Chester voters establish emergency reserve fund, pass climate resolution

Nancy Lindsey, standing, speaks about the importance of Meals of Wheels to the community.
All photos by Leah M. Cunningham.

By Leah M. Cunningham
and Cynthia Prairie
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

More than 120 Chester residents turned out on Monday night for Town Meeting, passing 21 articles, including setting up a town reserve fund and a much discussed climate resolution, and tabling one before adjourning the meeting after two and a half hours.

Chester voters get comfortable as they settle in for Town Meeting on Monday night.

Tabled was Article 3, which if passed would have immediately eliminated the office of the Town Grand Juror, prompted audience members to ask  what the office entailed. Select Board chair Arne Jonynas admitted that he did not know. And finding a definition can be difficult. The website for the Town of Shaftsbury says, “The grand juror is responsible for inquiring into and providing information to the proper authorities of criminal offenses that may occur in the town in which he or she has been elected. This office is mostly obsolete…

David Leibtag asked if killing the position would save money, to which Jonynas replied that it is an unpaid position that has been unfilled for a number of years.  A motion to table the article passed with former Select Board member Bill Lindsey taking on the task of researching the office. The article will likely show up on next year’s Town Meeting warning.

Voters did agree to eliminate the election of members to the Advisory Budget Committee (Article 4), which used to help prepare town budgets.

Article 6 dealt with the  establishment of a reserve fund “not to exceed 20% of the amount raised in taxes to cover unanticipated revenue shortfalls and to pay for nonrecurring and unanticipated general and highway fund expenses,” prompted a lot of discussion, and an amendment for clarity before passing 63 to 34 on a standing vote.

Town Manager David Pisha said that the 20 percent “probably wouldn’t be reached for decades” and it should not have “a significant impact on taxes.”

Town Moderator Bill Dakin, at the microphone, addresses the audience.

While voters have to approve adding money to the account, Jonynas said that because it is an emergency account, they wouldn’t have a vote on the fund’s uses. He added, “It’s not extra money. It’s taxpayer money and it’s a good idea.” Board member Heather Chase added that “we have to put it as an article to even to begin saving a cent. It currently has no amount.”

Answering Sharon Esterling’s question on how the town currently pays for emergencies, Pisha said, “the Economic Development Fund … or we’d go to a bank and borrow the money, depending on the size of the emergency.”

Former Select Board member Derek Suuroo said, “I unfortunately don’t believe in passing this as worded. … We should have a reserve fund of some type that is funded by outside sources, not by taxpayers.”

The article was amended to clearly establish the fund, but not fund it. Rules for funding and disbursement will be set up and voted on at the 2020 Town Meeting.

Voters also passed Article 7, the budget article to raise more than $3 million for town expenses.

Climate resolution hotly debated

The non-binding climate resolution (Article 25), which was debated and voted on in towns throughout Vermont, made for some lively and impassioned discussion.

Ken Finch calls the resolution ‘poorly written but incredibly important.’

The resolution acknowledges “extreme and erratic temperatures” and weather and Vermont’s goal to achieve 90 percent of energy from renewables by 2050 and resolves that the voters of Chester urge the state to commit to renewables and eschew expanding use of fossil fuel infrastructure.  The resolution also urged the Town of Chester to follow suit, including forming an Energy Committee and encouraging “landowners, municipalities, and farmers to implement practices that build the soil carbon sponge to cool the planet and mitigating flooding and drought.”

While agreeing with the goal, one resident said the resolution “oversteps the lines. … I don’t think we should tell people not to do something that a few people don’t like.”  Lillian Willis said, “This locks us into a commitment that does not make sense.”

But Pisha responded, “This does not lock the town into anything.” The town attorney, he said, “has pointed out this is only an advisory letter.”

Marilyn Mahusky said, “I see this as aspirational. Climate change is the most important issue to concern us. ” And Ken Finch said, “I’ve spent my career working energy conservation. This resolution is poorly written but incredibly important. The details are not all together practical but the intent is very important.”

‘It’s not our job to save the world.
There is no way these things can
be sustainable.’

Barre Pinske

Scott Wunderle agreed saying, “In my work I have to burn a lot of diesel but only until a new solution comes around. This is the only issue all evening that is worth talking about.”

Residents read over the Annual Report prior to the meeting.

But Barre Pinske  said, “I don’t think any of this is realistic at all. It’s not our job to save the world. There is no way these things can be sustainable.”

A motion to table the resolution till the 2020 Town Meeting failed as did one to table the resolution indefinitely.

After lengthy discussion, the resolution passed resoundingly. A letter will now be sent from the Town of Chester to state representatives and senators, presiding officers in the legislature and the governor concerning the vote.

Also approved were expenditures from the Capital Budget Reserve Fund for:

  • $125,000 for a new dump truck (Highway Department)
  • $46,000 for leasing an excavator (Highway Department)
  • $40,000 for a new pickup truck (Highway Department)
  • $35,000 to buy airpaks and turnout gear (Fire Department)
  • $13,800 for a computer server  (Police Department)
  • $4,157 for maintenance of operating facilities
  • $225,857.38  as a transfer to the bond plan, less any other funds received.

Voters also approved continuing to exempt the Gassetts Grange, on Route 103 North, from municipal and education taxes for five years. The taxes would have amounted to slightly more than $4,000 for 2018.  The property was damage was flooding earlier this winter.

Also passing were a number of appropriations for organizations including:

  • $4,000 for Meals on Wheels of Greater Springfield;
  • $2,500 for  the Chester Fireworks. This year, the fireworks will be handled by the American Legion and they will be held on July 5.Bill Lindsey thanked Pat Budnick for managing the fireworks for many years;
  • $13,807 to the Visiting Nurse Association of VT & NH;
  • $3,044 for Health Care & Rehabilitation Service;
  • $3,040 for Southeastern Vermont Community Action;
  • $900 for the Women’s Freedom Center;
  • $1,200 for Senior Solutions;
  • $2,250 for The Current bus service;
  • $800 for Windsor County Partners;
  • $400 for Green Mountain RSVP & Volunteer Center of Windsor County;
  • $1,800 for Community Cares Network of Chester & Andover;
  • $3,000 for the Chester-Andover Family Center and;
  • $500 for Neighborhood Connections.

 

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