Chester Select Board OKs budget 4.75% above 2013; town to vote on March 3


By Shawn Cunningham

On a snowy Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, the Chester Select Board struggled with needs vs. wants as it finalized the 2014 water, sewer and general fund budgets in preparation for Town Meeting Day (held Monday, March 3 with voting on fiscal articles and the budgets. Elections occur on Tuesday, March 4.) At the previous meeting, the board had asked town manager David Pisha to find areas to reduce or eliminate expenses to bring the increase in the budget below 4 percent.

According to Pisha, the new water and sewer rate schedule should help provide enough income to run those departments, but the board and some residents focused on the collection of delinquencies. Board member Bill Lindsay asked for a policy on such collections and Chester resident Richard Farnsworth asked if the town can cut off water and sewer customers for unpaid bills. According to Pisha, the town’s lawyer is looking into this but if that’s not possible, the property could be sold the same way it could be for delinquent taxes. “I’ll sell their houses,” Pisha said in response to Farnsworth’s request for better enforcement.

In another bid to save money, Pisha suggested eliminating local auditors. Halting the work of several Chester residents who look at the town’s expenditures would save $4,000 per year. Board member Derek Suursoo was somewhat skeptical of the idea noting that when it comes to accounting for town money, “I like more eyes, more brains.”

Noting that these are positions with a long history and elimination of the positions would require a vote, board member Tom Bock advocated for taking a closer look at the situation before making a move. “I would like to hear what they do. I don’t want to fight this out at Town Meeting.”

Board members said that since the town has to pay for outside auditors to comply with the conditions of taking federal money for projects like the sewage treatment station, the function of local auditors is superfluous. Board member Arne Jonynas said, “I don’t see the use of keeping something for $4,000 for tradition.” In the end, the positions were returned to the budget since Suursoo said he thought that the town could not eliminate the positions in the same year as the vote.

According to Pisha another savings could be realized by taking Lindsay’s suggestion to move the maintenance that needs to be done on the Whiting Library building out of the capital plan and making it a voted item at Town Meeting. It was noted that a USDA grant for repairing the library requires matching funds from the town and the vote by town residents. By making the appropriation of matching funds a “voted article,”  that expense won’t show up in the funds approved by the board.

Jonynas questioned that, since it would all end up in the tax rate. Suursoo said that voted articles are accounted for differently and don’t show up as part of the budget. “It sounds like a shell game.” Jonynas said.

“It is a shell game to an extent,” said Tom Bock. “But the important thing is that it shores up the capital fund.”

Whiting Library, paving budgets cut

Noting that the voters could defeat the article Pisha said, “The citizens could say ‘I never go to the library, I could care less, no.’”

Earlier in the evening, Whiting Library trustees represented by Bruce Parks had brought an offer to take a $5,000 cut to help with the budget. Pisha – conferring with Select Board members before the meeting had increased the cut to $8,000. Parks and library trustee Mariette Bock argued that such a cut was too deep. On a motion, the board agreed to accept the library cut of $5,000, and downsizing its 2014 budget to $67,000, from $72,000.

Another contentious item was cutting the town’s paving budget from $115,000 to $75,000. There was discussion of the streets that need work and it was pointed out that once a street begins to deteriorate, the cost of fixing it rises rapidly. Saying that the board was cutting its own throat, Suursoo moved to put $25,000 back in to the budget, making the paving line $100,000. That was defeated 3-1. Next a motion was made to adopt Pisha’s paving figure of $75,000 and it was approved by the same margin.

Pisha gave credit to Suursoo for coming up with the idea to pay for a 10-year-old invoice from the State of Vermont for bridge work by using money from the Hurricane Irene fund provided by FEMA. The board has kept that money aside to use if the federal government should audit and ask for money back. If that were to happen, Suursoo noted, the town would have to pay for it from taxes – the same way the old bridge bill was to be paid. If FEMA does not come back for money, the town makes out well. The idea was approved.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson requested that the board consider putting a fire hose testing device back into the budget for this year. Wilson said that hose testing helps prevent injuries and thus liability and has been required for many years although Chester has not been doing the tests. The unit costs $4,500 and has a life expectancy of 20 years. After a discussion of whether the tests could be done by a contractor and whether the equipment (and costs) could be shared with other towns, the board voted to add the cost of the test equipment to the capital plan budget.

In the end, the board approved a budget for $2,545,346.19, an increase of $115,539.23 or 4.755 percent over last year. The budget proposal will now be voted on at Town Meeting.

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  1. Mike says:

    An article about a 4.75 percent increase in the budget and nothing about what is causing the new expenditure?! No neighboring town has a hose tester we could borrow a couple times a year?! I propose $4,000 be added to the budget to audit town manager Pisha and the select board to see how much their incompetence is costing us.