Water, re-appraisal at Chester Select Board meeting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At the Chester Select Board’s Aug. 8 meeting, member Dan Cote asked that Water and Sewer Superintendent Jeff Holden come before the board to speak about the capacity of the town’s infrastructure, since it might be an attraction for business. Coincidentally, the next meeting came at the end of a difficult week for the Water Department and Holden spent his time recapping the situation.

Jeff Holden displays a section of the blocked pipe. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The first involved the leaks that occurred at Chester-Andover Elementary School where first a flange bolt on the water meter broke, then, when the system was re-pressurized a leak under the school’s slab flooded two classrooms.

At the Sept. 5 meeting, Holden repeated what he told the board in the run-up to the vote on the major water system upgrade that, in the case of the water line breaks at the Chester-Andover Elementary School, “the main should have been addressed a while ago.”

In the second situation, a home on Rt. 11 west, Holden said, had an old “flared copper” connection that was “probably  40 years old” and needed to be replaced before the vacant house could be used. According to Holden, the pipes were clogged and he could not get a cable through to clean it out. He noted that in this case, the town was fortunate to have installed the second water tank last year.

Board member Dan Cote asks Holden to come back at some time in the future to talk about the water infrastructure.

The house “is on the way to the old tank and we would have had to shut down the whole town to repair it,” said Holden. Instead, the new tank supplied the town from the east side. Holden said he would need to put in for permits to dig into the state highway to finish the job.

Cote told Holden that he had hoped for an update on the overall infrastructure, but he realized that these had been busy weeks and asked him to come back another time.

Holden told the board that the water system is leaps and bounds ahead of 20 years ago and that they continue to work on improving both the water and sewer system.

Re-appraisals under way

Lister Wanda Purdy told the board that the company doing the town-wide property reassessment has begun work and that two men are working two days a week to get to each of the 1,865 properties in Chester. Purdy said they have almost finished the Smokeshire area and are beginning work on Popple Dungeon.

Lister Wanda Purdy explains the process for the reappraisal mandated by the State of Vermont.

Back in December of 2016, the state of Vermont told the town it must conduct a reappraisal of real properties. According to Purdy, the order was triggered by the town’s “coefficient of dispersion.”  A Vermont Tax Department publication defines the coefficient of dispersion as a measure of how fairly distributed the property taxes are within a town. A high COD (above 20 percent) means that many taxpayers are paying more than their fair share and many are paying less than their fair share. In 2016, Chester’s COD was 21.43 percent.

The town had its last reappraisal in 2008 when real estate values were at a high. After that, the market cooled and taxpayers benefited since a calculation that compares the assessed value to each year’s sale prices is used to equalize tax rates across the state. For several years, Common Level of Appraisal for Chester has been above 1, which means that properties are selling for less than assessed. The higher the CLA, the lower the education property tax (see explainer).

But after a reappraisal, in which comparable sales will have an influence, the CLA will come closer to 1 and could even drop below that, thus sending education property taxes higher. Purdy said the assessors would be working through the winter and expected to finish the job in 2020.

Property owners have received (or will in the future) a blue postcard asking them to schedule an appointment for the an assessor to visit. If an assessor visits and no one is home, a yellow card will be left asking about an appointment.

In other business

  • Under old business, board member Heather Chase told the board that she and board chair Arne Jonynas had attended a discussion about issues in providing ambulance service on Aug. 28.  The meeting was held in Ludlow and included representatives of several towns as well as the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission and attendees looked at the problems of increased costs and the decreasing pool of volunteers and the question of whether a regional ambulance service would improve the situation.
  • Julie Hance asked the board for permission to apply for two grants including a municipal planning grant for a housing study that will be one piece in a town marketing plan to be developed in a few years. The grant will have a 10 percent match, which will amount to $3,000.
  • The second application is for an Historic Preservation Grant for  structural and other high priority work on the Yosemite Fire House, including painting, correcting a lean in the building, fixing doors and windows and painting. The project cost is $54,000 with $22,000 coming from the grant and $32,000 from the town’s grant fund. The grant award will be announced in December with work beginning next year.
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