Bolstering existing businesses suggested as way to aid Chester

By Shawn Cunningham

Noting that this was a once-a-year occurrence, David Pisha opened the first Select Board meeting after Chester’s elections of March 4. At its annual reorganization meeting, the board re-elected John DeBenedetti as chairman, Derek Suursoo as vice chair and Arne Jonynas as secretary.

As it has at recent meetings, economic development dominated this one as well. DeBenedetti said that the board has been looking at the economic development plans of Bangor, Maine, and Bennington noting that the latter’s focus recognizes that attracting new industry is difficult and that “economic vitality” can be achieved by helping existing businesses succeed and keeping up infrastructure to attract visitors.

DeBenedetti pointed out that the Grand List is not growing and is not likely to grow at a pace that would account for inflation, not to mention the increases in education taxes. DeBenedetti asserted that these taxes make Vermont less attractive and depresses Grand List growth. This touched off a discussion of the way that education is funded and how difficult it is to understand. Members including Arne Jonynas – who until recently served on the Green Mountain Union High board – questioned how real estate could be selling below assessment while the state of Vermont is showing the value of Chester real estate to be greater. The board asked if these calculations could be appealed and Pisha said that town attorney Jim Carroll is looking into it.

Suursoo suggested that the Select Board meet with the school board to try to understand this better. “Sitting and squawking about this isn’t going to help us,” said Suursoo.

Turning back to economic development, DeBenedetti pointed out that the board had written a “vision statement” for economic development about a year ago. That plan, which was to be administered by the town manager, was to take a portion of the Chester Development Fund to do marketing surveys, create a new website and hire consultants.

At the April 2013 meeting as well as during this March meeting, the board also discussed the vision statement and forming a committee of Chester residents to spearhead development and creating a survey to see what people want to see happen in this area.

Last Wednesday, members questioned whether anyone would serve on a board. “If there’s no skin in the game,” Bill Lindsay said, “we’ll be talking about this in five years.”

“Do our citizens really want development?” asked Suursoo. “We’ve been talking about this for years and nobody is coming forward to play with this.” In fact, creating a committee, surveying residents and building a website were all discussed by the board at several meetings last year. At its July 3, 2013 meeting, the board agreed to pay $10,000 to a new company to build a new town website. That website – which was estimated to be completed in less than two months – remains under construction.

Citing Readex (Newsbank) as a good example of clean, sustainable businesses, Jonynas said that he thought people do want development. The board agreed that they would prefer to refer to the topic as “economic vitality” rather than development.

DeBenedetti noted that Marji Graf of the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce suggested that Chester market itself as a location for movie making in light of a couple of short films and a TV movie that have been shot here.

New water rates

The board took up the question of when the new water and sewer rates would go into effect, noting that there are four meetings until the next billing. Suursoo asked whether there would be public comment. Tom Bock suggested warning a meeting for comment, but Julie Hance, assistant to the town manager, advised that since the base rate was established by a public vote, that changes to it may also require a vote. Hance said she would have to check with the original article. Pisha, in December 2013 said that he would like to have the new rates in place by mid-February 2014, now suggests that the new rates might not be ready until the August billing.


Also, the  board made appointments to town offices. Most were reappointments including secretary to the board Georgia Ethier, cemetery sexton Jeff Sheldon, Council on Aging representative Linda Stowell, Green Up Day chair Frank Kelley, Solid Waste representative Derek Suursoo, Regional Planning representatives Tom Bock and Derek Suursoo, Planning Commission members Tom Hildreth and Randall Wiggin and Connecticut River Transit representative Bruce Parks. Jeff Holden was reappointed as first constable and fire warden and Joseph Epler was reappointed tree warden.

At 9 p.m. the board moved to go into executive session to discuss a contract.

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  1. sc says:

    Somewhat mystified that no one is discussing the “new, improved” wireless water meters residents were ordered to have installed as the possibly real culprit here. Perhaps a better assessment of the actual water usage, which if correct, could in actuality show we are not in fact using less but were being over-charged in past years.

    At that time we were also warned that in many locales that installed new meters, water rates actually increased as the new meters reflected a more accurate usage rate. And if I remember right. there was to be no charge — I now see we are each paying $80./yr for the privilege of housing the new “more accurate” meters but would collect usage data drive-by using hand-helds. Further, we were also told “it would be a savings to the taxpayer as meters would not have to be read by hand.” Where are the savings and how much did it cost to implement?

    Surprise surprise. Now we are being told usage has dramatically dropped and those of us who are using the least will pay more while large users, i.e. car wash, Drew’s (laundromat?) will pay “a flat fee.” So what would be the incentive for large users to conserve?

    Our bill without even using the water to drink is like upward of $470. yearly. Billing methodology discussed would penalize responsible users while we thrifties subsidize the larger users. I was puzzled upon reading a comment made by one of our fearless leaders in the past that “some water bills were not being paid.” Well ours is not one of them nor did we believe payment of bills was optional nor are we wealthy or anywhere near it. Discontinuing service is a wonderful way to encourage payment. If those are business owners, not being able to open doors sends a pretty clear message.

    Also with the new car wash it alone could increase water usage levels to former levels unless I’m missing something here.

    I suggest the town replace these “new & improved” meters with the old ones if they wish to have a more municipal-friendly metric that would serve as a basis and at least the appearance of an actual measurement that is in the ballpark of what our leaders would like to see residents pay for this service.