Chester voters OK all articles: Whiting Library issue creates a ruckus

 

By Cynthia Prairie

Chester Town Meeting was quickly thrown a curveball on Monday night when Select Board chair John DeBenedetti sought to amend an article to give the Select Board authority over how and if money for repair and rehabilitation of the Whiting Library is spent, stunning members of Whiting’s board of trustees and others in attendance. (ON THE COVER: Chester residents gather at Town Hall Monday night.)

Gertrude Bennett, left, is commended by Chester Town School District chair Alison DesLauriers for 50 years of service during Chester Town Meeting.

Gertrude Bennett, left, is commended by Chester Town School District chair Alison DesLauriers for 50 years of service during Chester Town Meeting. Photos by The Chester Telegraph. Click a photo to launch the gallery.

Article 5, as written by the Select Board, was “To see if the Town will vote to expend the sum of $119,820.00, less any grant funds received for the purpose of restoring the Whiting Library building. Any funds borrowed will be financed for a period of not more than 5 years.”
DeBenedetti asked that it be amended “To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Select Board to expend …”

Town manager David Pisha said the reasoning behind the amendment was to allow the board “flexibility to use its best judgment,” because the board was concerned that if the expected USDA grant money did not come through, the town would be on the hook for making up for the grant money (about $41,937) as well as a loan amount of about $57,883, which would be financed over five years.

DeBenedetti also said the Select Board wanted the option of turning the grant down if it wasn’t big enough.

The Whiting trustees and the Select Board have already allocated $10,000 each for the repairs.

But many who spoke questioned the reasoning behind taking the authority from town voters and placing it in the hands of the Select Board. The Whiting Library is a part of town government and is governed by its own elected board of trustees.

The former front door of the Whiting Library.

The former front door of the Whiting Library.

Julie Parah, a member of the town budget committee, suggested that the amendment instead say “To see if the Town will vote to expend up to…” which would cap the expenditure.

Some spoke in favor of the article as written, saying that they trusted the elected Whiting board to manage the affairs of the library. Claudio Veliz said whether residents used the library or not, it added to a quality of life for the entire town just as the police and fire departments do.

Whiting board chair Bruce Parks said the $119,820 was an upper-limit figure that took into account problems that could be discovered once work gets under way. He spoke of a library where, once work began, a host of other problems were discovered.

At one point, Select Board member Derek Suursoo, seeming testy at the discussion, claimed that it was the Select Board that got the ball rolling for the entire rehabilitation project. But Parks disputed that contention, saying that “about two and a half years ago, we got a grant … for a survey on the historic sections of the library. We went to the town and offered to put in $10,000 if” the town matched that to get some of these things done. “Then Julie (assistant to town manager Julie Hance) discovered the grant/loan proposal and we suggested looking at the old and new sections of the library together.”

Chester resident Ron Patch said that he wanted the entire allocation to go to the repair of Town Hall. But Hance explained that the USDA grant specifically targeted libraries.

A rotting ground-level window sill at the Whiting Library.

A rotting ground-level window sill at the Whiting Library.

Discussion was ended by motion, DeBenedetti’s amendment was passed 52 to 35, with 104 people in attendance. The amended article then passed on a voice vote with about four nays.

In other action, the $205,389 budget for the Chester Town School District, which governs 3 to 5 year olds not in kindergarten, was passed unanimously, before board chair Alison DesLauriers commended fellow member Gertrude Bennett for her 50 years of service to Chester education. Bennett is retiring after this term. “Being in education is the best thing you can do,” Bennett said before receiving a standing ovation.

In Article 3 of the town warning, the costs of two items were amended but the overall cost of the article remained the same.  Voters unanimously agreed to expend $384,761 with

  • $60,000 for sidewalk replacement;
  • $39,000 for a new police cruiser;
  • $22,000 for a new pickup truck for the town Highway Department;
  • $14,650 for air packs for the Fire Department;
  • $14,000 for an ambulance defibrillator;
  • $6,000 for ambulance radios
  • $8,000 for a cemetery tractor
  • $6,500 for a cemetery survey; and
  • $4,500 for a hose tester for the Fire Department.
From left, town manager David Pisha and Select Board members John DeBenedetti, Tom Bock, Derek Suursoo, Bill Lindsey and Arne Jonynas with town moderator Bill Dakin.

From left, town manager David Pisha and Select Board members John DeBenedetti, Tom Bock, Derek Suursoo, Bill Lindsay and Arne Jonynas with town moderator Bill Dakin.

At the request of former Select Board member Dick Jewett, $50,000 was added to the budget, under Article 4, for paving. That amended article passed with one dissenting vote. That amendment led into a discussion of paving issues, with town manager Pisha saying that the Chester Department of Public Works handles 118 miles of roads, only 19.1 miles of it paved, and 78 bridges, with sidewalk and roadway work being planned.

Mountain View resident Jake Arace asked where his  community stood on a project priority list. Mountain View has been suffering from  flooding problems since Tropical Storm Irene.

With a few dissents, all of the other articles passed, including Article 6, to exempt the Gassetts Grange from property taxes for five years.

Also, 10 charitable organizations were approved for a total of $31,501 worth of services. They are:

  • Article 7: $1,800 for the Community Cares Network of Chester & Andover. The nonprofit provides services to senior citizens to help them stay in their homes longer and safely;
  • Article 8: $1,200 for Senior Solutions the Council on Aging to serve elders;
  • Article 9: $3,000 for the Chester-Andover Family Center for individuals and families in need;
  • Article 10: $2,700 for Meals on Wheels Program for hot and cold home-delivered meals and other nutritional needs to Chester residents;
  • Article 11: $2,250 for Connecticut River Transit for Windham and Southern Windsor counties;
  • Article 12: $800 to Windsor County Partners for youth mentoring services;
  • Article 13: $400 to Green Mountain RSVP & Volunteer Center of Windsor County to develop opportunities for people 55 and older to positively impact the quality of community life through volunteer service;
  • Article 14: $13,807 for the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of VT & NH to support home health, maternal and child health and hospice care.
  • Article 15: $3,044 to help support outpatient, mental health and substance abuse services by Health Care and Rehabilitation Services Inc.;
  • Article 16: $2,500 for Southern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) to assist Chester in responding to emergency needs.
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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has 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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