Town, school district funding, resolutions approved at Town Meeting

By Cynthia Prairie

With about 160 voters in attendance, an early 6 p.m. start, several failed article amendments and some lively discussions, Chester’s Town Meeting went off relatively smoothly Monday night. Voters first passed the Chester Town School District budget of $227,657 for early childhood and special education for those not in kindergarten, then tackled town equipment costs, the town’s own $2.364 million budget allocation and a bunch of other fiscal articles.

Some of the liveliest discussions, however, were reserved for two resolutions: One out of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office to attempt to combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that gave corporations the right to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns and one to assert Chester residents’ “right to grow, buy, sell and eat local foods.”

The flashing light

Citizens also voted to purchase a new dump truck, a new pickup truck, an ambulance, pay for various bridge and culvert repairs, a portable flashing speed warning sign and upgrade town facilities.

Prior to the vote, resident Lee Gustafson asked for justification behind each item in Article 3. Town Manager David Pisha responded, “The dump truck (replacement) is part of the natural rotation (of equipment) … (Public Works chief) Graham Kennedy’s pickup truck is on its last legs. (The town) spent $8,000 this past year on repairs.” The ambulance, he added “is 14 years old. It will be 15 when the new one arrives.”

The flashing speed warning sign drew much attention. Chris Curran said, “I question the wisdom” of it. “The flashing signs detract from the look of the town and,” he continued, “they might reduce our income from traffic tickets.” While that drew hearty laughs from the audience, others still expressed concern about the light.

An attempt to amend the article to exclude it failed. State Rep. Leigh Dakin called it “a safety issue.” And several residents along the Mountain View community off Route 103 expressed solid support, since drivers entering the town from the south tend to continue at 50 mph past their neighborhood and into the town. The article passed overwhelmingly.

Applause for Highway Department, then more votes

Twice during the meeting, the audience gave the town Highway Department a huge round of applause for the quick work the crews did in getting residents mobile again after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed many roads, culverts and bridges.

Without objection, voters also gave members of the Selectboard an almost 50% raise, from $600 per year to $1,100. And over some objection, voted to fill a budget gap of $5,000 for the Whiting Library.

Other budget items approved were:

  1. $8,649 … Springfield Regional Development Corp.
  2. $2,250 … The Current transit services
  3. $2,700 … Meals on Wheels
  4. $800 … Windsor County Partners for youth mentoring
  5. $400 … Green Mountain RSVP for older workers
  6. $3,000 … Chester-Andover Family Center
  7. $1,200 … Senior Solutions
  8. $13,807 … Visiting Nurse Association
  9. $3,044 … Health Care and Rehabilitation Services
  10. $2,000 … Southeastern Vermont Community Action
  11. $900 … New Beginnings for victims of domestic and sexual violence
  12. $1,800 … Community Cares for senior citizens

Voters also authorized the Selectboard to borrow funds in anticipation of tax collection in September.

Citizens United, Food Sovereignty resolutions

Both Articles 21 and 22 were met with some skepticism. One voter wanted to specifically include unions in Article 21, the resolution to urge Vermont’s Congressional delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a constitutional amendment asserting that “money is not speech and corporations are not persons.” This came about because of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that gave “corporations, unions and wealthy people to raise and spend unlimited campaign funds via political action committees known as ‘super PACs’ as long as they don’t work directly with a candidate,” according to an Associated Press report on Sen. Sanders’ website.

Several wanted to know what Article 21 would actually accomplish and whether unions were already corporations. Following a flurry of discussion, Penny Benelli said, “We’re just sending a message to Washington. We’re not going to change the Constitution.” The amendment to add unions was voted down and Article 21 was voted up.

Article 22, concerning Food Sovereignty, was met with the most skepticism. Ed Knapp and Leo Graham questioned the seriousness of it. “If I want to grow food, I can do that … the threat doesn’t exist,” said Graham. And Ron Patch called it “dumb.”
But others defended it: “There are restrictions on growing and on selling. It’s not mandatory that food companies declare they used GMO (genetically modified) seeds,” said one. Another said the state put restrictions on raw milk sales last year, stopping Rural Vermont’s workshops on how to use raw milk. (Rural Vermont was able to get the law modified.) And Frank Kelly, who said he has used raw milk, urged the article’s passage.
The most compelling arguments came from Lisa Kaimen, owner of Jersey Girls Dairy and the WAAWEE local foods market, both in Chester. She also pushed this article through petition.
“I’m regulated beyond belief,” she said. “I have to bleach food.” She added that when she began her dairy farm, Chester and its surrounds were home to five. Now, she said, “there are two left.” Kaimen added those who call food freedom silly “…are calling my life’s work silly.”
A motion to table the issue was made and defeated. And the article passed.

Bruce Parks of the Board of Trustees of the Whiting Library honored longtime board member Cindy Collins for her dedication, volunteer hours and hard work on behalf of the library. Collins is not seeking another term in the Election Day vote March 6. The meeting then ended 10 minutes before 9 p.m.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. JT says:

    Thank you for the article explaining what we missed at the meeting. Nice to see the new ambulance and the applause for the highway department.