Chester water rate hiked; bond plan to include road compactor
State looks at possible wetlands; Yosemite Fire House nears last hurdle

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A mercifully short Chester Select Board meeting was made all the more remarkable on Wednesday, Nov. 15 by the fact that it was two meetings. Before its regular, third-Wednesday-of-the-month session, the board convened a quick meeting of the Chester Water Commission to raise the equivalent unit rate from $50 to $52 per quarter.

Town Manager David Pisha walks the board through the water rate increases. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

In Chester, the Select Board also serves as the Water Commission and it has been gradually raising the rate for public water use to reach $60 per quarter in late 2018.

One “equivalent unit” equals 18,000 gallons of water taken from the system by one household. Every customer is charged an equivalent unit whether they take that volume or not. Customers that take more than 18,000 gallons are charged for a second unit.

The calculation is based on the average household usage and spreads the cost of maintaining the system out among those — like second homeowners — who often use much less water. In addition to the equivalent unit, users are also charged $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Raising the rate $2 each quarter through 2018 will get the cost of water to the target rate of 1 percent of median household income, which qualifies the town for the -1.5 percent interest rate on the $4 million loan to do the recent water system upgrades. By the terms of the loan, water users pay back $800,000 less than the amount borrowed.

Board continues to work on 2018 budget

In its second budget session of the season, the board considered Town Manager David Pisha’s capital and bond plans and reviewed the corrections and changes made to the budget since the last version.

Former board member Bill Lindsey, right, questions a line item in the 2018 budget. Another former member, Derek Suursoo, left listens.

Among Pisha’s plans are the purchase of a new sidewalk plow and a compaction roller. Pisha noted that the current sidewalk plow, which is 20 years old, has been repaired again and again. He pointed to the requirements of the state’s Act 64 (clean water) and said that a state official had told him that a compaction roller would solve two-thirds of the erosion and runoff problems on the town’s dirt roads. In addition to cutting erosion, Pisha said that using the roller after grading would make road fixes last longer and should use less gravel.

According to Pisha, Road Superintendent Graham Kennedy has told him that compacting is the last step contractors take in building a road but that  municipalities don’t use them. In the past, Kennedy’s requests for a roller have been rebuffed by the board.

Former select board member and budget hawk Derek Suursoo surprised everyone — including himself — by saying that he had been against spending the money for the roller when he was on the board but has since changed his mind.

“We beat our cars to death on those roads,” said Suursoo.

The sidewalk plow is estimated to cost about $125,000 while the compaction roller is around $135,000. A vote will be taken on the purchases at Town Meeting in March 2018.

The board also discussed a recommendation from the town’s auditor to establish a reserve fund, looking at establishing a fund balance policy that would assign a portion of any surplus at the end of a year to such a fund.

Suursoo called the idea “conceptually smart,” but felt that “practically, it leads to grief.”

“I’ve never seen them work,” said Suursoo, asserting that people would see the fund as “free money” to be used for unbudgeted projects and purchases.

Board member Lee Gustafson asked what the purpose of a reserve fund would be and Pisha said there could be a policy for its use.

Bill Lindsay, another former board member, questioned the $40,000 appropriation for the “Historic Facilities Maintenance” line item. Lindsay was concerned that the town was taking on a new project — the Yosemite Fire House — when the Town Hall is in need of work. He asked whether historic structures assessments had been made on the town’s older buildings. He added that bricks  are falling out of the Town Hall building.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance told Lindsa that the money is for ongoing maintenance of the buildings not for rehabilitation. In the past, deferred maintenance has led to deterioration and the idea behind the line item is upkeep.

State looks at Town Garage land; last hurdle for Yosemite

Pisha relayed that the state had come out to look at whether property at the Town Garage is a wetland, much to the surprise of town officials who did not expect to see them so quickly.  The town is in the process of a feasibility study to see if they could build a new emergency services building and Town Garage on the property. A finding by the state that an area that borders the site is a wetland would make the design of the projects more difficult.

According to Pisha, state officials said they would expedite their review. Pisha also said that the town’s hiring of Harper Environmental to look at the site on its behalf seemed to have been valuable in this outcome.

“I agree completely,” said Gustafson.

Pisha told the board that town attorney Jim Carroll was advertising for anyone who thinks they have a claim on the Yosemite Fire House to file with the court in the town’s “quiet title” action. If no one comes forward, the court will most likely give the town clear title to the building and underlying land later this year or early in 2018.

Hance told the board that the town has identified a consultant for the audit of Chester’s zoning and is working on a full scope of work and costs for the job.

Ruthanne Batchelder and Dick Jewitt came before the board to ask permission for the Chester Snowmobile Club to use certain roads to connect to the trails it maintains. While the club does this every year, Pisha said he had inadvertently left the issue off the meeting’s agenda so that anyone who might want to comment or question the use of the roads would not have known about it.

Saying that the board had no objection to the request, chair Arne Jonynas asked that the club return for the Dec. 6 meeting, when it would be on the agenda.

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