By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC
In the only contested race this year, incumbent member Ben Whalen and newcomer Lee Gustafson won election Tuesday night to one-year seats on the Chester Select Board. With 673 people voting, the totals were Whalen 441, Gustafson 388 and Kelly Arrison 318. When John DeBenedetti decided not to run, board member Arne Jonynas ran for that three year position unopposed. That left two one year seats open.
Also on the ballot were three bond issues totaling $920,000 for a new fire truck and roadside mower as well as work on problem areas of Route 35, Popple Dungeon Road, the Town Hall handicap ramp and the municipal pool. All three passed by comfortable margins as did two articles that will eliminate the traditional local elected posts of listers and auditors in favor of a hired assessor and an accounting firm from Maine.
And budgets for Chester-Andover Elementary, Green Mountain High School and River Valley Technical Center were passed by overwhelming totals as did the bond issue to replace the high school roof.
A new member and an incumbent
When notified of his win Tuesday evening, Gustafson said that the only thing that is on his agenda is to “get up to speed on issues we are facing and to clarify them.”
He said that as he has gone around to speak with people, including numerous business owners, he realizes there is “a lot of apprehension and misunderstanding.” about the Unified Development Bylaws, which he called the next “important issue the town is facing.”
“I’m reading the UDBs now, and I will need to get up to speed on that,” he said, adding that he will also reach out to people and hear the concerns of “my new constituents.”
Arrison, who has been active in planning and zoning issues told The Telegraph that not being elected will leave him free to work with the Heart and Soul program he initiated after seeing town planner Ed McMahon speak in Manchester. “It’s OK,” Arrison said of the loss. “This allows me an unfettered voice on important town matters.”
Whalen, who is entering his second one-year term, said Tuesday night that his goals for the next year include “anything to improve the town as a whole, to be fiscally responsible.” Whalen also pointed to specific issues, saying that “Act 250 is going to be a major factor in the foreseeable future … we’ve got approval for the water tower. Now, it’s utilizing that property for the benefit of the whole town.”
He also pointed to infrastructure needs in the town as well as the ongoing Master Plan process “to make those hopes turn into reality not just for supporting tourism but all forms of business.” He added, “By people voting it shows that they have trust and faith in your positions.”
All articles pass Monday night
The 137 people who gathered at Chester Town Hall on Monday night passed all but one of the 21 articles from the warning without one audible dissenting vote. The $2.8 million budget,money for a new playground at Chester-Andover Elementary School and fireworks sailed through with all the social service requests. Even the one funding request that was not unanimously passed – Springfield Regional Development Corp. – got just one curmudgeonly nay.
And five-year property tax exemptions were given to both the Rod & Gun Club and the Green Mountain Softball League. Last year, voters slashed five-year tax exemption requests to one year for both the Rod & Gun Club and the GM Softball League and asked them to return in 2017 with proof that they were doing more community outreach.
As the meeting seemed to be drawing to a close after only an hour and 45 minutes, several audience members questioned Articles 5 and 6 on the Australian Ballot that were to be voted on Tuesday. These measures would eliminate two elected town offices — those of listers and auditors — in favor of a professional assessor and audits by CPAs.
Jay Blodgett asked for an explanation. Town Manager David Pisha told thosed gathered that long-time lister Wanda Purdy will be retiring next year and that the town needs competent people who can understand the complexities of tax and real estate for the three lister positions. Pisha said that it has been hard to find people to run for the offices and that the solution seemed to be hiring a qualified assessor for the part-time post.
Pisha added that no one has stepped up to run for the three auditor positions and that since the town has to do an annual audit for the grants it receives, the local audit isn’t necessary. He also said that there were three auditors at one point, but that one quit after a month.
Calling himself “the last auditor,” Jack Cable told the audience that the position is elected by the people. “We’re responsible to you, not to the town manager or to the Select Board.” Cable added that unlike the Maine-based professional auditors who come once a year and look at an overview, local auditors meet quarterly and look at every transaction the town does.
Noting how complex the town budget is, Charlea Baker said that she did not think a once a year examination was enough.
Barry Fowler said he was person who quit the listers post, but it was after three months — not one — and because he had a change in his work. Fowler told the meeting that it was a great job, that he loved and it just required a good basic understanding of business principles.
Chester resident Tim Roper asked Fire Chief Matt Wilson which was more important to the department: a new pumper or an emergency services building. He wondered if the Fire Department could make the 1997 truck last longer. Wilson said they were desperate for both, but the 20- year-old pumper is malfunctioning in ways that make it dangerous. These include headlights that flash on and off while driving at night and electrical fixtures that melt.
In other voting on Tuesday, a number of positions were unchallenged. Town Clerk and Town Treasurer Deborah Aldrich, as usual, won the most votes of any candidate, challenged or not, overall garnering 641 as clerk and 636 as treasurer. Here are the winners in these unchallenged races:
- Town Moderator and Chester Town School District Moderator, both one-year terms — Bill Dakin
- Town Clerk and Town Treasurer, both three-year terms — Deborah Aldrich
- Lister, for an unexpired two-year term — Sarah Purdy
- Select Board member, for a three-year term — Arne Jonynas
- Chester-Andover Elementary School Union #29 director, a three-year term — Dan DesLauriers
- Trustee of Public Funds, for a three-year term — Sandra K. Walker
- Trustees of Whiting Library, for three year term — Jessica Buchanan and Kathy Pellett
Posts where there were no candidates: Lister, for one three-year term; Town Grand Juror, for one three-year term; Agent to Defend Suits, for one three-year term; Green Mountain Union High Union #35 Director, for one three-year term, Chester Town School Director, for one three-year term; Auditor for one three-year term and for one unexpired two-year term; and six three-year terms on the Budget Committee.
Here are the numerical results for budgets and bonds voted on Tuesday:
- $235,000 for road work – 554 yes, 78 no
- $500,000 for a fire truck – 463 yes, 175 no
- $185,000 for equipment and construction – 499 yes, 133 no
- To eliminate town auditors – 447 yes, 168 no
- To eliminate town listers – 437 yes, 175 no
- CAES Budget – 526 yes, 220 no (includes Andover votes)
- GMUHS Budget – 590 yes, 371 no (includes Andover and Cavendish votes)
- River Valley Tech Center Budget – 495 yes, 166 no
- GMUHS Roof Bond – 744 yes, 214 no (includes Andover and Cavendish votes)
— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.
About the Author: Shawn Cunningham has written a number of subjects -- from food and wine to film, history, politics, zoning and development -- for the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, Museum News, The Westsider, The Chelsea/Clinton News, Menckeniana, Films in Review and the East Village Eye.