CO-OP MEMBERS APPROVE MERGER WITH DFA

Members of the St. Albans Co-op meet at the American Legion on Monday morning just before shutting the doors to the public to discuss and vote on a merger with DFA. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

ST. ALBANS: About two hundred people attended the St. Albans Co-operative meeting this morning, held at the American Legion in St. Albans. Top on the agenda and at the forefront of most farmers’ minds was the proposed merger with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).

The members in attendance were asked to approve the merger but had to vote in a 2/3 majority in order for the merger to go through.

The County Courier confirmed with farmers leaving the vote that the merger had indeed gone through, although specifics had yet to be released publicly. A press conference is scheduled for 4 pm this afternoon.

According to a farmer we spoke with, the vote was overwhelmingly in support of the merger. With 99 farms approving of the merger and nine voting against it, the vote passed with 92% backing the Board’s merger plan.

The vote took place behind closed doors, barring the County Courier and numerous other media outlets from access to the meeting, discussion, and vote.

The results were announced to members at the meeting at around 1 pm Monday.

Check back here as well as our weekly print edition for more coverage of the vote.

The County Courier was the first news agency to publish the news on Monday afternoon.

The proposed merger was announced early last month after the St. Albans Co-op Board voted unanimously to advance the proposal to their entire membership.

CHCC TEACHER IS FINALIST IN $1 MILLION GRANT CONTEST

Editor’s note: This news brief originally ran in the July 18th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to our print edition to keep up with all our news, even the news that doesn’t make our website. Visit mkt.com/courier

ENOSBURG FALLS: As a way to promote their brand, Harbor Freight Tools, is running a grant for high school skilled trades programs, and Baxter Weed, the Automotive Technology teacher at Cold Hollow Career Center in Enosburg is among the 50 finalists for the award.

There were almost 750 contestants in the initial round, according to the organizers of the grant, which include automotive as well as construction, welding, manufacturing, and agriculture mechanics.

The $1 million will be split between the winners, with the top place finisher picking up $70,000 for their school, and $30,000 for themselves to help continue their work. Second place winners will receive $35,000 for their school and $15,000 for themselves.

Weed is among 50 finalists who have advanced to the next round of judging where they will be asked to respond to online expert led video learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The contenders will be asked how ideas from the modules might be used to inspire students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades.

Now in its third year, past winners of the competition have dedicated their winnings to modernizing their shops, investing in specialized tools, promoting their programs to families and purchasing equipment to prepare students for higher level accreditations. Semifinalists whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire prize will be awarded to the school, according to organizers.

POLICE SEEK SUSPECTED BURGLAR

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

GEORGIA: The Franklin County Sheriff Office needs your help finding a suspect in a burglary in Georgia yesterday, less than 24 hours after he was arrested and released by Vermont State Police.

The incident happened just after 5pm at a home on Mill River Road. Nobody was at the home when the burglary took place.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, Miles Lawler was seen on a Ring doorbell moments before he burglarized the Mill River Road home.

The Sheriff’s Department says he stole two young, 5 1/2 week old Pitbull Puppies during the burglary.

Lawler was arrested the previous day, Monday, after he was reported to be the assailant in an incident near Toure 7 in the town of Georgia.

According to Trooper Nicholas Olsen of the Vermont State Police, the alleged victim, in that case, reported that Lawler had left the scene, driving north on Route 7.

Miles Lawler appears in a mugshot less than 24 hours before police believe he was involved in a burglary in Georgia.

He was later located at Mobil North in St. Albans, intoxicated- a violation of conditions of release in an unrelated case.

The Trooper issued him a citation to appear in Criminal Court in Franklin County on Tuesday to answer to the charge of violating conditions of release. It is unclear if he was released on additional conditions or if he failed to show up to court.

A man called the County Courier about an hour after this story was first published online, identifying himself as Lawler, making threats in an attempt to get this news story removed.

The man claimed he had already talked to police, who told him the story would be removed, but when asked the name of the Deputy he spoke with, he became very belligerent and hung up the phone.

After calling the number back, a woman who would only identify herself as Sasha refused to say where Lawler was but said she had just dropped him off at a store after he asked to use her phone.

If you have any information, you are asked to contact the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department at 524-2121.

© County Courier 2019

ENOSBURGH/RICHFORD VOTERS TO DECIDE ON MERGED BUDGET, ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct a mistake regarding the difference in the change of the tax rate compared to last year .

The newly formed Enosburgh-Richford Unified Union School District will be presenting their budget to voters on Wednesday, June 26th. Polls open at 10 am and close at 7 pm.

A product of a forced merger by the State Board of Education, the two town’s school districts merge on July 1, 2019. 

Coming in at $17.6 million, the budget is an increase of a little more than a half a million over last year’s combined budget for the two districts separately. That represents an increase of almost 3%.

The tax rate for schools, if the budget passes, will increase for Richford but decrease for Enosburg, according to a handout produced by the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union.

Taking into account each town’s common level of appraisal, the tax rate for Enosburg is expected to come in at $1.249, while Richford’s tax rate will come in at $1.1931.

ERU-FY20-Budget-Packet

Richford’s tax rate increases slightly, by about 0.11% over last year’s school taxes, according to FNESU’s finance department. Enosburgh taxpayers will see a decrease in their taxes of 6.46%.

“We have worked hard to present a fiscally responsible budget that supports educational opportunities and success. We welcome community members to join us at the scheduled informational meetings to gain clarity or to resolve any concerns or questions you may have,” Chair of the board Polly Rico wrote to voters.

Driving the increase, according to Rico, is an increase in healthcare costs of about 10%, and an increase in salaries of 3%. 

Out of the entire budget, only about 55% goes directly to instructional costs, according to FNESU. The remainder goes to debt services (3%), Transportation (2%), building costs (11%), FNESU (11%), School Administration (8%), school board expenses (<1%), instructional support (4%), and student support (6%).

Per equalized pupil, which accounts for high schoolers costing less than elementary schoolers, and special education students costing more, the new district is slated to spend about $13,895 for each student.

Compare that to other districts in the area and the spending is lower than most, except for Fairfax, who spends about $13,096 per equalized pupil.

Maple Run Unified School District spends about $15,777. Alburgh spends the most, cashing in a $17,664.

Voters will also be asked to decide on amending the articles of agreement between the two schools, including wording that specifies the district will operate as a pre-K to 12 district. It also includes an article which is more stringent for the closing of a school, the addition of two more board members, and the length of term for each board member.

ERUUSD-Proposed-Articles-Changes

You can attend one of the informational meetings scheduled on the topic. The first one is planned for June 24th, at the Richford High School Gym, starting at 7 pm. A second informational meeting is planned for June 25th at the Enosburg Falls High School Auditorium. That also begins at 7 pm.

JUDGE SIDES WITH STATE IN ACT 46 CASE

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

ST. ALBANS: A ruling filed late Tuesday afternoon by Judge Robert Mello in Franklin County Civil Court finds in favor of the Agency of Education, who argued that Act 46 should be upheld and the Plaintiffs will not be awarded anything for their efforts.

Many local schools and Selectboards were involved in the lawsuit, including the Richford, Montgomery, Sheldon, Franklin, Highgate, and Swanton School Boards.

Another portion of the case continues to be litigated at the appellate level through the Vermont Supreme Court.

The case was one of the last-ditch efforts for opponents of Vermont’s forced school consolidation law to block it from taking effect. Mellow’s ruling comes less than two weeks before the forced mergers take effect, July 1, 2019.

Among other arguments, the Plaintiffs’ viewed Act 46’s method for handling small schools grants unconstitutional under Chapter I, Article 7.

You can read the entire 54 page ruling obtained by the County Courier here:

33-1-19-Frcv-Athens-v

© County Courier, 2019

SEX OFFENDER FAILS TO REGISTER, POLICE SAY

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to the print edition to stay up to date with what’s going on in your community.

36-year-old Jonathan Johnson of Richford was charged this week with failing to register with the Sex Offender Registry.

According to court filings, Johnson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault with a minor under 16 in 2005, at that time Johnson was 22 years of age.

According to public records, Johnson was released from prison in March of 2013, at which point he was required to file with the Sex Offender Registry. That filing also requires that if Johnson moves, he is to notify the registry within three days of doing so.

Vermont State Police was doing a sweep of Sex Offenders in April to check on their compliance when they went to Johnson’s East Richford Slide Road address; they found he had moved out sometime in the past month, according to a neighbor.

The Troopers continued to look for Johnson, calling him on his phone and searching databases for his last known address.

Unable to find Johnson, a warrant was issued for his arrest, for the next time police came across the man.

Johnson was picked up Sunday evening and held on the arrest warrant.

Johnson was released the next day at his arraignment after signing conditions of release.

If convicted for failing to comply with the Sex Offender Registry, he could see a misdemeanor charge added to his record, as well as up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

ALTERCATION IN MOVING CAR LEADS TO DOMESTIC ASSAULT CHARGE

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to the print edition to stay up to date with what’s going on in your community.

St. Albans Police investigated an incident last Saturday in which a Milton man was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and holding her in his vehicle without her consent.

According to court filings, Joshua Billado, 25, of Milton was driving with his ex-girlfriend in his 2013 Dodge Dart when they began arguing. 

The woman tried to exit the moving vehicle, but Billado stopped her, escalating the fight even more. The incident progressed and at one point the woman punched the center console of the vehicle, breaking a display for the radio, according to testimony given to police.

The woman told police that Billado choked her, and stopped her breathing for at least five seconds during the fight.

Billado left marks on the woman’s neck and shoulder area, insinuating that her allegations of Billado choking her could be true. 

The man, who listed his employer as the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, was arrested and held on $10,000 bail, which he posted later Sunday afternoon.

Billado was arraigned Monday afternoon, where he was charged with aggravated domestic assault as well as unlawful restraint in the first degree. Both charges are felonies and could land the man in prison for up to 30 years and fines totaling $75,000.

RICHFORD MAN PICKS UP 4TH DUI

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to the print edition to stay up to date with what’s going on in your community.

A Border Patrol Agent was patrolling the area of the East Richford Slide Road around noon time on April 29th when he came across Larry Minor, who had stopped on the side of the road after noticing the border patrol agent behind him.

The two began chatting, and the man provided the agent with a non-driver’s photo ID.

The Agent also noticed that he had slurred speech, stumbled a little when he tried to walk, and smelled of alcohol, so he contacted the Vermont State Police.

Troopers responded and questioned Minor, who told police he had taken his wife’s vehicle just up the road to a cemetery.

According to court filings obtained by the County Courier after Minor’s arraignment on Monday, when the Trooper ultimately was able to test the man’s breath for alcohol, it registered 0.091%, which is just over the legal limit for driving in Vermont of 0.08%. That reading was also more than four and a half hours after the border patrol agent first began talking with Minor.

ST. ALBANS MAN FORGED 15 CHECKS

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to the print edition to stay up to date with what’s going on in your community.

Vermont State Police arrested Logan Pratt, 30, of St. Albans and charged him with three felony counts of forgery after his grandmother contacted police suspecting him of stealing checks from her home.

When police contacted the elderly woman, she told them that she suspected he stole 8-10 checks from her while he was staying with her at her Georgia home.

The investigation led police to discover 15 checks, ranging from $60 to $200, written to himself or two other family members- Julie and Jacob Pratt.

Police obtained video footage from the bank where the checks were cashed, linking them to Logan Pratt.

In all, the 15 checks totaled $1,690, which was credited back to the grandmother’s account by the bank, according to police.

Pratt, who was out of jail on parole was held on a furlough violation after his arraignment on Monday. It is unclear if Julie or Jacob Pratt will face criminal charges for their involvement in the check fraud.

Pratt has previously been convicted of burglary, grand larceny, and possession of narcotics. The sentences for those convictions max out in March of 2020.

Each felony count of forgery could land Pratt in jail for up to 10 years and a fine of up to $1,000.

MAN LEADS POLICE DOWN RAIL TRAIL, PICKS UP DUI #2 CHARGE

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13th edition of the County Courier. Subscribe to the print edition to stay up to date with what’s going on in your community.

Vermont State Police say that a Richford man led them down the Rail Trail as they attempted to pull him over Tuesday morning in Enosburgh.

Richford’s Dale Peddle, 54, was behind the wheel of his silver sedan on Tuesday morning when they tried to stop him.

Trooper Charlotte Hartman said she was dispatched for a welfare check; the caller was concerned for Peddle’s safety after he saw the man inhaling exhaust fumes from his car’s tailpipe.

When Hartman later located Peddle driving his vehicle, she attempted to pull him over. He lead police down the Rail Trail in Enosburg before traveling back onto the roadway, ultimately ending up in Richford.

According to Hartman, the pursuit ended in Richford after 16 miles.

“Peddle showed signs of alcohol and drug impairment,” Hartman said, “but he refused to provide a breath test.”

He was issued a citation for criminal court dated for July 1, including the charges of DUI #2, attempting to elude, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Police transported Peddle to Northwestern Medical Center for an evaluation after his processing.