Residents question use of town funds for re-enactment as Chester Select Board frets over tight budget

By Shawn Cunningham*

The Chester Select Board meeting of Wednesday, Dec. 4 was unusual – not for its four and a half hour length – but for the crowd of more than 20 who attended it.

Many were there to explain or advocate for funding under the 2014 town budget, including several members of the town’s budget committee, members of the Whiting Library’s board of trustees as well as representatives of the Police and Recreation departments and the Ambulance Service.

Still others were there to address issues not on the agenda, including Jake Arace, who has come before the board in the past to complain of storm water flooding in his community. He reminded the board that, “It’s not getting any drier down at Mountain View.” The Chester Telegraph wrote about the Mountain View issue in October.

Town manager David Pisha responded that Naomi Johnson of the Dufresne Group, who also sits on the town Planning Commission, has been looking at the situation with a study team, but that “things take time.” The board had chosen to apply for a federal grant that would pay for 100 percent of the work to correct the situation, while choosing not to apply for a grant in which the town would have to pay for 20 percent of the costs. No one was aware of the status of the grant the town applied for.

A question of $15,000 and ‘fudged history’

Chester resident David Lord then rose to comment on reports that the board was considering moving $5,000 a year for three years from the town’s economic development fund after the Chester Historical Society requested $15,000 to put on a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Chester’s founding in 2016.

Lord asked if it was not “fudging” history to suggest that the date of the town’s founding was not 1761 as established by the legislature and the Vermont Supreme Court. Lord also questioned whether an encampment of 300 French and Indian War re-enactors at a cost of $7,000 would have an economic development effect if public funds set aside for economic development could not be used for more “worthy” projects, such as rehabilitating the town cemetery or refurbishing the Yosemite Firehouse.

Board chairman John DeBenedetti said that there had only been discussion of an idea and that no money in the current budget for an anniversary celebration. Board member Arne Jonynas thought that more input from townspeople was needed – especially if it’s true that the celebration is five years late.

Heather Chase questioned the town’s priorities saying, “Fifteen thousand dollars is a lot of money” when expenditures for the library and a public observatory have been questioned by the board.

“Looking at budget numbers right now,” said DeBenedetti, “I’m not anxious to put $5,000 toward this right now.”

Board member Derek Suursoo asked Lord if he wanted to have a celebration to which Lord answered, “I think we missed it and it’s time to send a belated birthday card.”

“I think the town of Chester deserves a party,” said Suursoo, “I don’t care about the date.”

DeBenedetti mentioned that a committee would be formed to look into holding a town celebration, that David Pisha would spearhead that effort and invited people to come forward with ideas.

Kathy Pellett noted that a celebration might be nice, but wondered if “we can celebrate in a different way” other than with war re-enactors. “I don’t think we need to celebrate wars,” she said. “We’ve had enough wars.”

Agency budgets: Police, rec program, library discussed

Turning directly to the town budget, the board reviewed public safety and looked at the question of whether to hire a fifth full-time police officer. The force was a person down with Det. Matt Wilson’s injury suffered last May. Part-time officers were used to fill in the shifts. Chief Rick Cloud and Pisha said that the savings on part-time officers would offset a portion of the $50,000 to $55,000 cost of a new officer.

Matt McCarthy of the Recreation Department brought forward a proposal for a summer program in cooperation with Chester-Andover Elementary School and several other groups. It would be a four-week program for kids held at CAES from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. that would include free breakfast and lunch in addition to activities and extra help with school skills. McCarthy said the program is designed to be revenue neutral. The board approved including line items for income and expense for the program in next year’s budget.

DeBenedetti asked members of the board of the Whiting Library if it could take less than its 2014 $72,000 appropriation if there was a surplus at the end of 2013. Library board chair Bruce Parks said any surplus would be used to pay for a cleaning service in 2014. Currently that work is being done by paid library staff, but would apparently be switched over to the service that cleans Town Hall.

The Select Board also looked at a plan to adjust water and sewer rates and collect delinquent sewer and water charges. Board members commented repeatedly on the gap between income and expenses in the 2014 budget and discussed ways to cut including deferring some road paving. The next meeting on the budget will be on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

 Fall Festival set, snowmobilers get access and raise the Green Lantern

  • In other actions, Malcolm Summers and Nancy Rugg of the Chester Rotary Club requested permission to use the Green and shut down Common Street for the annual Chester Fall Festival, which will be held on Saturday Sept. 20 and Sunday Sept. 21, 2014. Summers pointed out that last year’s festival had 80 applications for 60 available booths and raised $4,000 that has gone to local good causes. The board voted 5-0 to grant permission to use the Green.
  •  Richard Bigwood of the Chester Snowmobile Club submitted the list of seven roads that the club would like to use again for access between trails. With the new trail through the town forest, Lovers Lane and Reservoir Road have been dropped from the list. The board voted 5-0 to allow the use.
  •  No select board meeting in recent months is complete without a discussion of the Green Lantern LLC proposal to put a solar farm on town land at Route 103 near Trebo Road. The board considered the changes made to a contract noting that the payment in lieu of taxes may not be feasible since it may need to go before voters as an abatement. It was suggested that Green Lantern be contacted again to go back to the lease and property tax payment that was originally part of the deal. The board will look at Green Lantern’s response at the next meeting.

The select board meeting was adjourned at 11:30 p.m.

*Due to illness, Shawn Cunningham was unable to cover this Select Board meeting in person. He took this report from the SAPA-TV video of the meeting. SAPA-TV’s Chester Select Board meeting videos are available at the Whiting Library, 117 Main St. in Chester, for your viewing pleasure.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: FeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (1)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Claudio Veliz says:

    Perhaps it’s time to secure a petition limiting Select Board meetings to 2 hours? Allowing ostensibly *public* meetings to go into and sometimes past midnight can either be a purposeful effort to circumvent participation or indicate deeply sloppy management of government. Neither is an attractive attribute for an otherwise proud community.