Chester Select Board member pushes fire district; board still unclear on ownership of historic firehouse

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its June 3 meeting, the Chester Select Board set up a busy session for June 17, when the meeting time will return to 7 p.m. from 6:30 at the request of chairman John DeBenedetti.

Among the discussions at last week’s meeting that will be on the agenda for next week are what to do about the question of who owns the Yosemite Fire House, a discussion of forming a fire district, the memorandum of understanding with Andover for emergency services and the adoption of a new dog ordinance.

Board member Heather Chase has advocated for a 6:30 p.m. meeting start time to allow more residents to attend.

Board member Heather Chase has advocated for a 6:30 p.m. meeting start time to allow more residents to attend.

Arriving at 6:32 p.m., DeBenedetti told the board that the earlier time of the meetings adopted recently was difficult for him to make. He asked for a motion to push the time of meetings back to 7 p.m. Board member Heather Chase had asked for the earlier meeting time to encourage residents to attend, which had started at 7 p.m. and often ran late. “What’s causing the long meetings is long discussions,” said DeBenedetti. Board member Bill Lindsay agreed, saying that the Development Review Board sets a time limit of 9 p.m.

A discussion of whether it is better to limit time or the number of agenda items ensued until DeBenedetti called the motion and the board voted 3 – 1 to return to the old starting time, with Chase voting against and DeBenedetti not voting at all.

Lindsay ponders fire district to tap into non-users

Suggestions for the next meeting agenda usually come at the end of the meeting, but during the approval of minutes — the first item on the agenda — Lindsay asked that the board discuss the formation of a fire district at the next meeting.

In recent discussions of the town water project, a fire district was described as a mechanism through which the town as a whole could be charged for the upgrade and operation of the water department. Currently, only users – those hooked up to municipal water – are charged.

According to state statute, a fire district can be set up if 20 property owners or registered voters petition a select board. It is then up to that select board whether or not to form a fire district – there is no requirement for a public vote.

Lindsay, the owner of a coin operated laundry in Chester and self-described “major water user,” has long been a proponent of having non-users pay a portion of the cost of the municipal water system.

 Who owns the historic fire house?

Chester resident Suzy Forlie asked the board what had been done in determining the ownership of the historic Yosemite Fire House on Route 103 north of Town Hall.

Yosemite Firehouse

Yosemite Firehouse (Telegraph Photo by Shawn Cunningham)

At an earlier meeting, the board had been told by Ronald Patch of the Chester Historical Society that the organization could no longer afford the $1,200 per year insurance and wanted to get rid of it.

Patch offered it to the Select Board but also said it could revert to the successor of the land’s original owner – the owner of the red brick house at 103 and First Avenue.

The board was informed by others that land records also supported the idea that the town has owned it since the consolidation of the fire department.

The board had talked about asking the town attorney – Jim Carroll of Middlebury – to do a title search, but DeBenedetti told Forlie that nothing had been done. “We talked about it, but we never authorized the money,” said DeBenedetti. “We were hoping someone would volunteer to do the title search.”

“The status now — wasn’t it turned over to the owner?” DeBenedetti said.

“I believe so,” said Lindsay.

“How could the Historical Society give it back, if we didn’t know for sure the Historical Society owned it?” asked Chase.

“I thought the Historical Society took some legal counsel,” said DeBenedetti.

“I thought we (the town) owned it,” said board member Tom Bock.

“I don’t know,” answered DeBenedetti.

Bock suggested that the board figure out how much a title search would cost and ask a lawyer to do it. Lindsay was unhappy at the idea of taking possession of the Yosemite fire house asking “do you (the town) want to own that building?”

Forlie and other audience members noted that if the town owns the building, it’s liable for it whether it acknowledges that ownership or not.

“Check it out David,” Bock said, referring to Town Manager David Pisha.

Planning for more deaths in town

Surveyor Deb Daniels, who is researching a Class 4 town road in relation to property in the Smokeshire area, told the board that while surveying Class 4 roads

Surveyor Deb Daniels lays out cemetery and hiking trail boundaries. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

Surveyor Deb Daniels lays out cemetery and hiking trail boundaries. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

was an expensive undertaking, it could be done over a number of years with one or two roads in each year’s budget.

Daniels also spoke about the expansion of the Brookside Cemetery into lands behind the Academy Building along with the plans to build a hiking trail up the hill across from Lovers Lane Brook.

Noting that the current cemetery has filled in so there is no way to access the new land from the old, Daniels said she, former cemetery sexton Ken Barrett, current sexton Jeff Sheldon and Town Manager Pisha would be working on a design for the new cemetery. Several in the audience asked if this would be a public process with input from residents. Pisha said that opening the design to the public without at least a rough concept would be “disastrous.”

Click here for the schematics of proposed cemetery.

Tory Spater of Chester Townscape (formerly the Chester Beautification Committee) asked that there be public input and board member Chase suggested that this might be the time set up a committee.  DeBenedetti was reluctant to form a committee fearing that it would make the deliberations subject to the open meetings law including warning meetings and keeping and posting minutes.

Fishing for business

Water treatment plant operator Barry Goodrich brought information from the engineering firm of Aldrich and Elliott regarding the renewal of the town’s discharge permit.

With the Environmental Protection Agency looking to lower the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus going into Long Island Sound, the state will be requiring  municipalities along tributaries that feed into the sound to monitor the discharge of those two elements monthly from the water treatment plant and create a plan to “optimize” discharges in the future.

The state – as part of its renewal of the water treatment plant permit – was asking for the plans by the end of September.  As it was presented, the board seemed to have just one day to sign a contract with the engineering firm so that firm could send a letter to the state asking for an extension in the process.

In looking at the documents however, it was clear that the state was giving the town time for public comment, which ended on the following day. Aldrich and Elliott were offering to send the public comment letter on behalf of the town for $1,000 and a contract for the rest of the work for $6,300.

Members of the board noted that the town had not asked the engineering firm for advice or help and felt that the company was fishing for business.  In the end, the board decided that Pisha should send an email with a letter to follow up expressing that the town needs more time to prepare for and carry out the requirements and that hiring of experts mandated by the draft requirements was not in this year’s budget.

In other action…

  • Dick Jewett of the Chester Snowmobile Club received permission for the club to do drainage work on Class 4 roads that it uses as trails. The board voted to allow the club to work on Blue Hill Road to Old Forge Road and from Whitten Road to Bemis Hill Road.
  • The board looked at a “redlined” version of a new dog ordinance largely taken from an example provided by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Although there was a motion to adopt the new law, it was decided that a finished copy of the ordinance would be provided for members to read before the next meeting and that a formal adoption vote would be taken then. You can see the VLCT’s Big Book of Woof here.
  • Pisha told the board that VTel would be attending the June 17 meeting to talk about putting the Big Pole — formerly of River Street and Waldo Road — behind the town garage. The pole will be used to provide wireless coverage.
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  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I beg to differ with respect to equating a sewer and water department being equal to that of a school department. There is no comparison.

    Our town has little to no ability to expand its system to dilute the expense. We simply have no plan for it.
    So, unfortunately, it is a terrible burden for those who use it.

    However, the majority of taxpayers of this town do not have access to sewer and water and never will. Why does anyone think it is fair we pay for others’ access and still have to pay to support our own on top of it. No one from the town will be working on my sewer and water system until 4:30 a.m. if it fails.

    I do agree with you, that only those who pay and use should have a say for the same reasons that I do not agree with the fact that I should pay for it.

    So if I have to pay for it, you bet I will vote on it. Unfortunately, the tax base rises and incomes do not. There are more houses for sale in this town and it has developed a reputation for high taxes. Who wants to live in those circumstances? I simply can’t afford it, so my hope is in four years I am moving out to a more affordable location.

  2. Frank Bidwell says:

    As stated by the town manager, this upgrade is for the benefit of the whole town just like a good school system, which I have to pay into. People were allowed to vote on this upgrade even though they were not going to have to pay for it. Where is the justice in that?

  3. Mary Jane Miles says:

    Well Bill Lindsay has finally found a way to force the large number of town residents who do not use municipal water and sewer to pay for it. Apparently 20 people and the select board can make the decision for the town of 3,000+ residents. We get no vote, no say. I wonder how much of our tax dollars went to the attorney’s time to find that loophole. Of course this would be very beneficial to Mr. Lindsay as his laundromat is a high user. Is there a way to put forth a petition to say that if in fact, those of us who have no chance of surviving a fire due to our distance from town, who will never have the ability to have town sewer and water can now bill the town for the replacement or repair of our own water and septic systems in return for our contribution to services we cannot access? I want the attorney to address this issue with time equal to the time he spent in finding this loophole. This process of paying more than appraised value to someone whose relatives have designed the system is unbelievable. When is anyone going to learn. This town needs leadership that does more than the same old business. Clearly, Mr. Lindsay has been gunning for this for years and now to actually do so in a way that doesn’t require a vote from the taxpayers is abhorrent! You do not represent the majority of the town Mr. Lindsay in taking away our ability to have a say!