Chester wrestles with tight budget; Hearse House planning moves ahead

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

During the Chester Select Board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17, town manager David Pisha reported that funds – including property taxes — are coming in slower than last year.

Select Board member Derek Suursoo noted that the financial report handed out didn’t give him the detail needed to project how the year would come out and asked if the town needed to cut back on expenses to keep from running a deficit. “Now we can take corrective action,” said Suursoo, “when later it could be too late.”

Board member Arne Jonynas asked if a spending freeze was too drastic.

Pisha noted that one-third of the municipal budget is public works and that the weather is a determining factor. “We are at the mercy of mother nature,” said Pisha. “A mild winter would be great.”

Suursoo asked if the Sewer Department would be able to make its $92,000 bond payment this year and pay back a loan that was made from the General Fund. Pisha said that there is money to make the payment, but that it may not be enough to cover all of it. He suggested repeatedly that the water and sewer rates need to rise. Select Board member Tom Bock said the town could also lower expenses adding that, “Businesses do this all the time.”

Pisha noted that the small customer base makes it difficult to come up with enough income and that the rates could go up with the November billing. Suursoo characterized the situation as “not a very happy time,” while Bock called it “gloomy.”

Hearse House fund collection moves along

The Hearse House at Brookside Cemetery in Chester. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The Hearse House at Brookside Cemetery in Chester. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Tory Spater of the Chester Beautification Committee reported that its efforts in two weeks had yielded pledges of about $10,000 toward the $15,000 needed to match a state grant application that the Select Board approved at its last meeting.

The committee is working to restore the Hearse House at the Brookside Cemetery. It is considered the oldest Hearse House in Vermont.

At the previous Select Board meeting, Ron Patch of the Chester Historical Society had suggested using doors that are in the group’s possession and are purported to be original to the hearse house.

But Spater and Suzy Forlie explained that the current configuration of the building, which dates to 1907, has been deemed historic and that taking the building back to its 1830s configuration would not be considered an acceptable preservation practice and would probably put them out of the running for the grant.

Patch suggested letting the Select Board determine how the building would be preserved, saying that altering one of the historic doors to make them usable was — “in restoration, about as simple as anything you could possibly do. …For someone doing this kind of work it would be right up their alley.” The board asked the Beautification Committee to ask the people who administer the grants at the State of Vermont if using the doors would make a difference to the grant and to proceed in whatever way was best.

And finally, town resident Barre Pinske suggested that Chester purchase the Murray property on the northwest corner of Maple and Main to widen the road and make it easier for trucks to turn onto Route 103 north from Main Street. The Select Board said it was a state road and he should take it up with the state. Board member Bill Lindsay told Pinske that the state would say, “Thank you but we don’t have any money.”

Jonynas, who is an alternate member on the Transportation Advisory Committee, said that he would raise the question at the next TAC meeting on September 24.

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  1. Brian T. Heybyrne says:

    This may be 2014 MJ, but The Select “Bored” is stuck in 1980.

  2. Ron Jackson says:

    I completely agree with MJ Miles. Mr Pisha’s comment “A mild winter would be great” is laughable. If you are depending on a mild Vermont winter to balance your town budget, you’re doing it wrong.

  3. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I am unable to comprehend how our town does business. We increase lot sizes but bark about budget crunches.

    Amid public protest, we just made it so that the potential to subdivide a reasonable size lot to increase homes and tax dollars in Chester is now not possible. Does anyone listen to the residents anymore or is the lawyer the one who makes the decisions in this town?

    Help me to understand further why in comparison to our surrounding towns we have not adopted quarterly tax payments to increase cash flow. We actually borrow money and pay interest when our cash flow is low instead of quarterly tax payments. Why does our town not take credit/debit cards for payment? This is 2014.

    The town’s website offered local businesses free advertisement on the website when it first came out to foster good exposure. We did the paperwork and never got ours. I have emailed several times — no response. Now I read what a mess of situation the website is. What happened to contracting with an experienced person, being on top of it and ensuring the signed contract with details of what is expected is done?

    Now we talk budget crunch and the Select Board still does not have what it needs to evaluate the budget properly to try and mitigate a deficit. Why don’t they have that information? This is when everyone is starting their fiscal budgets for the next year. Financials can be printed at any given point and actual-to-budgeted can be done weekly. Projections can be updated weekly as well. This is economics. You make choices of what resources you have and how you can spend them according to what you have. CHOICES!

    I work, I budget what I have coming in and frankly if my taxes go up much more in comparison to what I get or don’t get for services, I am being taxed right out of this town. If I am. so are others. That means the value of our properties based on our taxes is not worth as much and selling is going to be hard. No one wants to move where taxes are exorbitant, not even a second homeowner in this economy.

    Am I the only one who feels this way? Thank you all for reading my frustrations. I am willing to bet I am not alone.

    MJ Miles