Chester sets tax rate, agrees to title search on Yosemite Fire House

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board set this year’s tax rate, approved a contract for a title search to determine the ownership of the Yosemite Fire House, heard an update on Merritt Edson day festivities and discussed the options to move the proposed water project forward at its Wednesday, July 1 meeting.

But first, the board held a two-minute public hearing regarding the re-adoption of the Town Plan, which would have expired later in July if no action was taken. A new, revised plan had been envisioned, but the protracted process of writing and ratifying the new Unified Development Bylaws left little time to make changes. Another hearing on the Town Plan will be held on Wednesday,  July 15 after which the Select Board will re-adopt it. Courts, attorneys and Chester residents have suggested that the town replace aspirational with more prescriptive language.

As predicted in February by Chester Town School District chair Allison DesLauriers, education tax rates are dropping this year, and that will offset the 5-cent increase in municipal taxes. The tax bills, which will be mailed later this week, will show a non-residential rate of $2.0723 (down from $2.1112) and a residential rate of $2.0128 (down from $2.0257.) Tax rates are not tax bills. Changes in your assessment or your income (if you are eligible for an income sensitivity subsidy) can have a large effect on the final tax bill.

While this is good news at tax time, it is not good news for those selling property. The decline in education taxes is due to an increase in the Common Level of Assessment, which is a ratio that evens out the playing field of town by town valuation of property. The increase in the CLA (which causes education tax rates to fall) is a direct result of real estate in Chester selling for below its assessed value.

Edson monument events

On Saturday, Aug. 15, the Chester Historical Society is set to dedicate a monument on the Green to Marine Corps general and Medal of Honor winner Merritt Edson. Historical Society President Ronald Patch told the board that he expects 1,000 people to attend and requested that the town allow the lot behind the Academy Building to be used as parking for cars and the Canal Street well site as parking for parade vehicles.

Patch said that American Legion Posts, VFWs, Shriners and Masons lodges from around New England were attending, making the parade longer than expected. A number of military vehicles are also expected. Patch estimated that if the parade stepped off at 11 a.m., the end of the parade would reach the Green by about 12:30 p.m. During that time, portions of Main, Maple and Depot streets will be closed.

Board member Arne Jonynas asked Patch if he had discussed the parade with Police Chief Rick Cloud. “I’ll do that,” answered Patch.

The parade is to be followed by an hour of dedication speeches on the Green with a flyover to coincide with the unveiling of the 7-foot tall obelisk. When Merritt Edson spoke on the Green in 1946, said Patch, “The town manager and select board were on the dais.” Patch extended an invitation for Pisha and members of the current board to join in the assembled dignitaries. Also echoing the 1946 event, a baseball game between the Vermont State Police and American Legion and VFW players will follow the dedication on Cobleigh Field.

Patch said he was very proud that the historical society raised $19,200 to have the monument constructed. “If you have a project and you work at it, you can do it,” said Patch.

“Good job,” remarked DeBenedetti.

Some movement on historic fire house

However, unlike a new monument for the Green, the iconic Yosemite Fire House on Route 103 between Chester Depot and the Stone Village, which has been under historical society care since 1976, has become something of a hot potato.

Yosemite Fire House. Telegraph photo.

Yosemite Fire House. Telegraph photo.

Earlier this year, the Chester Historical Society told the Select Board that it can no longer afford to keep up the $1,200 a year insurance policy for the almost 150-year-old historic building. It offered to give it to the Town of Chester or back to the successor of Pember Hazen, who deeded it to the society in 1976.

This despite the fact that historical society has touted its ownership, programs and future plans for the fire house for years on many websites — including the town’s official site.

Some members of the Select Board, especially Bill Lindsay, have expressed doubts about taking the building over from the society. But recently it came to light that Hazen may not have had ownership of the building and that it, in fact, has been owned by the Town of Chester, although not necessarily the land it sits on.

Representing the successor to Pember Hazen, attorney Bill Dakin told the board that his client did not want to own the fire house and noted that the town “has a competing, if not stronger interest in that building” than the historical society.

Last Wednesday, the Select Board decided to award a contract for two to three hours of research and opinion on the ownership of the fire house to Chester attorney John Holme.

In a related matter, a survey of the building by preservation architect Tom Keefe, scheduled at the urging of historical society member Lillian Willis, who offered to pay for a portion of the fee, almost did not occur. At an earlier meeting, the Select Board had welcomed the idea in hopes of getting a handle on how much it would cost to stabilize and restore the building.

But, an email from Willis to the Select Board dated Friday, June 26, said that the assessment “took place on Friday, June 19 in spite of an apparent last-minute decision by some Chester Historical Society board members to deny Keefe entrance to the building.”

The email said that Town Manager Pisha interceded while Keefe did the outdoor survey. Pisha  returned with the key, allowing Keefe to conduct the indoor survey.

Although the Select Board, at its July 1 meeting, mentioned the Willis email, and every Select Board member had a copy of it, no one read the letter into the record aloud. The Telegraph obtained a copy last Thursday.

In other action

  • Jean Peters of the Andover Select Board attended to put the final touches on the memorandum of understanding between Chester and Andover regarding the terms under which Chester provides fire, ambulance and emergency communications services to its neighbor. Andover board chair Harold “Red” Johnson is expected to sign the MOU at the July 15 meeting.
  • Pisha told the board that he had met with Road Superintendent Graham Kennedy and engineer Naomi Johnson ahead of mobilizing for the long delayed Popple Dungeon Road project. Asked when construction would begin, Pisha said in a month or so, with Dufresne engineering sending someone out on a weekly basis to “lay things out.” Board member Arne Jonynas asked if there was a possibility of losing the funding that h has a deadline of November. Hance said no.
  • In new business, Jonynas, a member of the Transportation Advisory Committee, told the board that Route 11 in Andover will be closed for 10 days while a VTrans contractor rehabilitates Bridge 41,  just east of Hilltop Road. For more information on the closure click here.
  • Board member Heather Chase asked that the board invite Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp. to a Select Board meeting periodically for an update on economic development and that the board re-visit Chester’s financial policy – namely the bidding process – at a future meeting.
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