Green Up Day funded; police, insurance budget concerns and solar farm discussion continues


By Shawn Cunningham

If the Nov. 20 Chester Select Board meeting had a theme, it was “green,” with issues being discussed including next year’s budget (money), Green Up Day (conservation) and new information on the perennial topic of the solar farm on town land (clean energy).

Chester resident and teacher Frank Kelley went before the board on behalf of the Chester Conservation Committee to make arrangements for Green Up Day, which will be held on Saturday, May 3, 2014. He reported that Green Up Vermont – a non-profit that organizes the annual event – asks for $200 from each of Vermont’s 237 towns to support its activities. Kelley noted that the contribution request is modest and is at the same level for all towns. In 2013, 195 towns made the contribution. Chester was not one of those. Greenup Day

Board member Derek Suursoo pointed out that customarily, funding an external agency is done by putting an article on the town meeting warning for the voters to consider. “It’s a little ridiculous,” said Suursoo “because it’s only $200, but…”

Board member Arne Jonynas asked if, as Select Board members, “could we just decide to do it?” Suursoo answered that the board could put it into the budget, but to be consistent, it should be voted on at town meeting. Suursoo offered that the Select Board could sponsor the warning so the Conservation Committee would not have to get petition signatures.

Member Bill Lindsay pointed out that the “Eager Beaver Fund,” which covers the disposal of tires left along town roads, was not fully expended this year and that the Green Up contribution could be transferred to a new line. The board voted unanimously to make the contribution and also to appoint Frank Kelley as the Green Up Day coordinator.

Budgeting concerns include police force

Turning to the 2014 budget, the board discussed the increase in health insurance premiums of about $18,000 and the highest reimbursement risk that the town would have to cover ($241,00) if everyone on the plan maxed out their out of pocket expenses.

Under the public safety portion of the budget, the board questioned whether the town was charging Andover enough in fees for fire and ambulance. While it was agreed that these fees are covering operations, several members felt that Andover should participate in paying for the capital costs of having a fire department and an ambulance service. “The costs are huge…” said Jonynas. “We just want to be fair.”

Also under public safety, Police Chief Rick Cloud told the board that the department evaluation done under the auspices of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns suggested that the town could use one or two more full-time officers. Cloud wanted to know if the board was considering this in next year’s budget.

Board member Tom Bock asked Cloud if the work could be covered by part-time officers. Cloud responded that there may be legislation coming that will take arrest powers away from part-time officers. The board seemed to feel this was not yet a done deal and pushed the question. “We need a better picture of what this is going to cost,” said Bock.

David Pisha who in his capacity as town manager also serves as police commissioner, said that the starting salary for an officer is $36,000 but benefits are a large share of the costs and it would vary widely depending on the insurance provided to an officer if single, married or with a family. This didn’t satisfy the board’s curiosity.

Suursoo pointing to the VLCT audit said, “We asked David to deal with it. We have no information. The airwaves went dead.” He suggested that the board needs a plan outlining what Pisha and Cloud want to do and what it will cost.

Echoing Suursoo’s concern, Jonynas said that there were “a slew of issues in the audit … we haven’t seen what’s happened.” After a little discussion, the board asked for a plan to look at for the Dec. 4 meeting.

The Select Board will continue working on the budget during its Dec. 4 and 18 meetings.

Still mulling Green Lantern solar plan

Turning once again the the question of having a solar farm on town land, the board acknowledged that Green Lantern has sent copies of contracts it has with other Vermont municipalities. Suursoo said the contract needed some sort of protection and remediation plan for any pollution resulting from the installation of the farm. Lindsay wanted a site plan and other board members asked for the contract to give the town the right of first refusal in buying the farm. It was noted that Pisha had contacted the consultant as directed by the board, but that the board felt his fees were too high.

In the end, solar farm supporter Bill Lindsay asked for the deal in writing. “Can we have the new contract with the new figures?” he asked, adding. “Then we can beat that to death.”

In other action, the board moved to allow Karen Trombley to have the name of her late husband – a Vietnam veteran — inscribed on the town’s veterans memorial at her own expense as long as the style is the same as it exists on the monument.

A vendor permit that would allow VTel to go door to door selling its Internet home video service was tabled because no one representing the company was at the meeting. It was suggested that when the issue is taken up again, representatives should have identification and that copies of the IDs should be provided to the police in case residents call the town to report the solicitations.

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