Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Investors Seek to Save Financially Troubled Burlington Labs

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Michael Casarico - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Michael Casarico

Updated on August 23, 2016 at 6:15 p.m. with comments from the Vermont Attorney General's Office.

The Green Mountain Care Board on Wednesday will consider an emergency plan by a group of investors to purchase and save a Burlington drug-testing company beset by financial difficulties.

The last-gasp emergency review effort is an attempt to save Burlington Labs, which faces closure in the next 30 days because of outstanding debts, including $6.5 million in potential damages owed to the state of Vermont to settle charges of Medicaid fraud.

That's the dire scenario spelled out in a letter to the regulatory board from lawyers representing Burlington Labs Acquisition, a limited liability company formed to take on the company’s outstanding debts and to continue running the lab without interruption. The University of Vermont Health Network would also provide some cash to the venture and its chief financial officer, Todd Keating, has been offered a seat on the newly formed group’s board of directors.

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Scott, Minter Showcase Stark Differences in First Debate

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 9:17 AM

Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott, candidates for governor, debate in Randolph on Monday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott, candidates for governor, debate in Randolph on Monday.
If the first forum featuring the two major-party candidates for Vermont governor is any indication, the 2016 general election campaign will be a relatively civil debate with stark differences between the Democrat and Republican running for the state’s top job.

Amid the differences, the candidates had similarities, too, including some that seemed to surprise the audience Monday night in Randolph at a forum sponsored by the Vermont-NEA teachers’ union and televised live by Vermont PBS.

Asked whether transgender students should be able to use the bathrooms of their choice in schools, both Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott said they should.

“Absolutely,” Minter answered.

“The answer is yes, I believe they should,” Scott said, followed by murmurs from the crowd — suggesting some hadn’t expected the Republican to agree.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Burlington to Install More Needle-Disposal Boxes

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 5:04 PM

A needle disposal box in the men’s room at Burlington City Hall - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • A needle disposal box in the men’s room at Burlington City Hall

Officials will soon expand a needle-disposal pilot program that began at Burlington City Hall last winter, officials said.

The Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department will outfit several bathrooms at “high public use and waterfront locations” around the city by September 1, said Deryk Roach, the superintendent of parks maintenance and operations. Officials hope the Stericycle boxes will reduce the number of used needles found in parks and on city sidewalks.

“Even one receptacle can lower the risk for maintenance workers, employees and members of the public using those facilities,” Roach told Seven Days.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mormon Church Is Against Massive Settlement Plan in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 10:53 AM

A rendering of a NewVista community.
  • A rendering of a NewVista community.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — also known as the Mormon Church — has come out against David Hall's plans to build a 20,000-person settlement in Vermont.

Hall, a wealthy engineer from Utah and a member of the LDS Church, says his futuristic proposal is inspired by a document drawn up by the religion's founder, Joseph Smith. But he has maintained — and church spokespeople have confirmed — that the church itself is not involved in the effort.

Hall's vision for mega-villages — or "NewVista communities" — has unnerved residents in the central Vermont communities where he has amassed more than 1,000 acres. He's also been buying property in Utah, alarming residents there as well. 

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Vermont Supreme Court Allows Gas Case to Continue

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 8:34 PM

Skip Vallee - MICHAEL TONN
  • Michael Tonn
  • Skip Vallee
An attempt by four gas wholesalers to quash a class-action lawsuit against them has failed.

The companies — R.L. Vallee, SB Collins, Wesco Oil and Champlain Oil — are being sued by plaintiffs who allege they colluded to set retail gas prices in northwestern Vermont, where the cost of filling up is often higher than in other parts of the state. 

In this week's Seven Days, Mark Davis reported that the defendants had asked the Chittenden Superior Court to throw out the case, but Judge Helen Toor denied the request. The companies then sought to appeal to the state's highest court. On Wednesday, the Vermont Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, allowing the case to move forward. 

It's far from the last legal hurdle the plaintiffs will encounter. As Davis reported, the Charleston, W. Va.-based firm Bailey & Glasser, which is representing the six residents who brought the case, has issued subpoenas seeking evidence. In response, the defendants have asked Toor to quash the subpoenas. 

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Despite Mediation, No Deal on Contract for Burlington Teachers

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 6:58 PM

  • File
Burlington teachers trimmed their raise request but need to whittle it down further, Burlington School Board leaders said in a press release issued after a failed mediation session Wednesday.

Teachers reduced their raise proposal from 5.3 percent to 4.6 percent. The board offered 2 percent and said the city can’t afford more without laying off teachers.

The Burlington Education Association’s offer “remains unaffordable and would require additional cuts to teaching staff and other important services,” said a statement that the board released.

Board chair Mark Porter said in the statement that he wants to return to the table. “The board remains confident that we can reach an agreement that broadens student learning, keeps teacher pay competitive, and is fiscally sustainable for our community,” he said.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

GOP Official Says Bernie Sanders, Chris Pearson Violated Law

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 8:33 PM

Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), left, celebrates primary election victories last week with lieutenant governor candidate David Zuckerman, center. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), left, celebrates primary election victories last week with lieutenant governor candidate David Zuckerman, center.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used his nationwide name recognition to give state Senate candidate Chris Pearson a major fundraising boost, Pearson “was totally stunned.”

Now, a Vermont Republican contends that both Sanders and Pearson violated state campaign finance laws in the process.

Brady Toensing, a Charlotte attorney and Vermont Republican Party vice chair, filed the complaint Tuesday with state Attorney General Bill Sorrell. 

At issue is a May email Sanders sent to the vast network of supporters he established as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders urged recipients to split a contribution between him and eight like-minded state legislative candidates around the country, including Pearson, who worked for Sanders in the late 1990s.

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Burlington, South Burlington Settle Airport Tax Fight

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 2:42 PM

Burlington International Airport - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Burlington International Airport
The property tax bill at Burlington International Airport is expected to shrink substantially under a settlement that ends a long-running municipal squabble.

The valuation on airport land and buildings will drop from $77 million to $52 million under an agreement approved by the South Burlington and Burlington city councils Monday night.

Airport director Gene Richards predicted the settlement will save the airport about $800,000 annually. Last year, Burlington paid South Burlington about $1.59 million in airport property taxes and payments in lieu of property taxes.

The roughly 870-acre airport is owned by the city of Burlington but is located in neighboring South Burlington. The host city dramatically increased the airport’s assessment and tax bill in 2012. Burlington protested and a four-year court battle ensued.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Gubernatorial Candidates Spent $5.3 Million in Vermont Primary

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 at 10:29 PM

Matt Dunne and Sue Minter embrace last Wednesday at a Vermont Democratic Party unity rally in Burlington. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Matt Dunne and Sue Minter embrace last Wednesday at a Vermont Democratic Party unity rally in Burlington.
Updated Tuesday, August 6, at 8:13 a.m.

Vermont's five major gubernatorial candidates spent a collective $5.3 million contesting last week's primary election, according to final reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State's Office. That makes the race the most expensive of its type in state history.

Far and away the biggest spender was Republican Bruce Lisman, who dropped $2.1 million — or $118 per vote — in his failed attempt to win the GOP nomination. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who prevailed in that race, spent just $806,000 — or $29 per vote. Scott defeated Lisman 60 to 39 percent.

On the Democratic side, Sue Minter and Matt Dunne spent close to $1 million apiece: $984,000 for Minter and $999,000 for Dunne. A third candidate, Peter Galbraith, doled out $372,000. Minter won with 49 percent of the vote. Dunne picked up 37 percent and Galbraith 9 percent.

The final fundraising figures show Minter got the best bang for her buck. She spent $27 per vote, while Dunne spent $37 and Galbraith $56. 

At the start of their general-election contest, Scott has a slight financial advantage. He has $158,000 in the bank, while Minter has just $54,000, according to their respective campaigns.

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Officials Warn About Potentially Deadly Heroin Strain in Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 at 12:20 PM

Heroin packets - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Heroin packets
Updated Tuesday, August 16, at 1:05 p.m. to include additional information about overdoses in Barre City. 

A potentially deadly strain of heroin is being dealt in central Vermont, the Northeast Kingdom and other parts of the state, according to state health officials.

The Vermont Department of Health issued a warning Monday morning after emergency responders reported at least 10 overdoses over the weekend that required more than one dose of Narcan to revive the person. The news release notes that some of those incidents have been linked to a strain of heroin labeled "Game of Thrones," which may be laced with fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller that can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin. 

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