Chester Select Board raises sewer rates, green-lights design of water system upgrade

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2014 – Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a busy Nov. 5 meeting run by vice chair Derek Suursoo, the Chester Select Board raised sewer rates effective immediately for its 600 users, gave a nod toward hiring Golden Cross for a winter ambulance restructuring and OK’d a $155,000 contract to design a $4.6 million upgrade to the town’s water system.

With the sewer department running a deficit and missing an internal repayment installment last year, town manager David Pisha and the Select Board have been discussing an increase in sewer rates for several months. With the next billing cycle looming, last Wednesday’s meeting was the last chance the board would have to raise rates and start to close the gap this year.

Pisha proposed that sewer billing be modeled on the “equivalent unit” system used for water billing. Currently, users pay a base rate of $63.75 per quarter plus $7.43 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Sewer “gallonage” rates are based on the amount of water taken in by the household or business, whether that amount ends up in the sewer system or not. (Water rates were raised this summer to $40 for each equivalent unit of 18,000 plus $1 per 1,000 gallons.)

Under the new sewer billing, users will pay $102
for each equivalent unit (18,000 gallons) of water
coming in, plus a “gallonage” charge of $4.10 per
1,000 gallons.

Under the new sewer billing, users will pay $102 for each equivalent unit (18,000 gallons) of water coming in, plus a “gallonage” charge of $4.10 per 1,000 gallons. Using these figures, a sewer system customer taking 18,000 gallons of water would pay $175.80 ($102 plus $4.10 times 18); while a customer using 18,001 gallons would pay $281.90 ($102 plus $102 plus $4.10 times 19). Under the current system,  those same customers would pay $197.49 and $204.92 respectively. Pisha expects that most will see a rise in their sewer bills – especially those who use very, very little water. But as the examples above show, there are some who will see their bills fall.

After a brief discussion, the board approved the rate hike, which is now in effect.

Ambulance Service

Another issue that has been discussed for several meetings is the restructuring of Chester’s ambulance service to compensate for the decline in volunteers qualified to transport patients. Of several ideas that have been explored, the only one that keeps a local service while providing coverage in the wintertime, hard-to-staff 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekday slots is to contract with Golden Cross.

Under this proposal, the town would pay Golden Cross — which is headquartered in Claremont and dispatches from Westminster — $1,270 per month to send ambulances to Chester for calls. If Chester’s ambulance service can muster a crew, Golden Cross will be sent back.

The arrangement will begin in mid-November and run through mid-May. “I don’t hear any other options on the table,” said Suursoo.

“We can’t do it any other way if you want local service,” responded Pisha. Noting that residents have expressed a preference for the local service, board members approved the deal.

Water system upgrades

Appearing before the board, engineer Naomi Johnson of Dufresne Group asked the board if it was ready to proceed with the design phase of the upgrade that would bring the town water system in line with state requirements for fire flow. She said that the board should decide whether to go ahead with the $155,000 design phase necessary to request funding from the state of Vermont and from the USDA.

Johnson noted that this would lock the town into using a state loan to pay for the design, but it would not lock the town into going ahead with the project, which is estimated to cost $4.6 million. That decision would need to be made by voters at Town Meeting in March. To put that to a vote, the design would have to be done, the funding alternatives would need to be planned and the issue would have to be prepared and presented to the people of Chester.

“This is a pretty aggressive schedule for the board,” said Suursoo. “I’m not sure we can move that fast.”

Johnson assured Suursoo that it was also an aggressive schedule for engineering, involving a survey and boring, but that it could be done.

According to the town’s financial policies, the town
manager decides when a project or service goes to bid.
The financial policies do not absolutely require that
any town purchases go to bid.

“You’ll have the plans ready to go,” said water superintendent Jeff Holden. “Eventually, we will have to do this. Do you want to get it done now or do it when you have to and it will be more expensive?”

“Most of the system is 100 years old,” Holden added.

Johnson noted that with plans in hand, the town could wait to see if a more favorable funding climate comes along later.

Suursoo said that considering the financial trouble that the water and sewer departments have experienced, he was nervous about taking on the debt that the system could not support. Board member Tom Bock responded that it was “not a failure of the system, but a failure of the Select Board to create a system,” said Bock. “We have an obligation to the community.” “The town won’t be responsible, but rather the 600 water customers,” said Suursoo.

“There’s a way to change this and put it right,” said board member Bill Lindsay, “but we’ll have 500 people in here tomorrow.”

“Is it the job of the town or the 600 users to provide (fire) flow to the schools,” asked Lindsay, suggesting that the residents of the town who are not connected to the water system should pay for the upgrade as well. “It serves the whole town.” Lindsay then moved to authorize Pisha to sign the agreement on behalf of the town.

Suursoo questioned why the town had not bid a $155,000 contract. Bock countered that Johnson had worked with the town for many years and had relationships with town staff as well as funding sources that were valuable. He also noted that Johnson was from the area. “I like that,” said Bock, “She’s us. I like using her.” Johnson also sits on the Chester Planning Commission, which is headed by Bock.

Holden concurred saying that he trusts Johnson and Dufresne.

According to the town’s financial policies, the town manager decides when a project or service goes to bid. The financial policies do not absolutely require that any town purchases go to bid.

Lindsay said that the question of bidding the contract should have been raised earlier, and asked that the question be called. The board voted to go ahead with the contract.

Budgets, Winter Carnival & Green Up Day

The board continued its work on the 2015 budget, looking at the request of the Police Department for a school resource officer to be paid for by grants, changes in the ambulance service, a request for a part-time employee to free Julie Hance to give more assistance to David Pisha, decreasing the paving budget, and looking at ways to increase zoning enforcement. The Select Board has been putting the budget discussions at the beginning of its meeting and making preliminary budget documents available so Chester residents and taxpayers can follow the process.

In other actions, Julie and Bob Pollard of Chester Hardware appeared before the board to request that the Winter Carnival be allowed use of the Pinnacle and Cobleigh Field on Feb. 14 and 15, 2015 for sled races, skating, a bonfire and broom hockey. Julie Pollard noted that the dogsled rides would take place at Buttonwood Farm. The board approved the use of town property and thanked the Pollards for their efforts.

The board also appointed Frank Kelley to be Chester’s Green Up Day coordinator for 2015.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: ChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (3)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    When is the next meeting regarding this issue? I refuse to pay for any upgrades to that sewer/water system. I cannot believe this town still is not following a bidding process. This has gotten us in trouble numerous times. Who has the right to give out a project because they “know” them? How is this acceptable? Do we need to amend bylaws to adjust how town projects are handled? How do we go about dealing with this issue? I would like to know.

  2. Wallace Brown says:

    Concerning sewer rates, what about those of us with town sewer but not town water?

  3. Bob says:

    Another town project signed off on without a bid process. I need to get on a committee so I can funnel some taxpayer dollars to my business…