Chester tax rates decline again; resident seeks to buy town land

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chester’s tax rates are dropping again this year as they have for several years.

Town Manager David Pisha explains the calculations behind the new tax rate. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At its July 5 meeting, the Select Board set the non-residential tax rate at $1.9793 per $100 of assessed value and the homestead rate at $1.9274. Last year’s rates were $2.0182 and $1.9545 respectively. Just as last year, the municipal tax rate is up slightly, but another decline in education tax rates brought the overall rates down.

The drop is due to a calculation that uses a ratio of the sales prices of properties to their assessed value. Since Chester’s last assessment was in 2008 — the height of the real estate market — and current sales prices are lower, that ratio pushes final tax rates down. Thus a $200,000 primary residence with no non-residential uses would get a bill for $3,855 this year compared to $3,909 last year. Individual tax bills differ depending on uses and additions from year to year.

The State of Vermont has told the town that it must reappraise the properties on its grand list, which will eliminate much of the discrepancy between assessed value and sale prices that has kept taxes low.

Lister Wanda Purdy told the board that there had been only one bid to reappraise the town and that came from the company that did the work the last time. Purdy said she had been happy with their work and that the town’s reappraisal fund would cover the $168,000 bid. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the fund balance was just over $221,000.

Purdy said the reappraisal would begin in 2018 with the appraisers visiting every property in town including the exempt properties. The work is expected to be finished in 2020.

Resident seeks to buy town land

The Select Board will visit the site, seen here, before further discussion of selling the parcel.

Board member Lee Gustafson recused himself from the discussion of a request by his son Glen and daughter-in-law Bethany to buy a 0.16 acre piece of town land near their house, which is on High Street.

The land is on the south end of the suspension bridge and runs down to the Middle Branch of the Williams River. The path that separates the parcel from the Gustafson property is a Class 4 extension of School Street (Town Highway 91) that connects to High Street. The land is assessed at $25,800.

Glen Gustafson told the board that there are piles of scrap metal and cinder blocks on the land that he sees when he walks across the bridge to go to work. Gustafson also said the wooded property was overgrown and that he wants to buy the land to clean it up.

A town tax map shows the location of the parcel Glen and Bethany Gustafson are proposing to buy from the town of Chester.

Pisha told the board that the steering committee that is working on a Master Plan for Chester’s Village Center has envisioned a small park at the north side of the bridge and is discussing using the land at the other end as another small park that would provide the public with access to the river. Pisha said a grant is being explored that would cover the cleanup and a safe way of getting down to the river bank.

“It’s funny that all of a sudden this little piece of land that nobody knew we had is an issue,” said Select Board member Arne Jonynas.

Board member Heather Chase said she would like to see the property before discussing it further and the rest of the board agreed. Gustafson said that selling the land to him would put it on the grand list, which with the newly set residential rate, would bring the town about $497 in property tax.

‘What’s happened to this board?’

Vermont Journal publisher Bob Miller addressed several complaints about comments made at the board’s June 7 meeting. At that time, board members voiced displeasure with the negative tone of a Journal article on the work being done on the town’s 1931 American LaFrance fire engine. Members also noted that since they selected the Message for the Week as the town’s paper of record, the Journal has not sent a staff member to write about Select Board meetings.

Bob Miller voices his displeasure with the board’s discussion of the Vermont Journal’s coverage.

At last week’s meeting, Miller said board members had “slandered” him, and put him “down to the rubbish” with their comments. “What has happened to this board?” asked Miller.

“You want to know why I don’t cover these meetings?” Miller continued. “… It comes down to dollars and cents.” Miller said that the money he gets from towns is the money he uses to cover those towns.

Jonynas responded that the board is allowed to voice its opinion on the situation and that he thought it was unusual that when legal advertising went to the Message, the Journal stopped writing about Chester’s meetings. He also said he thought Miller was blowing the comments out of proportion.

Miller said he covers the towns where the Journal is the paper of record: “They come first, before you guys do.”

Miller went on to complain about the way that the paper of record designation had been awarded, and implied that the board had not followed the law in what he saw as a bidding process, although sealed bids are not solicited by the town. Miller did not say which law he was referring to.

“We were the only paper there,” said Miller referring to the first meeting after the March election when boards normally designate a paper which where it will put legal notices.

“Actually, that’s not true,” said Gustafson noting that his recollection was not exact, but that Miller’s version of events was faulty. Click here for the Telegraph’s coverage of the meeting in question.

“You didn’t like my attitude,” said Miller.

“No, I didn’t and I don’t like it right now,” replied Gustafson. Miller’s combative attitude was a factor in making the Message Chester’s paper of record in April and several board members remarked on that.

“When this comes up again next year, you’re going to be looking at some of the same board members,” said Jonynas.

Select Board visioning

Dan Cote explains the importance of outlining a vision for the town ahead of budgeting.

At a previous meeting, Cote had asked that the board take up the budget process earlier in the year by looking at the town’s priorities to inform what projects and spending would be emphasized. Pisha brought forward a “visioning” process that would take place over several meetings beginning with the first meeting in August.

“This is so well articulated,” said Cote after Pisha’s presentation. “Thank you.”

The board also discussed setting up a joint meeting with the Planning Commission and Development Review Board to discuss the zoning process and a vision for the town’s future.

Town closer to owning Yosemite

The town is one step closer to establishing its ownership of the Yosemite fire house. Pisha told the board that the town’s attorney has said that the last person claiming an interest in the building has signed papers dropping the claim.

Pisha cautioned that there is still the step of advertising for anyone who might believe they still have a claim and when that’s done the court should give the town a clear title to the structure.

The three radar speed signs that the town purchased have not been installed and board members asked Pisha about the delay.  Pisha said that one of the signs is in a state highway right of way and that VTrans has not been very cooperative.

“State Highway has given us a bit of a runaround,” said Pisha.

In answer to a question about the delay in sidewalk construction, Pisha told the board that weather had played a role in holding up the work and that the contractor who is doing the curbing work will be at it soon.

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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.

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  1. Hi Elise,
    The “Non Residential” rate applies to commercial real estate and therefore those rates are going down 3.89 cents per hundred. That’s going to $1.9793 per hundred from $2.0182 last year. Hope this helps.
    Shawn

  2. Elise Junker says:

    Really hoping we may also see commercial real estate tax rates go down.

  3. Scott Bonneville says:

    If the town has three radar signs and one is to put in state right of way, then why not install the other two?

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