Chester Board approves budget after final cuts, appoints Master Plan group

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Having put the town budget back in the hands of Town Manager David Pisha to find savings across the town departments on Jan. 8, the Chester Select Board met on Jan. 17 to review the cuts and finalize the numbers.

The Chester Select Board meeting in the town office on Jan. 17 Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Due to smaller-than-expected surpluses (which could have been carried forward) in several departments, some unplanned expenses and the shift from cash to accrual accounting, the board found itself with a budget increase of nearly $273,000. Pisha’s work shaved almost $111,000, for a municipal budget increase of just over $162,000 or about four cents per $100 of assessed value. That means that on a home assessed at $200,000 the owner would pay approximately $80 more in municipal taxes.

Board members were quick to note that the the municipal or town budget is one portion of the overall tax rate with the remainder being the school tax.

On the revenue side, Pisha added $15,000 expected to be realized from the sale of town owned land behind the Sunoco station to its owner – Sandri Corp. He also moved about $26,500 for the town’s wayfinding plan and its zoning audit to the Chester Economic Development Fund.

Board member Lee Gustafson agreed that the plan for improved signage to help visitors find their way around town could have an economic development benefit, but noted that a resident he spoke with had questioned paying for the zoning audit from the fund. Pisha pointed to recent problems with the zoning code and suggested that taking Chester’s zoning out of the mid 1970s and into the next century is justified by the positive effect it can have on both residential and business development.

Pisha noted that in the past the fund was held in a bank account and earning about $50 per year. For a couple of years, however, the fund has been invested with People’s Bank and last year had a return of more than $44,000.

“We’re not draining the fund,” said Pisha.

Gustafson noted that there is a lot of misinformation out there and that there has to be a way to get correct information out. “There has to be a way to do it, ” said Gustafson. “Part of being a citizen is paying attention, but you can’t make them come to meetings.”

Chester resident Bill Dakin told the board that since the town’s annual report is no longer mailed, some people feel they lack information. Executive Assistant Julie Hance noted that a “couple hundred” are still mailed out to those who have requested them and anyone  can ask to be put on that mailing list. Hance also noted that there are copies available at Town Hall and other venues as well as a digital version online.

Pisha said that many of the annual reports mailed in the past have ended up in recycling bins at the Post Office, which seemed like a waste of taxpayer money.

Dakin suggested sending a notice that reports are available with water bills. It was noted that only a portion of the people who live in Chester are on town water.

At various points in the discussion – including the recreation department budget – the board referred back to the work they did on a vision for the town in the future, noting that the active recreation department is a draw for new residents, especially families.

Most departments were either able to make some cuts or looked to increased revenue. In the end, the board adopted the $4 million budget with just over $3 million to be raised by taxes and urged Pisha and Hance to give clear explanations of the spending in the Annual Report.

Pisha also presented the Capital and Bond plans, which were mainly unchanged from the Jan. 8 meeting.

Master Plan implementation committee

With the end of the Village Center Master Planning work, the members of the steering committee that had worked on the plan asked if there could be an implementation group to shepherd the work. At the last regular Select Board meeting, the steering committee was disbanded, but an implementation group was not appointed. The board asked the group to organize terms of office to ensure continuity.

The group proposed one-year terms ending in March 2019 for Claudio Veliz, Barre Pinske and Lee Whiting. Two-year terms ending in March 2020 were proposed for David Pisha, Carla Westine and Kelly Arrison with three-year terms ending in 2021 for Bob Flint, Julie Hance and Rick Paterno.

The board accepted the proposal and appointed the implementation committee.

In other business

Pisha told the board that representatives of Peoples Bank would be on hand at the Feb. 21 board meeting to give a report on the performance of the Economic Development Fund which was invested with them.

 

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