Chester board looks to stem tax increase Asks Town Manager Pisha for department cuts

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Staring at a budget gap that amounts to an additional 4 cents on the tax rate, the Chester Select Board sent Town Manager David Pisha back to department heads with the message that cuts would be needed.

Town Manager David Pisha, left, reviews the budget with members of the Select Board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

With most of the town’s revenue in and most of its bills paid, Pisha told the board that the difference between the income and expense for the 2019 budget will be approximately $160,000, although he saw a couple of items that could offset the deficit.

“We’re still marching forward to have an extraction operation in the summer of 2019,” said Pisha referring to the possibility of taking sand and gravel from land purchased by the town for the water project in 2016 and 2017.

“If Act 250 says ‘yes,’ you can cut a third that expense,” said Pisha. “If not, overspend.”

Board member Heather Chase said she was uncomfortable with the the risk that the Act 250 permit would not be finished by the summer and noted that the board doesn’t know what the cost of the extraction will be.

Pisha noted that the $160,000 increase was the same as last year’s and that there was not much of an increase in the tax rate because the tax calculations for the school portion of the tax bill decreased.

“From what I’m reading in The Telegraph,  I don’t see that happening this year,” said Pisha referring to GMUSD’s budget struggles.

Pisha also pointed to declining gas prices and a tax sale in January that will have a positive effect on the final numbers under the town’s new accrual accounting system.

“Can we go back to the department heads and ask them to sharpen their pencils?” asked board member Lee Gustafson. “There’s gotta be some places you can cut a little here and a little there.” Gustafson also offered to forego his $1,500 stipend the town pays to Select Board members.

In the end, the board asked Pisha to have department heads look for cuts that could reduce the shortfall to a more manageable number and return with the results at the board’s first meeting in January.

Grafton Road repairs considered

Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that an extremely competitive national grant from FEMA has opened up and if the town was to get it, the worst parts of Grafton Road could be fixed as one project rather than piece by piece. The catch is that the Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant has a 25 percent match and the $2 million road project would require the town to put up $500,000.

A portion of Route 35 before it was removed and replaced with an ‘under drain’ and a stone retaining wall in 2017.

Hance said that the substructure of the road is clay and that it has always been unstable, but that abandoning it is out of the question. So, she added, the decision had been to take it one piece at a time. In 2017, using a Major Structures grant, about 405 feet of the road was torn up and drains were installed to alleviate the problem. Of the $235,000 price tag for that project, voters approved a $100,000 match in a bond on Town Meeting Day.

The grant is nationwide with no weighting toward rural projects, Hance told the board. “So we’d be competing against New York City,” said Hance. And if it were awarded to the town, the match would not be needed until 2020 and construction wouldn’t begin before 2022.

“I don’t like to do this,” said Hance regarding the large match. “But we could apply, see how we look in 2019 and if we needed to, turn down the grant.”

Board member Ben Whalen asked what it would take to get the state of Vermont to take over the maintenance of the road. Hance thought that it might be difficult, but board members suggested getting in touch with state Rep. Tom Bock and other state and federal representatives about the idea.

In the end, the board authorized Hance to apply for the grant to fix the road.

“It’s in sad shape,” said board chair Arne Jonynas

Cyprus Minerals to fund part of EMS design

After a discussion of where the money had come from and how much it has grown, the board voted 4-1 to take $46,950 from the Cyprus Minerals Fund to pay for work on a “50 percent design” of the proposed EMS building on Pleasant Street. The documents that would be created would help with making more accurate cost estimates ahead of a bond vote in September of next year.

Participants review documents at an early building committee meeting in May 2018.

A committee consisting of Pisha, Gustafson and the department heads of Fire, Ambulance and Public Works has been meeting since the spring and has worked with Russell Construction, the company that designed the building that was the subject of unsuccessful bond votes in the past.

Asked by The Telegraph whether the town would be contracting with the construction company or the architects and engineers for the design, the board was uncertain. After some discussion, the board asked Pisha to speak with the town’s attorney on the best course.

The Cyprus Minerals Fund was created in the late 1980s using $100,000 from a 1984 mining lease option paid to the town on Glebe lands in Smokeshire. By the end of 2017, the fund balance was around $185,000.

In other business

  • The board considered a complaint by Ruth Zezza regarding a loose dog on Popple Dungeon Road.  Zezza had complained that a neighbor’s dog named Hank was running loose in the area and that on several occasions when the police were unable to respond, she had taken the dog to the Springfield Humane Society. In her complaint she asked the board to reimburse her for mileage in driving the dog. Chase noted that the town does not do that and the board asked Pisha and Police Chief Rick Cloud to look into the matter.
  • The board appointed Amanda Silva as Deputy Health Officer for a term of three years.
  • Whiting Library Trustee Kathy Pellett updated the board on what’s happening at the library and asked that they fund it at the same $75,000 level as last year.

 

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  1. Arlene Mutschler says:

    I love it, the town is trying to reduce spending and the woman wants the town to reimburse her for taking a loose dog to the pound? Why not FINE the owner for allowing her dog to run loose and give that money to her? Or can’t that women just take the dog to the owner? Or better yet, can’t the SHS just keep the dog and find it a better home? really? And wait? so you need money from the state instead of town money to fix a road? So, instead of my town tax pocket, it comes out my state tax pocket? who are you kidding?

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