Chester board member calls budget increase ‘insidiously dangerous’

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Calling the $43,500 increase over last year’s budget “insidiously dangerous,” Chester Select Board member Dan Cote read from a prepared statement at Tuesday night’s special meeting to work on finalizing the town’s spending plan.

Board member Dan Cote calling the 1 percent increase in the town budget ‘dangerous.’ Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Referring to “our inability to manage a budget,” Cote called the 1 percent increase – which represents approximately 1 penny on the tax rate – “budget creep” and urged the board to direct Town Manager David Pisha to make cuts that would result in a “zero growth budget.”

Cote said that in a year when the board will stand up in front of voters to present a plan to build a new EMS building it’s “hard to maintain credibility” with the budget increase. One cent added to the tax rate represents an increase of $20 in taxes due on a house assessed at $200,000.

Board chair Arne Jonynas  pushed back, pointing to the work the board had done over the past month and a half to trim the budget to its current state. A worksheet of budget adjustments made at the last meeting is here.

“We’ve looked at the needs of the departments,” said Jonynas pointing to board meetings where members questioned the heads of the Police, Fire, Ambulance and Highway departments, “and the increase doesn’t come halfway close to inflation.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” replied Cote.

Jonynas and member Heather Chase argued that if things cost more from year to year and a zero growth budget buys less and less, then level funding actually becomes negative funding.

“I’m proud of this budget and the work we’ve done to get here,” said Jonynas.

Pisha pointed to the original draft of the budget, which exceeded last year’s spending by more than $160,000 and was whittled down in meetings in November, December and January. In the four meetings in which the budget was discussed leading up to Tuesday night’s meeting, Cote was not able to attend two and participated by telephone in a third.

“You can call it ‘creep,’ but it’s also the cost of living,” said board member Ben Whalen.

Jonynas also asked the board to consider adding $6,000 to the budget for landscaping and tree canopy work, noting that volunteers do a lot of work to make the town look good and he does not want them to feel the town won’t support them.

The board is expected to finalize the town budget at its Jan. 16 meeting.

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  1. Tim Roper says:

    I think adding the tree and landscape plantings back in to the budget would be a good investment in our town.

    There’s a lot of work going on to enhance and present Chester as an attractive, comfortable and prosperous place to live and sprucing up our streets with new plantings would be a strong step in that direction.

    I’d also venture to say that a Select Board member who misses three of the four meetings where the budget was discussed and modified by that body, might not have the full picture of why it’s being presented in its current form.

  2. J Verespy says:

    Calling a 1 percent increase “insidiously dangerous” is a ridiculous overstatement, and “budget creep” is fear mongering language by Dan Cote. It looks like a lot of hard work was done to trim this budget to where it is now. Other board members make valid points about the cost of living causing a zero growth budget to be negative funding. This “people’s advocate” act of Dan’s appears to be more like a bid for reelection next time than serious arguments designed to benefit the town of Chester!

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