Select Board sets tax rate, talks asphalt sidewalks

By Karen Zuppinger

At a busy July 3rd meeting, the Chester Select Board set this year’s tax rates, approved a $10,000 contract to create a new town government website, held a required public comment meeting on the replacement of repair and of sidewalks and approved applying for a loan to design upgrades to the drinking water system.

Having received the homestead education tax rate from the state of Vermont, government staff was able to finalize the rates for taxes due on Sept. 15. The board approved the following rates per $100 of assessed value.

Municipal:   $.5929 up 2.5 percent from .5781
Local Agreement:  $.0047 (no increase)
Education (Resident):   $1.2365 up 3 percent from 1.2001
Education (Non-Resident):    $1.3530 up 3.4 percent from 1.3078
Residential Total:   $1.834
Non-Residential Total:   $1.9506

This means that a home assessed at $150,000 would have a tax bill of $2,751  (up from $2,674.35 last year) while a second home or business property assessed at that value would owe $2,925.90 (up from $2,835.90 last year.)

Asphalt sidewalks to replace concrete ones

Dufrense Group engineer Naomi Johnson, who also sits on the Chester Planning Board, spoke about an asphalt sidewalk plan and a loan program to upgrade the downtown water system./Photos by Karen Zuppinger

Dufrense Group engineer Naomi Johnson, who also sits on the Chester Planning Board, spoke about an asphalt sidewalk plan and a loan program to upgrade the downtown water system./Photos by Karen Zuppinger

With Dufresne Group engineer Naomi Johnson in attendance, the board held a “local concerns meeting” regarding the repair and replacement of damaged sidewalks on Main, Grafton and Maple streets. Here’s a link to The Telegraph article on the sidewalk proposal.

The purpose of the meeting, required by VTrans’ Local Transportation Facilities process – the source of 80 percent of the cost of designing the project, is to explain the design process and collect information. According to the LTF Guidebook, the meeting is not to present solutions but to better define the problem leading to a statement of purpose and needs.

Even so, the decision has been made to remove the concrete sidewalks and replace them with asphalt over a gravel base.

“Graham (Kennedy of Public Works) prefers this,” said Select Board member Derek Suursoo, “ because of the ease of maintenance, and that’s good.”

Board chair John DeBenedetti said, “There’s ways to do concrete to keep it from moving, but the costs become phenomenal. We couldn’t afford to do this much work for the money.”

Suursoo expressed concern about businesses that would be affected during construction. Johnson said that it would be important to write into the contracts what steps need to be taken to keep access to businesses open. She also noted the town will have to get a number of temporary construction easements. “We would meet with property owners as necessary to secure those easements,” Johnson said, noting that the VTrans process must be followed or the funding could be jeopardized.

She added that the design process hasn’t even been started and cost estimates and timelines don’t yet exist. A number of studies – including flooding and archeology – must be done and submitted to VTrans, then to the federal government.

According to Johnson, design is scheduled for the summer and fall with advertising for  construction bids in February 2014 and construction that summer. Johnson said that VTrans has suggested that this timetable is aggressive, and may not be feasible.

Kyle Rogstad speaks to the Select Board about his plan for a new government website.

Kyle Rogstad speaks to the Select Board about his plan for a new government website.

A new town government website

The board also approved a proposal submitted by Kyle Rogstad and his partner Mike Dion who are starting a business called Creating Mark, which does social media marketing and, according to Rogstad, will be organized as a limited liability company in the future.

Under the proposal, the new company will create a website for town government that will include a directory for about 50 businesses as an economic development component.

In the nine-page proposal, Rogstad spelled out how his firm will improve the aesthetics, update and improve the navigation of the site while adding an interactive map and cloud-based interactive calendar. Rogstad who is the program director for SAPA-TV in Springfield, videotapes most of the Chester Select Board meetings for SAPA-TV.  He has developed one website – for Creating Mark, and has updated and maintained the SAPA-TV website.

The cost of the website development and hosting is $10,000 with a maintenance cost of $100 per month after the first year.

In looking for a company to develop the website, the town did not issue a formal Request for Proposals. And town administrative assistant Julie Hance said in an email that in 2012, she spoke with a Burlington company that estimated the cost of the site at $30,000. She could not recall the name of the company.

Asked for explanation of the town contracting process, Hance wrote on Tuesday, “The town of Chester has a Financial policy that authorizes the town manager to determine when the a bid process is required. It is not always used. David (Pisha) chose to go with Kyle because he took the initiative to approach the town with a project. He is a young local man who is starting up his own business and the town likes to support these initiatives.”

During the meeting, DeBenedetti questioned how the website would be financed. Since it will serve municipal and economic development functions, he questioned whether the cost should be divided between the general fund and the economic development fund.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin and town resident Heather Chase both said they did not see a distinction between the two, adding that town municipal functions do not exist in a vacuum from economic development.

Pisha proposed dipping into the Chester Development Fund as the sole source. The fund was established to make loans “to encourage and support local businesses.” DeBenedetti asked if the whole project could be paid out of the CDF, to which Bock responded ,“I think we could. Whether it’s appropriate or not I don’t know.”

The board then voted to contract with Creating Mark to build a new town website for a total cost not to exceed $10,000 to come from the CDF.

Water system plan

The Select Board also voted to apply for a $25,800 Drinking Water Loan available through the state Agency of Natural Resources.  The loan makes it possible for engineers to conduct a survey of the water system and suggest a phased master plan for maintenance and improvements.  Under the terms of the loan, the town would have five years to pay off the loan after the final design is finished.  But if the town begins construction on the plan, the loan repayment is deferred until two years after construction is complete.  Preliminary work has revealed several water flow issues and raised questions of sufficient storage capacity. 

Lot size, driveways addressed in Unified Bylaws discussion

Continuing its discussion of the proposed changes to the zoning laws – known as the Unified Development Bylaws – the Select Board heard from resident Debbie Blauw, who questioned a number of restrictions on lot size and depth and driveway construction. She wondered if Section 5.1 C, which states that “irregular lot layouts shall not be allowed,” was too restrictive to those who might wish to design a lot based on topography or faced other land restrictions.

Select board member Bock, acting in his position as Planning Commission chairman, said this was an attempt to avoid “excessive lot depth-to-width ratios” such as some on Trebo Road that are 50 wide and 200 feet deep. Bock quoted the proposed regulations as seeking a “depth-to-width ratio of 3:1 … as a maximum.”

Blauw also wondered why the Section 5.2 G Driveways Line 3 limits the grade of driveways to no more than 15 percent.
Bock said this only applies to subdivisions to address the concern that large emergency equipment be able to navigate a driveway safely. The Development Review Board does have the authority to waive this restriction on a case by case basis, Bock added.

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About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

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