Economic development gets a once over at Chester Select Board

After reviews of the financials and other housekeeping at its Feb. 19 meeting, the Chester Select Board turned to two lengthy discussions – one on proposed new water rates and one on economic development with an eye to growing the Grand List, the total assessed value of a town’s taxable real estate.

It was noted that with a Grand List of $419 million, adding a few percentage points to cover inflation means adding millions to the Grand List. Board chair John DeBenedetti said, “We have sent somebody on the way to develop a website that some people feel is one of the answers to economic development.”  He noted that the website would provide a way to list properties in town that are available for development.

The website was contracted in July 2013 at a cost of $10,000 and remains under construction despite the developer saying seven months ago that it would be finished in “a month to a month and a half.” No date has been given for the new town website to go live, although many experienced developers say that a complex  global corporation website could take three to six months to build. Here’s Chester town government’s current website.

Click the photo to view the proposed town government website that remains under construction.

Click the photo to view the proposed town government website that remains under construction.

DeBenedetti noted that it would help to have an inventory of sites that are connected to town water and sewer and thus attractive for development.

“I’m getting a little dispirited with economic development because the effort we put into this with the discussions doesn’t really yield anything.”
Derek Suursoo
Chester Select Board member

Board member Tom Bock suggested that the town might purchase an area and develop it as an industrial park. “Part of the problem is that we don’t have an industrial park area, owned by the town and pre-zoned,” said Bock. “So if you have a retailer who comes in and wants 9,100 square feet …  it would be done – there would be no 30 month wait to see if they come in.”

Board member Derek Suursoo questioned whether Chester would be the “middle man or buy, own and be the developer” of such a project. “I’m getting a little dispirited with economic development,” said Suursoo, “because the effort we put into this with the discussions doesn’t really yield anything.”

Referring to a hypothetical business (a brewery) that ran through the evening’s discussion, Bock noted, “Even if you said it can go here, eight people are going to come about and hire a lawyer and hold it out for 30 months and the developer doesn’t want that.”

“So again we’re closed for business,” replied board member Bill Lindsay.

“I’m not convinced that the majority of the citizens of Chester want economic development,” said Suursoo. “I think a large portion of this town is not really into this, not just a few, it’s a lot. And there’s an equal and opposite number that sees that a prosperous community helps them pay their taxes. But if I had to call it, it’s 50-50 or something like that. It’s close.”

Suggesting a direction that the town could take, board member Tom Bock thought that a venue for cross country skiing and skating in the town forest would be an attraction. “Come to Vermont, rent some skates and go cross country skiing … There would be a place to eat and warm up and it would be managed mainly by the rec department.” 

“The best thing I can do is make Chester an attractive place to come to,” Suursoo continued, “make the sidewalks work, make it a nice community where people are going to stop and spend their money. We are crawling along doing things, and the pace we are going seems to fit us as slow as it is.”

Town manager David Pisha noted that a town in Georgia just announced that a new factory is to be built there adding more than 400 jobs to the local economy and that townspeople are overjoyed. He doubted that the residents of Chester would be pleased with such a development.

As the discussion turned to whether to hire as consultant or a part-time development director, the question was posed on where the Springfield Regional Development Corp. was going to help Chester.

Suursoo noted that SRDC executive director Bob Flint has been asking for direction from the town for years. But DeBenedetti replied, “Why is he asking us? I’m just a little confused: Bob Flint is relying on us to provide a direction?”

Suursoo pointed to a number of discussions he has had with Flint over the years noting a “sense frustration” from him, waiting to get some direction.

“When I hear he has assisted local businesses, what else beyond that has happened?” asked DeBenedetti. “Who is the $8,600 we are sending out of town helping?” he asked, referring to the amount the town spends annually to be served by SRDC.

Suggesting a direction that the town could take, Bock thought that a venue for cross country skiing and skating in the town forest would be an attraction. “Come to Vermont, rent some skates and go cross country skiing,” said Bock calling this idea his “dream.”

“There would be a place to eat and warm up and it would be managed mainly by the rec department.” Bock foresees this as a boon for local inns that will then support more businesses on the Green and more restaurants and other businesses. “It would be a town initiative to build a tourist attraction.”

“They (inns) have no place to send their people” Bock said, noting that baby boomers who stay in Chester’s inns are shunning Okemo and Stratton fearing injuries and this would give them a place to go. “I even have a name for it,” said Bock. “Winterhaven.”

“Then we bring in the brewery and the label will be Winterhaven,” said Pisha.

In other business the board discussed signing a letter describing the function of town government for the authorities who give out “.gov” domain names. DeBenedetti asked if Chester was changing its web address, noting that it already has a “dot gov.” Other members questioned this as well saying that it must be a “dot org” because it certainly was not a “” For the record, the town subscribes to a for-profit service that provides municipalities with templates to use for their websites and an address. Chester’s web address is

Water rates to cover water department

Introducing the new water rate formula, Pisha explained that every account that has the ability to access the Water Department should cover its share of the base costs of the department. The idea is “equivalent units” are based on historic usage. There would be a scale of equivalent units with 1 being the lowest. Most homeowners would be in the 1 or 2 category.

The expenses of the department would then be divided by the number of equivalent units and charged to users. This would help to stabilize the income of the department so it is not dependent on the ups and downs of current flows. Residents and businesses who use very little water would see a major bump up in expense, while the average user could see a decline and heavy users could see minor increases. Covering the department’s costs in this way would also have the effect of reducing the per gallon rate dramatically.

The board did not approve the new billing scheme, and since bills just went out there is time to look at the new scheme.

“We don’t need to rush this” said Suursoo. Pisha said that either way there will need to be a change. If the new rates are not adopted, “the next billing that goes out will have to have a rate change  unless there is some massive increase in usage.”

“As a large user, probably a 7 or an 8, this system does make sense to me,” noted Lindsay who owns a laundromat. “I’m not jumping up and down because it’s coming out of my pocket but the gallonage isn’t going to support the expense. We’re going to have to change the rate.”

— Shawn Cunningham

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  1. Romey Romagnoli says:

    In response to Barre Pinske, an industrial park is for industry. A village green or vacant parking lot is for festivals and the like. Besides, the location suggested is on a floodplain that has been wiped out every 10 years or so. If there is a downturn in the economy, those millions of dollars driving by will be staying close to home, leaving festivals empty. With highway and rail access, there should be some industry willing to locate in Chester.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I think the smartest thing we could do is acquire the field next to the American Legion and build a festival grounds, a place to have festivals like the Big Buzz carving festival and perhaps a farmers market.

    It’s a low budget way to get some folks coming to town and spending money. Change it from a cornfield to hayfield, put in a gravel parking lot and we are on our way.

    Start small with things that are already working and are low impact. It’s a lot easier to run a show for a week or weekend than run a 365-days-a-year brick and mortar biz. Annual events grow. We could plan on them and be ready. Events that can stand on their own could be done at off-peak times. Everyone coming to town sees that field.

    There are millions of dollars driving by. It’s time we as a community work together to reap the benefits of Route 103. It’s a river full of fish. Why are we hungry? All we need is a line in the water. That’s why I moved here. It’s the best business decision of my life.