Chase beats incumbent Suursoo in landslide for Chester Select Board

Panorama of Monday's Town Meeting in Chester. Photo by Claudio Veliz. Click photo to enlarge

Panorama of Monday’s Town Meeting in Chester. Photo by Claudio Veliz.

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

In what could be considered a landslide victory, newcomer Heather Chase took more than 57 percent of  the vote on Tuesday to beat incumbent Derek Suursoo for a three-year term on the Chester Select Board. With a 93-vote difference, Chase won,  335 to 242, in one of the biggest recent turnouts (584 voters) in a non-presidential election year. Suursoo has been on the board for nine years.

By comparison, the average turnout in the previous three years that did not have a presidential primary as part of the vote was 416. In 2012, with the primary on the ballot, the total was 638.

Heather Chase beat Select Board incumbent Derek Suursoo by more than 90 votes.

Heather Chase has won a three-year term on the Chester Select Board.

In a brief interview last night, Chase said, “I am deeply honored and gratified by the turnout and support and look forward to serving Chester residents for the next three years.”

Other races were uncontested and individual vote totals can be found at the end of the story.

On Monday night, around 100 Chester voters gathered at Town Hall for a relatively tame Town Meeting.

The Chester Town School District meeting was held first and board chair Alison DesLauriers explained that the state’s calculations point to a reduction in tax rates this year, although each individual property owner will see a picture

Derek Suursoo served nine years in office.

Derek Suursoo served nine years in office.

based on changes in assessments and changes in income for those who benefit from income sensitivity calculations.

The Town School District budget of $202,772 (which covers special ed and other expenses for Chester students in the union schools) and other routine articles passed easily and moderator Bill Dakin closed the school district meeting and called the Town Meeting to order.

In addressing Chester’s municipal budget of $2,837,470.52, (an increase of 11.5 percent over last year) town manager David Pisha explained that education taxes, which represent about 70 percent of a property tax bill, would be going down and municipal taxes would be increasing, making taxes relatively flat this year. Pisha cautioned that each individual case is different and he could not make any blanket statements on individual tax bills.

Chester town manager David Pisha talks about the Chester budget.

Chester town manager David Pisha talks about the Chester budget. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted. Click photo to launch gallery.

“The town is in great financial shape,” Pisha said noting that the weather extremes have been challenging, “Other towns in the state are out of sand and salt, but we still have stockpiles left.”

Chester will get another full-time police officer in the second half of the year, according to Pisha, although it will not buy another cruiser, according to Police Chief Rick Cloud.

In response to a question of why the town needed another full-time officer, Cloud explained that a study commissioned by the Select Board had recommended one and possibly two additional officers. Cloud further noted that new state law makes using part-time officers more difficult by limiting the powers of less trained officers who often work part-time. Finally, Cloud said that the department is busier than in the past.

Bob Flint of Springfield Regional Development Corp. tells the crowd about all the businesses that SRDC has helped.

Bob Flint of Springfield Regional Development Corp. tells the crowd about all the businesses that SRDC has helped.

“It still bothers me,” said lister Wanda Purdy, “We’re just a small town. I know they see more of the bad side of town, but why do we need another officer?”

Select Board member Bill Lindsay interjected, blaming transitional housing of inmates from the Springfield state prison. He said he had heard directly from taxpayers who are afraid. “In the past, I shared your view,” said Lindsay. “This is for the safety of the town.”

Lindsay then noted that the hire was only for a year, so the town would “try it out.”

Board member Derek Suursoo was dubious, saying that once an officer was hired, that would become the norm and would continue forward.

The Chester Telegraph asked Police Chief Rick Cloud if the transitional housing unit at the corner of Pleasant Street and Main had been the cause of any disturbances or calls. He said it had not and as reported in the past, Chester Police make routine visits to the house.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin updates voters on happenings in Montpelier.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin updates voters on happenings in Montpelier.

Not only are the police busier Pisha said, the Fire Department saw a 43 percent increase in calls in 2014. To improve response to more calls, the Fire Department is changing dispatching services and adding new equipment to the radio tower.

Pisha also reported that the State of Vermont still has the paving of Routes 11 and 103 on its schedule for this year – including the rail crossing on Depot Street. This brought a collective sigh from the meeting.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin told the crowd that veteran legislators have told her this was one of the most difficult sessions in their memories. Dakin outlined some of the progress that’s been made, including an increase in the number of Vermonters with health insurance. Among the challenges for the state is the transportation budget and she expressed relief that the state intends to do the paving to which Pisha referred. Saying she was hopeful and cautious, Dakin asked residents to stay involved with their community.

Characterizing the item as “sending money out of town” members of the Select Board had declined to fund the Springfield Regional Development Corp. in the budget or from the Chester Development Fund, electing instead to put the $8,649 appropriation in front of the voters. As the article was read, a letter was presented to moderator Dakin to read to the gathering. Mark Martins of the Williams River House, a destination venue in Chester, was unable to make the meeting, but wrote to thank SRDC for its “help, information and professionalism” in negotiating the path to getting a grant to repair the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Irene.

Chair Debenedetti speaks directly to Wanda Purdy during Monday's Town Meeting.

Chair Debenedetti speaks directly to Wanda Purdy about hiring an additional full time police officer  during Monday’s Town Meeting.

SRDC executive director Bob Flint explained that his organization helps businesses start and stay in business. Noting that SRDC has 24 client businesses in Chester and last year helped arrange $300,000 in private financing for some of those clients. SRDC had a role in helping J&L Metrology in its move to the old Army Reserve Center on Route 11 West and had acted as a conduit for Irene relief funds totaling $284,250. This was one of the largest figures for any town in the region.

Lisa Kaiman of Jersey Girls Dairy on Route 103 North thanked SRDC for helping her through two rounds of funding for Irene damage and Richard Farnsworth rose to thank Flint for what he has done for Chester. “He’s a good man,” said Farnsworth. The article passed unanimously.

The rest of the articles that fund humanitarian, educational and service organizations passed with little objection except the $3,044 request from Health Care and Rehabilitation Services. A number of voters objected to the absence of a representative to whom they could direct questions. On a voice vote the ayes and nays were close. “I’m going to say it passes,” said Dakin, and no one in the crowd rose to object.

There were questions raised regarding a $900 request from an organization that provides services for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Tom Hildreth reported that he had looked at the group’s web presence characterizing it as something out of the ’60s with a narrow world view. Nancy Lindsay asked where the group is located to which Marilyn Mahusky replied Brattleboro. Ruth Douglas asked if the organization had helped anybody from Chester and Police Chief Cloud said that his department worked with them often and that they will come out in the middle of the night to help. The article passed with a smattering of nays.

Under Article 19 – other business – Nancy Lindsay asked that the town look into a grant to fix the Town Hall, which she called “disgusting and probably not healthy.”

Fire Chief Matt Wilson told the crowd that after 45 years with the department, former Chief Harry Goodell was retiring. The meeting rose to give Goodell standing ovation.

School budgets pass by wide margins

School budgets and special votes for school initiatives passed by overwhelming totals. Green Mountain totals include Andover and Cavendish while the Chester-Andover Elementary totals include votes from Andover and Chester.  The Green Mountain Union High School budget passed by a vote of 528 to 341, while the special vote to create a fund to acquire school buses was approved 644 to 217.  The article to fund the GMUHS Capital Improvement Reserve Fund by $20,000 passed by a vote of 622 to 241.

The Chester-Andover Elementary School budget was approved 438 to 208 and the $25,000 contribution to the  CAES Capital Improvement Reserve Fund passed by 489 to 157. Finally, Chester voters approved the River Valley Technical Center budget 431 to 140.

Vote counts for uncontested positions

In other Chester election news, these positions were uncontested. Bill Dakin received 514 votes for town moderator and 515 for Chester Town School moderator; Wanda Purdy received 503 votes for lister and Barry Fowler received 439; incumbent Select Board members Tom Bock received 428 and Arne Jonynas received 454; John DeBenedetti received 477 for town Grand Juror; and Jo-Anne DeBenedetti received 472 as agent to defend suits; Marilyn Mahusky received 462  votes as a three-year Chester-Andover Elementary School director; Ted Spaulding received 476 as auditor; Shirley Barrett received 499 as Trustee of Public Funds; and for Trustees of the Whiting Library, John Holme received 452, Charlene Huyler received 470 and Carrie King received 460. Deb Brown received 31 write-in votes to take the three year term as GMUHS Director. The post of Chester Town School Director remains vacant.

Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: AndoverChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (3)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Stevo says:

    Nice job swiftboating the incumbent for one of Claudio’s minions folks.

    Lets see how many of you like the Green Acres economic plan after it chases out any potential biz here


  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Hi Aula,

    Thank you for the kind words and comment. In reviewing the article, I didn’t see a reason given for people’s voting no on the HCRS funding. All the article says is that a “number of voters objected to the absence of a representative to whom they could direct questions.” And then the votes were taken. Shawn Cunningham says he does not recall anyone bringing up the large payout, although it, and likely many other reasons, go into people’s votes.

    Thank you again and keep reading and keep us on our toes!

  3. Aula DeWitt says:

    Thank you for your comprehensive report on the town meeting and the results of the Australian balloting. I always find your articles informative.

    I do, however, question if the reason why some voted nay on the HCRS funding request at town meeting was for the reason you specified.

    It would be difficult, at this time, to determine the reason for anyone’s vote but with the recent publicity about a large payout to a former HCRS administrator I do wonder if that also played into the voting.