Chester auditors defend their work; Select Board again dips into Economic Development fund


By Shawn Cunningham

Chester’s elected local auditors – Jack Cable, Phyllis Jewett and Ted Spaulding – appeared before the Select Board on Wednesday, Jan. 15 to explain what they do and answer questions that were raised by a proposal to eliminate their function to save the town $4,000 per year.

According to Vermont state statute, towns need to have local auditors unless they are using the services of “outside” auditors. Chester is required to have such outside audits by its use of federal funds for projects like the sewage treatment plant. But auditor Jack Cable said that while outside auditors get a “snapshot” after the fiscal year is done, Chester’s local auditors meet quarterly to review every bill and its corresponding check to make sure that accounts are correct. “It’s more of a forensic type audit than outside auditors do,” said Cable. Each bill is checked four times to ensure it was paid and accounted for properly. Every check is accounted for including those that are voided.

“Your biggest selling point is keeping finances tight and clean,” said board member Derek Suursoo.

“We are tight,” answered Cable.  Auditor Phyllis Jewett noted that at a training session the auditors attended, they were told that those towns that eliminated local auditors reestablish the position within two to five years.

Cable and Spaulding also pointed out that it is the auditors who produce the town’s Annual Report. “We are responsible for the book,” said Cable. “We’re going over every page, correcting the report where figures or wording is wrong.”

“I feel better,” said board member Tom Bock, noting that he never fully understood the auditors’  function.

“And we’re the ones who give you the raises,” said Cable, referring to the auditors’ responsibility for setting Select Board pay.

The Select Board will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 24 to finalize the warning for Town Meeting.

Economic Development funds go to SRDC, website

During the discussion of the town meeting warning, Select Board member Derek Suursoo suggested that the funding of the Springfield Regional Development Commission be limited to the income derived from the town’s Economic Development Fund (approximately $3,800) rather than coming up for a public vote for the requested amount of $8,648. Board member Bill Lindsay said that although he liked the idea it was “a little late in the game” to change now, saying that it was up to voters to decide “to send the money out of town.”

“I don’t want to pay taxpayer money for private development,” Lindsay continued.

Here is the latest iteration of a new Chester town government website. Click to enlarge image.

Here is the latest iteration of a new Chester town government website. Click to enlarge image. To go to the proposal’s next generation directly, click the link in the text below.

Bock suggested that the full request come from the Economic Development Fund since it was created to help with private development. Lindsay disagreed saying that the fund should be loaned to businesses in Chester and be repaid with interest rather than being sent out of town.

Board chair John DeBenedetti said that the issue is whether Chester is getting $8,600 in value from its participation in the SRDC. Member Arne Jonynas pointed out that pooling funds with other communities meant that there are more resources for the area and that professionals could be hired to work on behalf of the region. “I’m fine with it,” Jonynas said.

Bock said that using economic development money would keep the spending out of the tax rate, adding that “it doesn’t come out of the taxpayers’ hide.” But DeBenedetti noted that it is still town money and, as a federal grant, it was tax money nevertheless.

After voting to keep the article as is and allowing the voters to decide, the board reconsidered and decided to take the full amount requested from the economic development fund.

Recently the board has looked at several proposals to fund with development fund monies including a French and Indian War reenactment proposed by Ron Patch for the anniversary (250th or 255th) of Chester’s founding and a new town website. The former has not been funded while the latter was funded for $10,000 in July 2013. Pisha noted that work continues on the website project. Here’s the latest iteration of the website.

Lindsay relayed a phone call from a “large taxpayer” who wanted to know what Chester was doing to drum up business in town. “I felt badly,”Lindsay said. “The gentleman felt strongly about it.” DeBenedetti said he had received the same call.

Suursoo suggested that the answer to such inquiries is that the board has been doing development activities for only two to three years and that they were “crawling.” Suursoo continued that “The conversation is ongoing and that is a pretty major step. It’s hard, you’ve got to work through it.”

Alt energy incentives, gravel extraction discussed

In old business, the board discussed the possibility that legislation that could come up this session in Montpelier that would limit the ability of municipalities to collect taxes on alternative energy installations. Board members asked if this would mean that the town could lose the $6,500 per year estimated to be the property tax on the solar farm approved for the Jeffrey Well site on Route 103 across from Trebo Road.

According to town manager David Pisha, the attorney for the town, Jim Carroll, has been “calling everyone” in researching the question of what the town could reasonably collect for a month. According to Pisha, the state is “heavily incentivizing solar farms.”

Noting that such legislation would radically change the still unsigned contract with Green Lantern, one Select Board member said, “I would not count on $6,500 in annual taxes … today I would not hang my hat on that number.”

The board took up the issue of establishing a value on a performance bond for restoring the site of gravel extraction and crushing that is under consideration by the Development Review Board.  The 2-acre site — adjacent to the new Abenaque Car Wash in front of Green Mountain Union High School on Route 103 south — is owned by Burtco of Westminster.   Stanton Scott of Burtco appeared and discussed his plans to remove gravel, cover the site with topsoil and plant grass. The board approved a bond amount of $25,000 pending an affirmative DRB decision. The board also reserved the right to adjust the amount  if the DRB adds conditions to the project.

Jason Rasmussen of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission answered questions about the Vermont state road and bridge standards that the town has been asked to adopt.  Rasmussen pointed out that the board did not have to adopt the standards, but if it does not, the town will not be in line for state transportation funding.

Board members were concerned that adopting stricter standards would make maintaining Chester’s roads more expensive and more difficult for small land owners who do not have the deep pockets to pay for projects to access their property. Rasmussen said that there is time to consider the changes and that he would come before the board again to answer further questions.

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