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Town predicts slight general budget increase

SWANTON TOWN — Town officials predict a slight increase in Swanton’s general budget, just over two percent including the proposed budgets of Missisquoi Valley Rescue, the Swanton Public Library and Swanton’s recreation commission.

Including those budgets, the town’s general fund budget could increase about 2.16 percent.

The Messenger previously reported on the library board’s attempt to shrink its budget proposal. Many of the library’s leaders came on within the last year. In examining the library’s finances, the board learned the library has drawn from its capital reserve to fund its ongoing operations, a practice the board swiftly realized cannot endure.

So the library board took the obvious step of proposing a budget increase. But the board initially proposed a 50 percent increase, which, though in terms of the amount in question was similar to other libraries of similar scale and programming, seemed an abrupt and hefty burden on Swanton taxpayers.

Neither the town selectboard nor the library board wanted that, so they have been workshopping that budget ever since.

The library board narrowed the proposed budget increase to 22 percent in December, but as of the selectboard’s Jan. 7 meeting had, impressively, narrowed the proposed increase down to about 8.9 percent. And the library’s director, Caleb Rupp, and treasurer, Nicole Gadouas, told the selectboard the library board expects any future budget increase will be smaller than that.

Selectperson Mark Rocheleau praised the library board for shrinking that budget, according to the meeting minutes. Selectperson Joel Clark did the same at the library’s last budget discussion before the selectboard.

The Messenger also reported on Swanton Recreation’s proposed budget increase. The proposed increase is specifically tied to a proposal to turn the Swanton Teen Center, which the old Wayside Furniture building houses, into a Swanton community center.

The proposed $60,000 budget increase for Swanton Rec is not so the recreation commission can buy the property. That’s a separate issue. But the recreation commission says the increase is crucial to staff the community center should town voters decide to move forward with the proposal on Town Meeting Day, and just generally to expand the commission’s never-slowing programming growth — despite the fact the commission has been level-funded for an incredible ten years, a full decade without a budget increase.

Having brought up the issue of purchasing the Wayside, for the record, selectperson Joel Clark noted at a prior selectboard meeting that the $12,000 the town currently appropriates to the teen center could fund the annual debt service on a $100,000 loan over a 10-year period. That way, Clark said, buying the property comes at no extra expense to the Swanton taxpayer.

But Swanton voters will still have to decide whether the town should move forward with the purchase or not. As Clark noted, that’s not a decision the selectboard can make on its own.

The cost of two new fire trucks is at the center of the fire department’s budget increase. Voters approved the purchase of the new trucks at a total cost of about $1.4 million in 2018, with the understanding that residents will pay off the tanker truck in about 12 years and the ladder truck in about 15 years.

Other spikes in the fire department budget also afflicted other municipal office budgets, chiefly an increase in telephone and Internet costs. That’s not exclusive to the fire department budget: both the library and the town offices’ budgets have phone- and Internet-related spikes. In at least the cases of the town offices and the library, those spikes are due to the fact that the town’s prior phone plan no longer exists.

Similarly, the town’s general fund budget includes an increase for computer and software purchases to pay for new computers and to subsequently upgrade those computers to Windows 10, which, for perspective, was released in 2015, as well as to renew the town’s GoDaddy email accounts.

There’s also an increase in election expenses, due to the number of elections in 2020, including the presidential election in November.

The highway department budget, on the other hand, is increasing by just half a percent, about .44 percent, according to the meeting minutes, including $40,000 for the Missisquoi Valley Union sidewalk project, which the Messenger has extensively covered, and $11,000 for the Maquam Shore Road feasibility study, aimed at improving active transportation options along that route.

Clark said the highway department is also bringing its largest fund carryover in a few years, about $57,000, according to the meeting minutes. The board carried a motion to spend $32,000 of the carryover on a new Tenco truck body and to use two percent toward reducing the coming year’s budget. The remainder goes into the contingency fund.

The selectboard both approved and denied several funding requests from outside organizations. The board opted not to include Franklin County Animal Rescue or the Vermont Family Network among this year’s appropriations, but did decide to appropriate an additional $125 to Green Mountain Transit and $1,500 to Northwest Access TV, although NWATV reps requested $2,500.

All these decisions are pending voter approval.

The board also decided to increase the town’s cemetery maintenance budget to $18,000, and to decrease the Swanton Enhancement Project’s budget to $1,500. But that’s because the SEP requested about twice that much last year to fund an ambitious tree-planting project — not the case in the coming year.

This is to serve as some background in reviewing the town budget now that communities’ budgeting process is drawing to a close ahead of Town Meeting Day in March. The Messenger will cover this budget, and others, in more depth as Town Meeting Day approaches.

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Reports note small improvements in Lamoille, Missisquoi watersheds
M Frett / BEN LETOURNEAU/Messenger Staff/  

The Rock River drains into Missisquoi Bay after meandering between Franklin County and Southern Quebec.

ST. ALBANS – The state is reporting reductions in the amount of phosphorus draining into both the Missisquoi Bay and Lamoille River basins last year, according to a pair of interim total maximum daily load (TMDL) progress reports recently issued by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).

According to an interim report for Missisquoi Bay, clean water projects within the bay’s larger watershed managed to reduce annual phosphorus loading by as much as 4,000 kilograms in the 2019 fiscal year, with about a quarter of those reductions attributed to state funding.

In the Lamoille River watershed, clean water projects shrunk annual phosphorus loading into the Lamoille River by 850 kilograms, with the state attributing 300 kilograms of those reductions to state-funded programs.

The two rivers were the first to receive interim reports under the state’s Lake Champlain TMDL agreement, which requires interim reports for each segment of Lake Champlain to assist the Environmental Protection Agency’s reporting and enforcement of the TMDL agreement.

Since the passage of Vermont’s Clean Water Act in 2015, more than $5.3 million in state funding has been spent in the Lamoille River watershed on water quality projects and more than $12 million has been awarded by Vermont agencies to projects within the Missisquoi River Basin.

For the Missisquoi River, identified in the Lake Champlain TMDL agreement as one of the waterways most heavily impacted by decades of unchecked phosphorus runoff, ANR reported almost all of the 4,000 kilograms could be attributed to improvements within the agricultural sector.

Under the Lake Champlain TMDL agreement signed in 2016, agriculture was identified as one of the largest sources of phosphorus draining into Lake Champlain and in particular the Missisquoi River’s watershed, where most of the land was either developed for farms or identified as forested.

Phosphorus, a vital nutrient for plant life and a common component of fertilizers, can also help feed the sometime toxic cyanobacteria blooms otherwise known as “blue-green algae” that can close beaches around the state and threaten aquatic life.

According to the ANR’s interim TMDL report for the Missisquoi River Basin, “progress has been made in each [land use] sector,” with much of the work focused on the agricultural and natural resources sectors that dominate the watershed’s landscape.

Agricultural work in the region remains ongoing, according to the report, with the Agency of Agriculture continuing to work with farms in the area to develop nutrient management plans governing the use of fertilizers and help adopt more conservation-minded agricultural practices required under state statute.

Most of the communities in Franklin County that lie within the Missisquoi River Basin have developed stormwater management plans and are currently working to implement those plans through regulations and recommended treatments.

The report also noted ongoing projects to preserve natural resources for stabilizing the watershed, including the reestablishment of floodplains and the outright removal of a dam in East Highgate.

M Frett / MICHAEL FRETT/Staff Writer  

Two-tier ditches, like the one installed at the Bouchard Family Farm in Franklin, are listed in the Missisquoi Basin’s interim TMDL report as “the most promising approach to reestablishing flood plain” in agricultural areas.

According to the Lake Champlain TMDL, much of the watershed’s tributaries and waterways were “unstable” and threatened by stream bank erosion, where water can whittle away at the edges of a stream or river and wash nutrient-rich sediment downstream.

Overall, while progress in the Missisquoi River watershed seems far from the annual reductions of 88 metric tons in phosphorus required under the TMDL agreement, the state’s interim TMDL report still highlights the annual loss of 4,000 kilograms – or 4 metric tons – achieved in 2019 as progress.

“The narrative of each of the actions describes a community that is well on its way to meeting permit compliance or is actively adopting voluntary practices,” the interim report on the Missisquoi River’s watershed read.

According to the report, funding was not a major hurdle in the watershed, save for matters related to capacity building, something the report suggests could be addressed through the clean water funding bill signed last year that dramatically reformed clean water spending in Vermont and earmarked more state funding for water quality projects.

Most of the projects intended for the Lamoille River Basin, a sprawling watershed spread over some of the most populated communities in Vermont, remain in progress or are ongoing, according to the river’s interim TMDL report.

Only a third of the projects currently listed as in progress within the watershed will likely be completed next year, according to the interim report.

In regards to the Lamoille River Basin, the interim TMDL report suggests most of the projects slated for a relatively quick turnaround can be achieved more easily because they have “received funding, have a strong partner, local support and positive momentum,” with some projects spurred by “a regulatory hook that require they be completed.”

Projects within the Lamoille River Basin that were less likely to see completion within a year often had the necessary support, but, according to the interim TMDL report, many lacked funding or an entity to guarantee their completion.

Longer-term and continuous projects, including the adoption and enforcement of required agricultural practices and the continued acquisition of conservation easements, were listed as “ongoing” within the report.

Around 1151 acres of farmland are now cover cropped within the Lamoille River Basin, according to ANR.

M Frett / MICHAEL FRETT/Staff Writer  

The Lamoille River winds through Milton before emptying into Lake Champlain.

An analysis of progress in the watershed found “no obvious trends” related to land use sector, according to the report. “Overall, progress has been made in each sector,” the report read.

Projects listed as complete within the Lamoille River Watershed included several planning projects completed for the Town of Milton, where the Lamoille drains into Lake Champlain, and flood mitigation and infrastructure projects stretched across most of the river’s 85-mile length.

Within the Lamoille River’s Chittenden County lowlands, towns are continuing to develop stormwater management plans, flow restoration plans and phosphorus control plans for the river and its tributaries.

Most have committed to specific projects outlined in their respective stormwater and phosphorus management plans and to annual upgrades to existing drainage infrastructure.

Among those communities, Colchester has also adopted a municipal stormwater utility for funding clean water projects within the community.

A specific project in the Town of Georgia related to runoff from the town’s more densely developed South Village remains in progress, with the state’s interim TMDL report suggesting final reporting on the project to be due sometime in 2021.

The project in question, relating to a gully carved into the South Village by stormwater runoff from the nearby Route 7 corridor, was heavily detailed in a report developed by the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain with contractors from Stone Environmental last year.

Both interim reports were issued along with the state’s Clean Water Initiative 2019 Performance Report, available online at ANR’s Water Investment Division’s website.

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More than 120 students come out for MVU STEM fair

SWANTON — Even with a snowy Thursday night looking to keep people away, more than 120 students came out to present at the Missisquoi Valley Union (MVU) High School’s annual STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fair to share their research projects with the public.

According to a press release from the school, middle and high school students shared research projects they picked and developed themselves, with winning projects ranging from bacterial growth to the acidity of Swanton’s soils.

A host of volunteer judges, pulled from local businesses, agencies, universities and medical offices, scored students based on their application of science and engineering as described by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – the school’s practice-based science curriculum.

The highest scoring students received cash awards, with the regional STEM Challenge Initiative expected to match those awards during its annual awards night scheduled for April 9.

According to the school, “all of the students that presented their projects that evening did a great job and received positive comments from the judges and the general public on how well they knew their topics and how well they presented them.”

The highest scoring projects now qualify to represent MVU at Vermont’s annual statewide STEM fair scheduled for Norwich University this March, where they will be able to compete for even larger prizes and scholarships to area colleges and universities.

“Many thanks to the MVU science teachers for challenging their students to do some great projects, as well as department leader Jim Daly, who continues to make the STEM fair a focus for the science department,” MVU’s press release concluded. “Thank you to the many local businesses and community organizations that supported the MVU Science Fair efforts.

“Also thanks to the Carol Lizotte and James Cox of the MVU After Hours After School Program, as well as MVU Science Fair Coordinator Rich Ballard for organizing and supporting the student participation in the 2020 STEM Fair.”

For more information on the MVU STEM Fair 2020, please contact Richard Ballard at 868-7311 or richard.ballard@mvsdschools.org.

Go to mvusciencefair.org to see all the results.

Top Winners(tncms-asset)126c9918-3bb2-11ea-b40f-c7bcaafce689[0](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)3b32abee-3bb2-11ea-97df-f317c2b3e74f[1](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)9cfc9c54-3bb2-11ea-a017-d38ca415603a[2](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)d29fde8e-3bb2-11ea-b45c-ff42b5da1486[3](/tncms-asset)


Amelia Partlow, 7th Grade, First Place, How Acidic are Swanton Vermont Soils?

The following are the finalists attending the Vermont State STEM Fair:

Madison Guyette

Maddie Saunders

Emily Wimble

Julia Horton

Serena Power

Elektra LaRocque

Eleanor Maguire

Jackson Porter

Hayzen Luneau

Hannah Whitehead

Aivvary Ross

Miya Reed

The following are the top Middle School Students who will also be attending the Vermont State STEM Fair:

Amelia Partlow

Lily Saveall

Lily Berard

Maggie Rouleau

Julia Tinganelli

Brooke Rainville

Lindsey Gagne

Celina Beauregard

Lily Berard

Alexandra Bourdeau

Allie Daudelin

The following students were awarded Honorable Mention at the MVU STEM Fair:

Keirra McFadden

Bridget Pearl-LeClair

Ellie Gregory

Madison Conley

Eagan Murphy

Abigail Bessette

Abigail Raleigh

Kassie Wilkin

Breezy Parent

Allison Stetson