Select Board meeting: Hudkins resigns DRB, Biomass concerns voiced, tax rates set

By Shawn Cunningham

On a sticky early July evening when electric fans on the second floor of Town Hall had to be shut off for the gathering to hear, the Select Board’s special meeting was meant to set the town’s tax rate but included the resignation of Development Review Board chair Peter Hudkins.

Just before adjournment, Select Board chair John DeBenedetti announced that Hudkins had resigned for personal reasons and that the board would again conduct interviews of DRB applicants. This follows other recent changes to the makeup of the DRB. After a short discussion, it was decided that previous applicants should reapply if only with a note asking that they be reconsidered. The vacancy will be advertised along with the vacancy on the Planning Commission.

The announcement of Hudkins’ resignation came at the end of a hearing that included a plea for the Town of Chester to watch out for the interests of its residents in the matter of the proposed biomass plant in North Springfield and for reconsideration of a sidewalk for Church Street in light of new grant funding available from the State.

Mike Currie, who lives a half mile from the proposed Biomass power generating facility, said that he and his neighbors are concerned, but don’t know how to get involved. Currie said that at one meeting he learned that changes in the project had triggered a “discovery”period. He questioned whether the board was willing spend the funds necessary to represent the town’s interests.

“We have to pick and choose the battles,” said DeBenedetti, “I don’t know how to spend the money and I don’t know how much to spend.”

“We have to pick and choose the battles. I don’t know how to spend the money and I don’t know how much to spend.”
John DeBenedetti
Select Board chair

“If my select board backs away, I lose my voice and the town loses the value of my property for taxes.” Currie said, “Please stay in the game … At least until the decision is made.”

Currie referred to statements about the project made by the North Springfield Action Group, which Select Board member Derek Suursoo called a “special interest” group.

According to DeBenedetti, Town Manager David Pisha and Select Board member Arne Jonynas attended a meeting regarding the project and have a memo answering questions on such topics as trip generation and traffic, air pollution and noise. Click this link to read the memo: BIOMASS QUESTIONS. DeBenedetti invited Currie to get a copy from the town office where he could also look at the thick submittal document prepared by the biomass developer.  Select Board member Tom Bock stated that he has a digital copy on a cd and that Currie was welcome to copy it.

Sidewalk Talk

State Rep. Leigh Dakin told the board that new grant money was available for sidewalk construction and asked that the town apply for funding a sidewalk along Church Street, explaining that this popular walking route is hazardous without sidewalks. Pisha said that while the new grant opportunity was being investigated, Church Street would not be considered since the town could not get rights to the property.

Bock said that a previous attempt to do this failed because of the depth of right of way needed to accommodate 6-foot-wide sidewalks. He asked if such requirements could be waived. Jonynas suggested that if the matching funds and other requirements could be made to work, the town should not leave grant monies on the table.

Suursoo called the idea something that “…could easily go into the file of things to potentially watch for.”

Tax Rate Set

After public comment, the board turned its attention to adopting the new tax rates for the year. The Non-Resident rate will be $1.8906 per $100  of assessed value, while the Resident rate is $1.7829 per $100. This breaks down to $.5781 municipal tax rate, $.0047 local agreement rate and $1.3078 non-resident rate and $1.2001 resident rate for education. Over the last year, this represents a 1.6% decline in non-resident rates and a .13% increase in resident ratesr. The tax rates were adopted unanimously.

Taxes will be due on Saturday, Sept. 15. DeBenedetti said that at the Town Meeting in March the Select Board set the due date for property taxes as Sept. 15, not realizing that it falls on a Saturday. Consequently, the town office will be open from 8:30 to 4:30 on that day. There was no discussion of the cost of opening the extra day.

In other action, the board approved a one-day license for Lynne Cannon to serve alcohol at a grand opening for Where 4 Art Thou – an art supply shop located in the Mountain Man Marketplace on Route 103 S.

And Select Board member Bill Lindsay asked that another letter be sent to the chairs of the Transportation Committees of the state legislature regarding the responsibility for maintenance of roads that have the potential of getting increased traffic due to the biomass plant and expanded residential construction at Okemo and Killington resorts. There has been no answer to the first letter.

The board voted to go into executive session to discuss a contract with VTel to put a cellular antenna inside the Town Hall tower.

Greg Hart contributed to this article.

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