Berlin, Vt., restaurant battles the state - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Berlin, Vt., restaurant battles the state

Berlin, Vermont - March 18, 2010

It's lunchtime at Sambels. The restaurant by the Berlin Airport is owned by Bob and Brenda Sambel. They like to focus on food, but now they're fighting for survival.

"Not knowing what's going on is drawing on both of us," Bob Sambel said.

The Sambels have owned the restaurant for 21 years, leasing the building from the Vt. Transportation Agency. Rent includes heat and utilities, but the state wants to change the current lease before it's done-- charging more. And if the Sambels won't pay up, the state wants them out.

"This is our livelihood," Brenda Sambel said. "This is what we do to survive and we have 12 people working for us. Some have been with us 10, 11 years."

The transportation agency says it's getting involved with its lease with Sambels because of money. Every year the state is losing money there-- losing $60,000.

"So we're trying to correct something that unfortunately never should have happened," said John Zicconi of the Vt. Transportation Agency.

Zicconi said officials recently uncovered the lease agreement. He said the state needs to charge a fair market value for its assets-- and if not-- the federal government could also yank $2 million that goes to run all the state airports.

"We do have to comply with federal and state law," Zicconi said. "Losing $60,000 a year is not an easy thing for the agency to swallow and it's not an easy thing for the taxpayers to deal with."

The transportation agency is now looking for new tenants... a step that sent a shock wave through Sambels.

"They made that lease, they agreed to that lease. Why should all of a sudden we have to change it?" Brenda Sambel asked. "We're not going to change the economy of the state by what we're going to pay up here."

A fight over finances and the future of a landmark.

Kristin Carlson - WCAX News

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