colchester area.
The popular eatery also is encouraging takeout as an option, she said.
Walter Blasburg, owner of the North Hero House, said Monday that the restaurant and inn would close down temporarily and monitor the situation.
“We just made that decision,” he said Monday afternoon. “The number of reservations has dropped off and with cancellations. People are really nervous and the staff is really nervous.”
Blasburg said the business would evaluate the situation at the end of the month. He said North Hero House has about a dozen employees currently and expands to 50 during the summer.
He said the staff has been taking extra precautions, including extensive use of sanity wipes. He said he believed it was a matter of time before businesses would be asked to shut down.
“We are trying to get out in front of it,” Blasburg said.
Criminal justice personnel also are taking steps to keep both officers and public safe during interactions.
Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen said staff members have been issued gloves and masks and have been encouraged to try to limit exposure to groups.
Allen said he is limiting access by the general public to the department facility in Grand Isle.
“We will come out to them in the parking lot,” Allen said.
He said sheriff’s deputies will continue to respond to serious complaints. He said in some cases – like a late reported car accident – will likely be handled by phone.
“In life threatening incidents we will still be responding,” Allen said.
Allen said he will continue to keep the community updated and plans to link to The Islander website for COVID-19 resources.
Vermont State Police said it is taking similar steps.
State Troopers will physically respond to major case investigations such as homicide, and to calls regarding crimes in progress, motor vehicle crashes with injuries, missing persons cases and domestic assault, as a few examples, department spokesman Adam Silverman said.
“As needed, troopers may take precautions such as social distancing, consulting with medical first responders, and using personal protective equipment,” he said.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said he was on a conference call Sunday night with his colleagues from 13 other Vermont counties to talk about how to best proceed.
DiSabito said he filed an emergency motion Monday in Vermont Superior Court seeking to appear by phone for upcoming hearings.
He noted that President Trump issued a national emergency order and Gov. Scott issued a state order a few hours later in an effort to avoid Vermont hospitals from becoming swamped.
DiSabito said there was a plan to move one hearing to St. Albans because it has a larger courtroom, but he said that is now meaningless due to the ever-changing landscape of the virus.
He said he has locked his office in an effort to protect his staff. He said he is reviewing cases by email and filing documents electronically.
Many non-profits and social service agencies are trying to keep operations going.
Among them is Spectrum Youth and Family Services, which works with homeless and at-risk youth serves – and serves Grand Isle County.
“Spectrum is open,” Executive Director Mark Redmond said in a news release.
“The reality is that our youth need us and you more than ever at this moment. We have to be there for them.”
CIDER canceled it Monday Neighbor’s St Patrick’s Day lunch as well as community meals for the near term.
CIDER will provide only home delivery. To arrange a home delivered meal, call the office at 372-6425.
The plan is to continue rides for critical care medical transportation only. Van excursions, group shopping trips, Living Strong exercise and Tai Chi classes are postponed until further notice.
Gov. Scott Orders Orderly Closure of Vermont preK-12 Schools This Week
Districts Tasked with Continuity of Education and Service Plans
Montpelier, Vt. – In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Phil Scott has announced a Continuity of Education Plan for the orderly dismissal of all schools, and cancellation of all school related activities, no later than Wednesday, March 18. This directive, which will be distributed to schools later today, will last through April 6 -- but may very well be extended for a longer period.
Governor Scott’s directive will task local districts with three key components to support the State response:
No student is required to be in school Monday or Tuesday, if their parents or guardians would prefer to keep them home.
Education professionals should report to work as scheduled to assist in these efforts during this period of school dismissal. Districts are directed to follow workplace hygiene guidance issued by the Vermont Department of Health.
“This decision is based on the best scientific evidence available to the experts at the Vermont Department of Health,” said Dr. Mark Levine. “Closing schools at the end of the day Tuesday is another important step to help keep us ahead of the curve, in terms of preventing and reducing spread of COVID-19.”
“The orderly dismissal of schools is essential to support both the State’s response to COVID-19 and the needs of children and families across Vermont,” Governor Scott said. “We must ensure children are safe, nourished, and still learning even as the traditional structure of school is disrupted. The work of educators will be essential in this effort.”
Governor Scott continued: “This is a moment of service for all of us. I know that educators across Vermont will do their part to support students and families. I’ve asked the Agency of Education to work with superintendents and local districts to ensure every child continues to receive the services they need from their schools, as well as assignments to take home to continue their academic studies.”
Governor Scott said that, while he hoped schools would only need to be closed through April 6, it is possible they will be closed for a longer period and families and businesses should prepare for this possibility.
MORE ON CONTINUITY OF EDUCATION AND SERVICE PLANS
Governor Scott said, to prepare for the potential for an extended dismissal, each district must have a Continuity of Education Plan that includes:
School districts that have Continuity of Education Plans in place that meet these directives may elect to close before Wednesday. All schools should be closed for instruction at the end of the school day on Tuesday.
Under the Governor’s directive, schools will remain operational for administrators, teachers and staff to sustain essential services and to plan and implement continuity of education through remote learning. The Vermont Department of Health has provided “social distancing” guidance that districts should use to ensure a healthy workplace.
Governor Scott also added that the State understands there will be many unique challenges around specific students or specific programs, and that every district is going to have a different localized approach.
“We need local government – and especially our schools and educators – to lend their capable hands and their enormous hearts in this effort. It is very important to the overall response.”
The Champlain Islands Unified Union School District budget of $8,335,174.46 passed: Yes 800 -- No 550 .
NORTH HERO - All articles on the town ballot passed and there were no contested races. See full results below.
ALBURGH - The 2020-2021 School Budget article was the only item defeated by voters, with 334 votes cast No, to 268 Yes. Incumbent Donna Bohannon defeated Linda Gotshall for both the Town Clerk and Town Treasurer position. In the contested Constable race, Ariel Brace took the top spot with 271 votes to challenger George McGrath's 167 and write in candidate Jerid Creller - 160.
Stacey Gould and Whitney Maxham who were both listed under the two year term for School Director has both been elected. Gould for 2 year term and Maxham for a 3 year term. Maxham won the term as a write-in candidate to fill both of the spots. Below are the complete results.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Reporter
SOUTH HERO – Road paving and public safety issues were among the key topics discussed during the informational portion of the annual South Hero Town Meeting on Saturday.
Selectboard Chairman Jonathan Shaw told residents that the proposed annual $675,830 highway budget includes $150,000 to help South Hero with overdue resurfacing of paved roads. He said it is time to put a second coat on several roads.
‘We need to start catching up,” Shaw said.
Shaw also explained there is a separate $150,000 special ballot item to see if voters want to pave a portion of the remaining dirt roads in South Hero.
Voters also will consider a proposed $1,206,461 annual municipal budget, which needs $852,105 generated in local taxes. Shaw said the Selectboard tried to keep the budget as low as possible. He said there are some extraordinary legal costs, one due to an appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court and the other for a case pending in Superior Court.
The highway and general municipal budgets, along with seven special ballot items and a slate of uncontested races will all be considered on Tuesday. Voting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the South Hero Town Offices on U.S. 2.
On the school portion of the ballot, the South Hero School Board is seeking approval of a proposed $3,904,721 budget during the day-long balloting on Tuesday.
Besides filling five school positions, including four on the board, voters will be asked whether any unencumbered funds from the current budget should be placed in a reserve fund for future capital improvements to the Folsom School.
During the Saturday meeting, voters took care of a few minor town and school housekeeping issues. They included allowing residents to pay taxes in three installments during the year, or permitting a 3 percent discount for those that pay the full bill by Sept. 30.
Voters also agreed that any town surplus at the end of the current fiscal year will be used to reduce taxes for the next fiscal year.
Residents were told about a special ballot item that would allow the town to hire Emergency Medical Technician assistance to provide daytime coverage when South Hero Rescue is short-staffed. The Selectboard has proposed spending up to $55,000 for the staffing.
Under questioning, Shaw explained it would be up to the Selectboard to do the hiring and that anybody hired would be a town employee with the usual municipal benefits. He said the job description is still being drafted.
The Selectboard also was asked if it was possible to get South Hero Volunteer Fire Department and South Hero Rescue, which are independent agencies from the town, to provide their respective annual budgets for future South Hero town reports.
Both public safety agencies moved into a new town-owned public safety building on U.S. 2 in June 2018. The project included a $1.3 million bond vote approved by residents.
Shaw said the board could make the same offer it provides the Worthen Library Board.
Volunteer Fire Chief Kim Julow said she was more than willing to share the budget in the town report.
Nobody spoke on behalf of South Hero Rescue about sharing its annual income and expenses.
One fire department question centered on spending $62,000 for equipment with no explanation. Julow said a large portion was for 10 new breathing devices for firefighters.
Shaw also told residents that Milton Rescue is now the official back-up ambulance for South Hero Rescue. He said Grand Isle Rescue is facing the same staffing shortage and due to the volume of calls has begged off serving as backup to South Hero.
Selectboard member Ann Zolotas, who is a member of South Hero Rescue, said volunteerism is a problem not only in Grand Isle County, but across the state and nation.
Residents of the town can volunteer their services for non-ambulance help. Volunteers are needed to stuff envelopes for fund raising, duties within the rescue squad building. People not interested in serving as one of the two medical personnel needed for each call, can volunteer to drive the ambulance, Zolotas said.
She noted there was a call for a car rollover about 7:15 a.m. Saturday and she was the only person to respond from South Hero. She said Milton had to be dispatched because South Hero did not have two certified responders.
“The old days are gone. We are in a new era,” she said.
She said more people are working off the islands and that is putting more pressure on those that remain behind to become involved.
One resident suggested that perhaps it was time to consider several towns joining forces. He noted that several towns near Shrewsbury in Rutland County worked together to overcome a shortage of staffing.
Shaw also told voters the town is seeking $40,000 to repair the town garage floor and the apron in front of the doors for the trucks to park on. That will allow them to be washed and cleaned before being put away, Shaw said.
Chair Melanie Henderson said the school budget includes salary increases that are part of an effort to remove South Hero teachers from being the lowest paid educators in northwest Vermont.
She said by raising the baseline, South Hero will be able to attract and retain good teachers.
Henderson said South Hero has roughly 130 students.
The school portion of the meeting took less than an hour and several questions centered on funding for special education, both at the town level and the supervisory union district.
At the end of the school discussion School Board member Bentley Vaughan presented a plant to Henderson as the outgoing Chair. Vaughan and School Director Tim Maxham, who also is the moderator, noted Henderson was active in education before joining the school board. They noted she helped write the Act 46 report that allowed South Hero to remain a single school district and not be forced to join another district against its will. She also served on the supervisory board.
At the end of the town discussion, Shaw presented retiring Selectboard member Sharon Roy with flowers. He noted after serving as the longtime town clerk and town treasurer, she jumped into retirement by running for the Selectboard two years ago.
The town also paid tribute to Dr. David Hobbs, who had the annual town report dedicated to him. Besides serving as the doctor for many of the residents for about 38 years, Hobbs was a longtime town volunteer even in retirement. It included as chair of the recreation committee.
Just before the final adjournment, Doug Patterson of the South Hero Planning Commission briefly mentioned new zoning bylaws that are designed to establish two village districts for growth in the town.
The proposal will be discussed at the Selectboard Meeting on March 9. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., but the zoning bylaws are expected to be toward the end.
The idea is to focus growth in two areas and allow the remainder of the town to keep its rural nature, he said. One growth area is on U.S. 2 near South Street, which is considered the village area. The other is further north along U.S. 2 in the Keeler Bay section of town, he said.
By MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – A Winooski Police officer pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero on Thursday to multiple counts of domestic assault, criminal threatening and unlawful restraint in connection with a series of attacks on his girlfriend at his Alburgh home.
Detective Christopher Matott, 31, was assigned to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Task Force until earlier this month when his employer, the city of Winooski, placed him on paid leave pending further investigation.
State police said the incidents reported by the victim about Matott involved a series of claims. They include physical assaults that involved strangling, being restrained by force, receiving repeated threats of death and violence and being prevented from leaving a room or residence, Detective Lt. Jason Letourneau said.
Veteran defense lawyer Robert Katims entered the not guilty pleas on behalf of his client during a brief court hearing.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said he was willing to allow Matott to be released on conditions including that he has no contact with or harass the victim.
Matott also is prohibited from possession any deadly weapon or any alcoholic beverages. He was told to “follow all family court orders” and to report to the State Police barracks in St. Albans to be fingerprinted and photographed.
Matott was charged with one count of felony unlawful restraint, three counts of domestic assault, two counts of criminal threatening all in Grand Isle County and one felony count of aggravated domestic assault in Chittenden County, Letourneau said.
The victim, who is 29, maintains the reported assaults took place at least four times between July 2019 and January 2020 at a home in Alburgh, court records say. The one felony count in Grand Isle County is for unlawful restraint on Dec. 15, 2019, records show.
State police worked closely with DiSabito during the investigation. DiSabito has asked to incorporate the one Chittenden County charge into his prosecution to keep the cases together. Katims said he would like time to consider the request.
Judge Sam Hoar Jr. said he would also check with the court in Burlington on possible consolidation.
The investigation began after the Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department served an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) on Matott, State Police Spokesman Adam Silverman said. The Sheriff’s Department requested state police investigate the assault allegations.
Meanwhile officers from State Police and Winooski Police accompanied Matott to his residence to impound eight shotguns, rifles and handguns as the investigation began to unfold, officials said.
Matott, originally from Rouses Point, N.Y., has served with Winooski Police since July 12, 2017. He had worked for South Burlington Police from 2014 until moving to WPD. After working in the patrol division for about two years, Matott was assigned to the federal drug task force last fall, Winooski Police said.
Judge Hoar set the next court hearing for March 26.