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Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 for info on selling or purchasing a house, condo or land in Vermont for your snowboarding, skiing and other recreational pursuits.

Referrals & recommendations are welcome & appreciated.
Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.

Information Disclosure: information provided and relayed by Maple Sweet Real Estate is not represented to be accurate or free of errors. While substantial efforts are made to obtain and convey information from sources deemed dependable, Maple Sweet Real Estate does not guarantee or warranty such information is accurate or reliable. All information should be independently verified.

If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.
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January 2013, from Bloomberg Businessweek, Global Economics

The Great Canadian Maple Syrup

Heist

On the morning of July 30, 2012, an accountant named Michel Gauvreau arrived at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, housed in a huge red brick warehouse on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, about two hours northeast of Montreal. Inside, baby-blue barrels of maple syrup were stacked six high in rows hundreds deep. Full, each barrel weighs about 620 pounds. With grade A syrup trading at about $32 per gallon, that adds up to $1,800 a barrel, approximately 13 times the price of crude oil.

Global Economics

Global Economics

The fiscal year was coming to a close, and the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers had hired Gauvreau’s company, Veragrimar, to audit its inventory. Québec dominates the maple syrup market, and since 2002 the Federation has operated as a legal cartel, setting production quotas and prices, authorizing buyers, and stockpiling syrup. There were around 16,000 barrels here, about one-tenth of Québec’s annual production. The gap between the rows was barely wide enough to walk through, and the rubber soles of Gauvreau’s steel-tip boots stuck to the sugar-coated concrete floor.

He scaled a row of barrels and was nearing the top of the stack when one of them rocked with his weight. He nearly fell. Regaining his balance, he rattled the barrel: It was light because it was empty. He soon found others that were empty. After notifying the Federation’s leaders and returning with them to examine the stockpile, they unscrewed the cap on a full barrel. The liquid inside was not goopy, brown, or redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel, and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.

The Federation would need two months to tally the losses to the stockpile. Sixty percent, or 6 million pounds of syrup, had vanished, worth about $18 million wholesale. The bold and baffling heist counts as one of the largest agricultural thefts ever, dwarfing the 860 head of cattle snatched in Queensland, Australia, last spring and the potato patches the size of a football field that were dug up in British Columbia in August. Siphoning off and transporting so much syrup was no mean feat. It would have taken more than 100 tractor-trailers. “To steal that amount of maple syrup means you have to know the market,” says Simon Trépanier, acting director of the Federation. “We are talking about big players.”

See the Bloomberg video on the inside story.

The theft was also an existential threat to the Federation, which had viewed its growing strategic reserves as the final step in stabilizing prices, locking in buyers, and ensuring loyalty from its producers. For the past decade it had struggled to overcome opposition to its reign in a series of legal battles the local media had christened “The Maple Wars.” Some observers have suggested that their attempts to control the syrup supply had, in fact, catalyzed an underground economy.

“With the benefit of hindsight, this is something you would have expected,” says Marc Van Audenrode, an economist with the Analysis Group in Montreal, who has studied the industry. Indeed, the syrup trail soon led to free-market renegades inside and outside the province who opposed what was, in their view, a Communist program. It wasn’t just about syrup, or money. It was a miniature Canadian Cold War.

Maple syrup may not rank among Canada’s most financially important agricultural exports, but nothing says “Eh!” quite like a liter of boiled-down tree sap. Ten species of maple, including the sugar maple, are native to Canada. By the early 19th century the multipointed leaf had become a popular icon for French-Canadians living in the Saint-Lawrence Valley; it wasn’t long before the leaf became a national symbol featured on coins, military uniforms, and eventually the country’s flag.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels abroad, his gift bag for foreign leaders includes a selection of the country’s finest maple syrup. It remains both a national point of pride and a durable punch line. At Canadian markets, you can find maple sugar, maple butter, maple pork rub, maple vinaigrette, maple coffee, maple tea, and, as of last year, maple perfume.

Syrup production occurs between February and April, on the 20 to 25 days when the temperature rises above freezing, creating pressure that forces the energy-rich sap—which is about 3 percent sugar—out of a tap hole in the trunks of maple trees. On a recent morning, Philippe Turcotte, 39, an affable man with a speckling of gray in his goatee and mustache, took an ATV tour of his family’s 12,000-tree sugarbush in Drummondville, Québec. A tangle of plastic tubes stretches from tree to tree, converging on a vacuum pump in a wooden shack at the back of their property. From that shack, the thin sap gets pumped about half a mile over the hill to a barn, where reverse-osmosis raises sugar concentration to 14 percent. Then Turcotte fires up his $25,000 stainless steel Dallaire evaporator—model name: L’Enfer (“Hell”)—and boils the syrup until it reaches a sugar concentration of exactly 66 percent.

For 2012, Québec estimated maple syrup production of 96.1 million pounds, which has a wholesale value of about $270 million. Approximately two-thirds of bulk exports head to the U.S., with the rest going to Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., and other countries. For most producers, maple syrup is either a hobby, a second career, or a source of retirement income, but their investment and revenue are not trivial. Turcotte’s sugarbush can produce 35,000 pounds of syrup each year, worth about $100,000, but it’s going to be many years before he pays off his equipment improvements. Turcotte, who also works for the telecommunications company Bell Canada (BCE), says he would not be where he is today were it not for the Federation. “They took this industry out of the backwoods,” he says. “For myself, business has never flourished so much.”

Early on, maple syrup producers banded together in this region to form trade groups and develop joint marketing plans. In 1989 the Agriculture and Food Marketing Board in Québec, which sets regulations and arbitrates legal disputes, oversaw a vote that empowered the Federation alone to set the rules for the production and marketing of maple syrup throughout the province. Over the next 10 years, the number of tapped trees increased from 20 million to 35 million. The short production season often resulted in price fluctuations, and by 2000 supply had also outpaced demand: Syrup prices fell to C$1.56 ($1.57) per pound from C$2.20 in 1998. Producers were unable to get bank loans or invest in new equipment.

In 2002 and 2003 the Federation created a central sales agency and a quota system for bulk sales. Producers obtained their quota based on their two best production years. The rules have nudged the wholesale price up from an average of C$2.06 per pound in 2002 to C$2.82 today, but the province’s 7,300 producers also have to pay their dues: C12¢ per pound sold. For the 20th anniversary of the cartel, in 2010, the Federation’s enthusiastic young inspector, Mathieu Audy, penned an ode: “With the principles of unity, solidarity, and social justice, producers have pursued their common interest and traveled the countryside in search of consensus!” It sounds better in French.

Solidarity to some, however, is devilish centralized planning to others. If you live in Québec and want to tap a maple tree to sell syrup wholesale, you either have to buy land from someone who has been granted an allocation or apply for a new allocation from the Federation, an uncertain process that could take years. Twelve hundred producers are on the waiting list. Producers are free to exceed their quota, but they’d only get paid once the Federation’s entire inventory was exhausted. They’re also on the hook for storage fees. The quota also calls for intrusive oversight at times. For instance, if a producer fails to sell to the Federation one year, Audy or his peers could ask him to provide electricity bills to prove he wasn’t boiling syrup. Buyers and producers caught circumventing the system are hit with hefty fines. “We have a rotten system in Québec,” gripes Roland Champagne, a producer in Inverness. In the woods, a rebellion started.

Nevertheless, by the summer of 2012, the Federation had largely prevailed over its malcontents and was nearing a milestone that would cement its dominance. To fully stabilize prices, actuaries calculated that the Federation needed to maintain reserves of 40 million pounds of syrup, and the Federation was building a facility to accommodate that. Meantime, it had begun stashing its surplus syrup at a rented warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. The only security was a guard who was supposed to stop by each day.

Etienne St. Pierre, a 69-year-old widower, has lived his entire life in Kedgwick, New Brunswick, a working-class logging town 100 miles from Maine surrounded by mixed evergreen forest in the northernmost remnants of the Appalachian Mountains. His great-grandfather settled here in 1905 as part of a land grant program; today, his four brothers and two sisters all have houses along one short stretch of Route 17. After retiring as a mechanic in the early 1990s, St. Pierre started a sugar farm producing about 65,000 pounds of syrup each year and selling it to Québec. But for three straight years, from 1993 to 1995, he lost about half of his sales as one buyer after another declared bankruptcy.

He decided that if anything went wrong, he’d rather be the one declaring bankruptcy. He sold his sugarbush to his only son and set up shop in an office attached to his home, launching SK Export in 2002 to package and ship syrup. His business plan was simple: Avoid the Federation and sell directly to distributors in the U.S. In the first year he exported thousands of barrels of New Brunswick syrup to Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, whose syrups, candies, and baking mixes sell at Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Safeway (SWY), and other chains. In 2006 he sent advertisements to producers in Québec, promising 25 percent to 50 percent cash. “Our system is very confidential,” one flyer noted. “St. Pierre is a very honest person and very well known in the region,” said another. St. Pierre’s opinion is that Québec’s provincial rules don’t apply to him. “As soon as you cross into New Brunswick, the Federation can do nothing. There’s no border. No duty,” he says.

The Federation begged to differ. On April 17 an undercover investigator working for the Federation—and operating under the dashing alias Jacques Leblond—phoned St. Pierre, asking if he’d buy four barrels of Québec syrup. Mais oui, said St. Pierre. The next day, Leblond’s partner drove four barrels from the stockpile to New Brunswick. St. Pierre graded his syrup and assigned Leblond a confidential number, 95, by which he would be identified. One month later, Leblond received a check for C$3,550.65 made out to Buyer 95. That was less than the Federation would have paid, but the payment came promptly.

The Federation expanded the investigation the following year, discovering more about St. Pierre’s trade network. Québec producers were shipping thousands of barrels of syrup to St. Pierre via a remote farm, where the owner earned a dime for every pound it stored. One couple, Jean-Pierre and Lise Caron, ignored the quota system and sold St. Pierre their entire annual production in 2005 and 2006. The Federation demanded that St. Pierre pay C$264,166 in damages and submit all his bank statements from 2004 to 2008.

St. Pierre, a mellow man who dons a navy shirt and slacks to work each day, ignored this and other demands, believing the Federation is not entitled to any money. His second-in-command, Julienne Bossé, took a stronger tack: She scribbled her response on a subpoena and faxed it back to the Federation. “F-‍-‍- you gang of A-holes,” she wrote. “Ha! Ha! Ha! … We will keep buying maple syrup forever.” In another letter, she taunted the Federation for continuing to get the address of SK Export wrong and helpfully provided a creatively spelled alternative: “7348 Rue Funck You.” When Bossé wasn’t penning screeds to the Federation, she helped make syrup-filled chocolate maple leaves and melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues for sale in the gift shop.

After the Federation reported the theft from the Strategic Reserve to the Québec provincial police, known as the Sûreté du Québec, the agency began a vast investigation that would involve interviews with nearly 300 people in the industry, reviews of export statistics, and forensic analyses of syrup kettles, forklifts, and scales, tracing two-thirds of the stolen syrup to companies in New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario, and the U.S.

At 10 a.m. on Sept. 25, Etienne St. Pierre was in his usual navy-blue outfit, working in the office after a recent scouting trip to China, when two police officers from the Sûreté du Québec arrived with a search warrant. Bossé knew their Québec warrant was no good in New Brunswick; at one point she says she pretended to wipe her derrière with it, gave the police the bird, and locked the side door. When the officers went to another door and asked for the keys to the warehouse, she snatched them from St. Pierre and tucked them into her ample bosom.

The police relented, returning that evening at 11 with a stamp of approval from a New Brunswick judge, but they still had to pry open the warehouse door with a crowbar. Inside, St. Pierre had more than a million dollars’ worth of syrup. The next day he told the authorities that about 700 to 800 barrels came from Richard Vallières, one of Québec’s most notorious “barrel-rollers,” an unauthorized middleman who had run afoul of the Federation in the past and paid thousands of dollars in fines. The police seized St. Pierre’s forklift, his confidential list of suppliers, and all his syrup for forensic analysis. The next month they took between 75 and 100 barrels from an unmarked warehouse near Québec City that Vallières had rented to stash and cook fermented syrup. Neighbors said they frequently smelled the maple wafting across the parking lot, and Vallières made no attempt to hide his operation.

In early November, I met Vallières in Kedgwick, where he was keeping a low profile, regularly lunching with St. Pierre and establishing his own sugarbush. A chubby, nervous guy in his 30s with a six o’clock shadow and a baseball cap, he was willing to speak only for a few minutes through the open window of his idling pickup truck. He owed back rent on the warehouse and hadn’t returned to it since the raid. He said he typically bought from producers who had exceeded their quota but couldn’t guarantee that purloined syrup didn’t pass through his hands, and he had no idea who could have carried out the theft.

Five weeks later, on Dec. 18, as snow blanketed the Saint-Lawrence Valley, the Sûreté du Québec arrested Vallières at his home near Québec City, charging him with conspiring with five others to commit the theft at the warehouse and sell the stolen maple syrup. TV cameras filmed him being hauled into the courthouse in handcuffs. One member of the gang had rented space in the same warehouse, merely moving the syrup from one section of the warehouse to another and out the other loading dock. In total, prosecutors have charged 22 suspects, including St. Pierre, who is accused of knowingly possessing and trafficking the stolen syrup. St. Pierre is out on bail and says he had nothing to do with the theft.

The stolen syrup still worries law-abiding producers within the Federation. “My biggest fear is that this syrup is going to hit the market, and big buyers are not going to buy our syrup,” says Turcotte. The Québec television station TVA Nouvelles reported that at least 70 truckloads of stolen syrup have already made it to three distributors in the U.S., including Bascom Maple Farms in New Hampshire, one of St. Pierre’s clients and the largest maple supplier in the U.S. Bruce Bascom says he fully cooperated with the Sûreté du Québec and they have ended their inquiries, but he declined to answer whether the company purchased any stolen syrup. Two Vermont companies that reportedly purchased the syrup, Maple Grove Farms and Highland Sugarworks, did not respond to requests for interviews.

Gone Forever?

Gone Forever?

There is no guarantee that the Federation will get its syrup back across international boundaries. “This is what bothers us,” says Trépanier, a slim technocrat who is passionate about the Federation. “Everybody knows it is stolen, but nobody can do anything about it. It’s incredible.” At least until the full story comes out, he says the Federation is obligated to sell to Bascom and other companies that reportedly received stolen product.

Large questions loom about whether Québec’s tightly controlled system will survive in the long term. In 2002, the first year the new rules went into effect, Québec claimed 80 percent of world maple syrup production. The Federation has raised its quota from 68 million pounds to 115 million pounds today, but its market share is slipping. In 2011, its share dropped to 71 percent of the market as U.S. states and Canadian provinces without quotas have risen to supply cheaper syrup, according to buyers. Last June, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) inserted the Maple TAP Act into the draft of the Farm Bill to provide grants to farmers to tap trees on private lands and to promote the industry. New York has 280 million tappable maple trees—three times more than Québec—but very few are tapped. The bill stalled in the House in September and may not pass until well into 2013. Trépanier is watching all these developments closely. “We are not idiots,” he says, adding that in his mind climate change ultimately will tip the syrup scales in favor of his countrymen.

On a recent afternoon, the side door to the warehouse where the theft took place was open, and a clanging sound echoed off the walls. It had a funk of spilled beer, and the floor glistened with patches of dried syrup. Two men with grimy work gloves climbed up stacks of battered barrels in the dark, knocked them down with a boom, and rolled them into the back of a trailer. “They’re empty,” said one of the men as he banged on the barrel. “Scrap!”

Twenty-five miles away in the town of Laurrierville, the Federation was preparing its new warehouse. When the Sûreté du Québec called to say they had no place to store the syrup they seized from St. Pierre, Trépanier offered to help. “We have a new building,” he said, “and there’s some space in there.”

Borrell is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

Sugarbush Resort. A Great Place to Ski

Kate Carter writes this wonderful article on Sugarbush Resort, in Best of Central Vermont magazine, from mascara mountain’s founding December 25th, 1958, forty four years ago almost to the day, to its exponential growth after changing hands five times. Read and see all about our expanding paradise.

Vermont Public RadioMaple Sweet Real Estate renews Vermont Public Radio top shelf advertising contract. Listen to VPR to catch Maple Sweet Real Estate radio ads thrice weekly, including prime drive times, throughout 2013.

Giant Lumber Slabs in line to Skating Heaven

Tucked away at the edge of the Freeman Brook and Flat Iron Road in historic Warren Village, an incredible new business is born. You’d never know what was hatching inside without an invitation or some inside information.

Stacked outside the otherwise innocuous two bay garage converted into an open studio are thick slabs of hardwoods divine. The side room full of wood samples including a palette of mahogany shipped by Gibson for guitar neck experimentation. But music isn’t the main focus here in this brilliant and buzzing space.

Welcome to Warren Pieces.

The woodstove crackling, fueled by the scraps of progress. Tools across the floor, sawdust, the intoxicating aroma of exotic hardwood.

Luscious Detailing

Matt Groom & Whitney Phillips are at work.

Whitney walks in and though it’s first thing in the morning, he’s unusually clear as his wife Jesse is in contraction, the waves every twelve minutes.  Any time now….  As if their powerful industrial incubation wasn’t enough.

Stylefully Induced Camber for extra Spring in the Ride

Witnessing the start of something so clearly loaded with promise and success would be a thrill under any circumstances, but seeing the intense focus on a product so dear to boys across the planet is, for anyone who has ridden or likes to ride, like walking into a candy shop for the first time.

When I was in my early teens I’d jump the subway in Manhattan and go all the way down to the epicenter of 1970’s skateboarding, Paragon Sports. There were hundreds of boards displayed in force with kids riding through the store, wheels and tracks of every shape and color. G&S was big in long boards. But nothing in that store came close, even in the heart of the largest US city, to the ultra-fine craftsmanship on clear display on Flat Iron Road in Warren this week. Local luxury defined.

Nest of Champions

Rare Highly Sought After Spalted Maple, Choicest Raw Materials Selection

Matt shows off one of the new purchases, a radio frequency driven wood welder harnessing dielectric heating: disturbed water molecules cause friction with twenty seven million cycle changes per second translating to heat, vastly accelerating wood curing time, allowing faster production without sacrificing strength. Matt’s comes to Warren Pieces from Matt Groom Building & Remodeling, already widely acclaimed for carpentry & design excellence.

Mahogany Core, Brightens Wet

Artful Forms, Jagged Foot Grips, Wide Trucks

Skateboard Wall Hanging Piece with Rear Illumination

Exquisite Surfaces, Like No Other. Spalted Maple Detailing.

Camber Master, Hand Made Press

Whitney Phillips & Matt Groom, Warren Pieces

Warren Pieces is aiming for a special niche market, with long boards at $350, other price points to follow. Out of the gate, they can’t make enough to keep up with the traffic through the shop. One purchase after the next, for a friend or relative here or far away, a real piece of Vermont to show the surfing dudes  you don’t need an ocean to rock. It won’t be long before the word will get out, the online orders will pour in, and Matt & Whitney will be celebrities on the world skateboarding circuit.

When you take your board home, it won’t just rest in the corner or under you bed. They’ve designed stunning wall mounts to be illuminated from behind that are works of art themselves and would make any adolescent’s room jump.

QR codes will be etched in copper on board underbellies for an instant link to Warren Pieces, the website evolving now.

Everything about this entrepreneurial effort sparkles.

With Whitney’s years of sports branding and sales with Mad River Rocket the original extreme sled co., and Matt’s discerning eye, stylistic excellence and superior craftsmanship, this is one new business you can bet on. Whether you stay at the Relais & Chateau Pitcher Inn around the corner or more modest digs, don’t miss this visit.

To order your own Warren Pieces skateboard or one as a gift for family or friend, reach Whitney @ 802.371.9020 whitney@warrenpieces.com or Matt @ 802.279.3597 matt@warrenpieces.com

Stiletto Grace, Pintail.

Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 for more info on Warren Pieces, to arrange for showings,  list your property,  or look into Vermont’s real estate market. Skateboard showings an option…

Referrals & recommendations are welcome & appreciated.
Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.

Information Disclosure: information provided and relayed by Maple Sweet Real Estate is not represented to be accurate or free of errors. While substantial efforts are made to obtain and convey information from sources deemed dependable, Maple Sweet Real Estate does not guarantee or warranty such information is accurate or reliable. All information should be independently verified.

If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.

Two Visions Come Into Focus

President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney hold starkly different views on recent reforms—and on the best way to preserve the American dream.
SEPTEMBER 2012 | BY ROBERT FREEDMAN

 

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, agree on this: Home ownership is central to the American dream. But in an exclusive REALTOR® Magazine Q&A, the 2012 presidential candidates offer differing takes on how to keep that dream alive. Obama says he has a two-part focus—to prevent a repeat of the lax mortgage practices that led to the housing crisis and ensure that financing remains available to responsible home buyers. Romney says the path to restoring home ownership is through a vibrant economy, which he wants to spur using an across-the-board cut in tax rates and by trimming burdensome rules. Obama also provides a vigorous defense of his signature legislative accomplishment, health care reform, while Romney calls for reforms that promote competition without government intervention.

How do you plan to vote?Answer our poll.

Home Ownership Incentives

The federal government has historically supported home ownership as a central value of the United States. To what extent do you support preserving federal home ownership incentives, such as the mortgage interest deduction?

Romney: I believe in the American dream of home ownership. The best way to get the housing market going again is to get the economy moving in the right direction. What most struggling home owners need is good, quality jobs, not confusing regulations imposed on lenders. We need policies such as 20 percent across-the-board cuts in tax rates, sensible regulation, and open markets that create a growing economy. Policies like these will help Americans achieve their economic goals, including buying a home.

Obama: Home ownership is a critical component of economic opportunity, and I am committed to keeping responsible home owners in their homes and to ensuring Americans have a fiscally responsible path to home ownership. One of the policies I signed into law as president was an expansion of the first-time homebuyer tax credit that helped more than 2.5 million families purchase a home for the first time. Since I took office, I’ve taken action that—combined with private-sector efforts my administration helped catalyze—enabled more than 5 million home owners to get mortgage modifications, while expanding access to refinancing and targeting investments in the communities hardest-hit by the housing crisis. Now, I’ve put forward a plan to help responsible borrowers refinance their mortgages and save $3,000 per year.

Lending Standards 

Four years after the collapse of the mortgage market, banks continue to limit the availability of mortgage financing in both residential and commercial real estate markets. On the residential side, bank standards often exceed those set by the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. What steps should the federal government take to change this dynamic, given the broader economy’s reliance on a healthy real estate sector?

Obama: We need to restore trust in the underlying foundation of the mortgage market so borrowers have the confidence to purchase a home and lenders have the confidence to issue a loan, and that’s why we’re mobilizing all tools available to fix our nation’s broken mortgage servicing and foreclosure processing system. To do this, we need to reduce uncertainty in the market so lenders once again provide credit consistent with the standards set forward by the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. That’s why we’re working through the FHA and with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) to provide greater clarity about lenders’ obligations in making FHA- or GSE-backed loans. We’re also working hard to reduce barriers to refinancing for responsible borrowers, and we’re committed to the same objectives for new originations.

Romney: The most important step the federal government can take to help creditworthy borrowers is to repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Banks and financial institutions are paralyzed: Regulators are simultaneously directing lenders to reduce risk (i.e., tighten underwriting) and to loosen standards. And many community banks face thousands of pages of new rules (over 8,000 pages at last count), and half of the expected rules proposed by this administration haven’t even been finalized yet. In short, banks are hiring lawyers, not making loans. The rules of the road need to be clarified so that responsible borrowers have access to mortgage credit.

Underwriting Mandates

Federal banking regulators have drafted rules that would go beyond lenders’ restrictive lending policies by setting a minimum down payment amount for home mortgage loans to be considered safe and therefore available at more affordable rates. Where do you stand on the federal government mandating minimum down payment amounts and credit requirements for lenders to apply in their underwriting standards?

Romney: A big part of the problem is that the government, and not the private sector, is the dominant force in mortgage finance today. With taxpayers still on the hook for trillions in mortgage loans, of course the government will continue to play a role in setting some basic minimum lending standards. However, we need to encourage private markets to provide mortgage loans at reasonable interest rates across all market conditions, with simple and understandable contracts for home buyers.

Obama: We’re committed to the goals of Wall Street reform, which includes ending an era of reckless lending by banks without adequate skin in the game. At the same time, we’re committed to maintaining widespread access to mortgage credit for responsible American families, which is the key to providing the middle class with access to home ownership and the key to returning to a robust, but sustainable, housing market recovery.

Health Insurance

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate says the penalty for individuals who fail to purchase health insurance falls under the federal government’s authority to levy taxes. If Congress repeals the law, what steps do you propose to address the REALTORS® and millions of other small-business owners and independent contractors for whom affordable health insurance isn’t available in the market?

Obama: Before the Affordable Care Act, too many people went without health care. Self-employed individuals were some of the hardest hit and often vulnerable to being denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Because of the law now, it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny you coverage or charge more because of a pre-existing condition. When the law is fully implemented, people who don’t get insurance through an employer, as well as small businesses trying to find coverage for their employees, will be able to shop in new exchanges, where they’ll have the same purchasing power as big businesses and be eligible for tax credits that make coverage affordable. The law isn’t perfect. We are always willing to work with people of both parties to strengthen it, but we cannot go backwards.

Romney: We can fix the challenges facing our health care system with reforms that emphasize market competition and patient choice. By putting patients at the center of our health care system and making insurers and providers compete against each other for our business, we can lower health care costs and protect Americans’ access to the care they need, including the doctor they choose.

Environmental Regulations

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of home owners who were told by the EPA to undertake costly mitigation and monitoring of their property before they could get a hearing to determine the presence of wetlands on their property (Sackett v. EPA, 10-1062, March 21, 2012). What steps can the federal government take so that future environmental disputes like this don’t end up in court?

Romney: Respect for private property, clear laws, fair enforcement, and the right to be heard before being deprived of money or property are bedrock principles of our free society. I will modernize our outdated and ambiguous environmental laws, regulations, and enforcement practices to advance our common commitment to natural resource stewardship in ways that restore these principles to prominence. Such actions include providing a speedy and objective process to resolve technical disputes without subjecting our citizens to the senseless delay and expense of going to court.

Obama: With the regulatory process, we’ve made strides to increase transparency, encourage public participation, and promote accountability. The net benefits of regulations issued in the first three years of my administration exceed $91 billion, including both savings and new revenue—25 times greater than in the same period of the previous administration. We are also revisiting rules on the books to see if they make sense so we can continue to produce far greater savings. Agencies have already issued hundreds of regulatory reform proposals, just a fraction of which are expected to save businesses $10 billion over the next five years.

Infrastructure

Although the economy is struggling, and government at all levels is wrestling with budget deficits, is there a place for public investment in infrastructure, including transit projects, which historically has helped pave the way for private investment in communities?

Romney: There is a place for public investment in infrastructure. However, we must be mindful of our budgetary constraints when making these investments. To that end, there are many things apart from spending that the government can do to ensure that public investment in infrastructure is possible—eliminating burdensome regulations, for example, or speeding up project approvals and engaging in private-sector partnerships.

Obama: So much of our infrastructure is in need of repair, and we need all of it to deliver American products around the world. There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers who’ve never been more eager to get back on the job. That’s why I’ve proposed a six-year surface transportation plan to improve the nation’s highways, transit, and rail infrastructure. The proposal is fully paid for, with part of the savings from ramping down overseas military operations. And last September I put forward the American Jobs Act, a set of proposals to create jobs now. Congress passed two of the proposals—cutting payroll taxes by $1,000 for a typical family and extending unemployment insurance—but it left on the table more than half of the plan, comprising infrastructure investments that independent economists estimated could create as many as 1 million jobs. I’ll continue fighting for these and for Project Rebuild, another part of the American Jobs Act, which would help repair our housing infrastructure by putting construction workers back on the job rehabilitating and repurposing distressed properties in hard-hit communities.

Vermont’s forests

are lush with treasure. Exquisite tiger maple, hemlock for tenacious post and beam house frames, sweet maple sap which sugared down, covers pancackes across the land and gives our green mountain state a claim to fame.

Misty Trail

Defining Current Use

What then is Vermont’s Current Use Program? It’s often referred to as “the most important, most successful conservation program in Vermont.”

If you own 27 or more acres, you’re already likely familiar with this increasingly popular land tax reduction and deferral opportunity, but to the layman less familiar with tree related tax breaks, the name Current Use itself is cryptic enough without tackling taxation intricacies.

Current Use landowners practice long term forest management to achieve taxation based on forest valuation vs fair market valuation. This very substantial savings which can be as much as 70 to 80 per cent of what the taxes would be otherwise, comes at a cost. The state attaches a permanent lien to the deed until such time as the landowner withdraws, the legislature ends the program, or the parcel is discontinued by the Division of Property Valuation & Review.

Woodpeckers of North America

The Tax Benefits

can be huge. By placing your forest or agricultural property in Current Use you can dramatically decrease your yearly tax burden. For forested land graced with valuable timber, periodically required forest management (ready the chain saw) can yield the added bonus of incoming checks for the land owner from the logger harvesting precious hardwoods.

Starksboro Chain Saw Workshop, Addison County

For forest land to qualify, you need at least 27 acres for 25 to enroll with a two acre exclusion for your house site. When purchasing land already enrolled, with the plan to continue enrollment, you can’t move the excluded area but, assuming you have well over 25 acres, you can withdraw another section to build your home, though you’ll incur a land use change tax. This withdrawal penalty is also levied if you decide to withdraw the entire property from current use. One of the most common questions and concerns: so how much will it cost me to withdraw from the program?

Use Change Tax Calculation

Elizabeth Hunt, one of the three Current Use personnel listed on Vermont’s current use website is immensely helpful. According to Elizabeth, Use change tax determination is based on the assessed value of the land enrolled divided by the town’s CLA, or Common Level of Appraisal or Adjustment, the tax department’s attempt to adjust assessed values to fair market value. To get the state’s assessment of your enrolled current use acreage, call Elizabeth or the state’s current use department. Once you’ve divided the enrolled acreage current use assessment by the CLA, and multiplied that figure by the percentage of the number of acres being withdrawn, you’ve got your alleged fair market value of acreage being withdrawn. Your use change penalty depends on how long the land’s been in current use. If ten or more years, the penalty is ten per cent of the fair market value of the land being withdrawn; if less than ten years, then 20 per cent.

Pine, Areas to Prune

H.237, a bill intended to strengthen the current use tax base, proposed a change in the percentages the use change tax is determined by. Property held less than 12 years would incur 10%, property held 12 to 20 years 8%, and property held over 20 years just five per cent. It passed the House in 2011 but not the Senate. An effort was made to incorporate it into miscellaneous tab bill H.782 this year but it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. Proponents of the bill include the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Vermont Hemlock, Strong Post & Beam Frames. Billings Museum, Woodstock, VT.

For more details on penalty calculation  see pages 16-18 of Vermont UVA (Use Value Appraisal) manual. Family members can step into the shoes of a current use owner but new owners inheriting an unrelated property owner’s current use land have to start the clock ticking all over.

State of Vermont Acres Enrolled in Current Use Graph

For more details on the entire program, see the same manual and the Vermont Division of Forestry site.

The Vermont graph below shows the increasing popularity of Current Use, especially in Forest.

Foresters, Loggers & Harvesting

Engaging a forester to prepare your forest management plan may run up to a couple of thousand, varying, including application fees.

Be sure to get a contract with your logger once you get that far. There are stories of property owners wondering what happened to their checks once the loggers were long gone.

Have Culvert, Will Travel

Vermont County Foresters are excellent resources for current use information and can recommend non-county foresters to prepare forest management plans and help you oversee your forest  during program inclusion, as well as recommend dependable and honest loggers to work with.

Click here for a Current Use Application, and here for a Change of Ownership Form.

Before cutting any of your enrolled forest, you or your forester must submit your forest management plan, or all the land must exit the program, a change tax levied, and eligibility denied for the ensuing five years during which taxes would go back to normal.

Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life

If your management plan calls for cutting but the timber values are depressed, you can delay cutting up to a couple of years with county forester approval.

On harvest yield, you might expect 1,000 to 1,500 board feet per acre. Harvesting may occur every ten years or more. Wind throw from storm damage can necessitate cutting earlier.

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