Chester board addresses school funding, police resources, Popple Dungeon Road

By Shawn Cunningham
©Telegraph Publishing LLC — 2014

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Chester Select Board continued to review  a proposed town budget and received updates on a number of projects including the solar farm to be built on town land behind the Jeffrey Barn, the long delayed Popple Dungeon Road project and improvements to the cell tower at the Pinnacle. It also went into the meeting warning two executive sessions for “contractual” considerations, but changed that in its session to one unidentified “real estate purchase option.”

The board’s closed-door meeting was the sixth such session in the last seven regularly scheduled meetings. Called to discuss personnel, contractual and real estate matters, the average executive session is more than two hours long and no record of the session is available to the public. The board did not go into executive session at its Nov. 5 meeting, which was the first gathering after a special session in which a representative of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns explained the recent changes in the state’s open meetings law and advised the board how to keep its executive sessions in compliance.

solar featured artThe Select Board also got word that solar farm developer Green Lantern received its Certificate of Public Good from the state, allowing it to finally go forward with construction. First proposed in February 2013, the solar farm behind the Jeffrey Barn across from Trebo Road at Route 103 North was discussed, negotiated in several executive sessions, voted down and after reconsideration was approved a week before Christmas last year. Delays this year mean that it will not begin construction until next year with the generation of electricity and income for the town to follow.

In the budget session, board member Derek Suursoo requested more income and expense projections from the current year’s budget. Noting that tax collections were slower than previous years, town manager David Pisha resisted making detailed projections. “Companies do this all the time,” answered Suursoo.

Pointing out the uncertainty of guessing a tax collection number when receipts are lagging, Pisha noted that if he predicted an upbeat outcome, “I’d look like an idiot.”

“I still think we can do better,” Suursoo told Pisha.

Police resources, ‘filtered news’

In other budget discussions, the question of whether to use grant funds to secure a “resource officer” for the schools or simply hire another full-time officer for the Police Department was discussed with Chief Richard Cloud, who noted that Adam Woodell has recently filled out the roster of full-time officers. Much of the discussion revolved around the department’s staffing as it relates to traffic stops and the budget item called “court fees,” which are the town’s share of income from speeding tickets.

Board member Bill Lindsay expressed his preference for hiring a full-time officer rather than a grant funded resource officer as long as that officer could make enough traffic stops to offset the estimated $60,000 expense of putting him or her on the payroll.

In old business, Pisha distributed copies of The Chester Telegraph’s story on the Vermont Supreme Courts hearing last week of the appeal of the Environmental Court’s decision in the Dollar General Act 250 permit. Pisha noted that the Dollar General case was among the subjects on the old business list.

Select board member Derek Suursoo objected to receiving The Chester Telegraph article saying that he “wants to hear from someone who represents us, not from someone who filters it.”

Suursoo objected to receiving the article saying that he “wants to hear from someone who represents us, not from someone who filters it.” Suursoo was apparently referring to town attorney Jim Carroll, but Pisha noted that the hearing had only taken place the previous day.

“This is the official word,” asked Suursoo. “No thank you, I just don’t like getting my news like this.”

Education funding, Popple Dungeon work

The board discussed whether to sign a statewide resolution to express displeasure with the education funding system in Vermont that also calls for capping the education funding at 2015 levels for two years or to send a letter directly from the board to state officials.

Board member Tom Bock said he was ready to sign the resolution noting, “It can’t do any harm.” Board member Bill Lindsay agreed saying, “It’s not binding.” Members then expressed concern that in two years the expenses would jump dramatically. The board then voted 3 to 1 to not sign the resolution with only Arne Jonynas voting to sign it.

The Chester Select Board will be sending this letter to state lawmakers. Click to enlarge.

The Chester Select Board will be sending this letter to state lawmakers. Click to enlarge.

Suursoo then moved that the board send a letter to state officials. Discussion followed over who it would be sent to. In addition to a multitude of state officials, the board gave some thought to sending it as an open letter to newspapers in the region. Suursoo expressed some discomfort with “putting our laundry out in front of everybody,” but noted that since it was a public document, the papers could get it anyway. In the end, the motion to send a letter passed. See letter to the right.

Jonynas called the board’s attention to the Pinnacle radio tower, which he said had been upgraded with new anchors and cables. As the town has been approached by several companies offering to upgrade the tower as part of their renting cell phone space on it, Jonynas wondered who had done the work. Pisha said that he was unaware of the work, but he would track it down

Noting that the Popple Dungeon highway fund has been expended to pave Flamstead Road, assistant to the town manager Julie Hance explained that the monies set aside amounting to $90,000 had been turned over to the Public Works Department for paving by voted article in 2012 with the proviso that the grant that had been requested be given before the monies were released. The grant calls for Chester to make an  in-kind contribution of highway department work worth $55,772.50 to receive $167,317.50 in funds to reroute and shore up a portion of the road.

According to Hance, the work was delayed this year when the state deemed a part of the relocation area a wetland. That issue has since been worked out and construction will begin and must be completed in 2015.

In other business, Dick Jewett and Richard Bigwood went before the board to ask permission for the Chester Snowmobile Club and VAST to use several stretches of town roads. The request was similar to those made in the past and permission was given without objection.

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