Chester Select Board votes to repave Common with economic development dollars

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At an early morning special meeting on Monday Aug. 10, the Chester Select Board voted 3-0 to accept a $30,000 bid from Pike Industries to plane and pave Common Street next to the town Green. The board then voted 3-1 to take the the money for the project from the economic development fund.

While paving the Common was not in the town’s plan for 2015, it became a question last Wednesday morning as Agency of Transportation contractors began preparing 2.7 miles of roadway in Chester for repaving. The Select Board thought that if work on the Common could be piggybacked on the current job, the town could save mobilization fees associated with putting all the equipment needed into place. You can read about the continued work here.

Rick Paterno, owner of the Free Range restaurant on the Common, told the board that the Green is the “jewel” of Chester. As owner of the building, Paterno said, he believes it is his responsibility to keep it up just as the owners of other properties on the Green take care of “this special place.”

The town, Paterno said, should view its responsibility as the owner of the road in the same way. Referring to a Rotary sponsored talk given by architect and small town development consultant Steven Cecil, Paterno said that one of Cecil’s comments resonated with him. “The No. 1 priority is traffic pattern flow and parking,” Paterno quoted Cecil. “That’s the low hanging fruit.”

The Green to the left of  Common Street.  Telegraph Publishing Photo 2010.

The Green to the left of Common Street. Telegraph Publishing Photo 2010.

Board chair John DeBenedetti said that “some time ago” he had brought up striping and paving and thought this was the time to do it and save money.

“There will never be a time less expensive to do this project,” said Paterno. “We’re just going to have to do this down the line.”

DeBenedetti said that this was discussed at the July 5 Select Board meeting and that the idea of taking the money from the Chester Development Fund was brought up then. Telegraph notes from that meeting show only that DeBenedetti had called it an “economic development” issue. There was no discussion of using the CDF to pay for the work.

Board member Tom Bock moved to accept the bid by Pike Industries. Board member Heather Chase seconded the motion saying “This is the right time to do it.”

Board member Bill Lindsay moved that $30,152 be taken from the development fund to pay for the paving. Bock seconded “for the purpose of discussion.”

Chase said she thought it was the time to do it but could not support using the development fund. noting that keeping up the road was a town responsibility that should come from the town budget.

Lindsay noted that no one is applying for the development funds and that having the Common paved might attract another business to that area.

Bock said he was of two minds questioning whether the paving was a legitimate use of federal funds aimed at economic development. DeBenedetti said that the board had used CDF money to pay for a new town website. “I was not in favor of it, but everybody else was,” said DeBenedetti.

Bill Dakin, who has been involved with recommending businesses to receive these funds, agreed that the work was needed but questioned whether CDF funds should be used for it. DeBenedetti said there are guidelines for lending it to the public, but not for municipal use. In the past the Water and Sewer departments have both borrowed for the funds. The Water Department financed new meters through CDF. Dakin asked if the town could borrow the money from CDF then pay it back.

“What’s the difference?” asked Bock. “We could pay it back, but that would be a cold day in hell.”

In light of recent discussion of the history of the Water Department’s surplus, which was used to keep user’s rates low, the Telegraph asked if this wasn’t a similar situation.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” said DeBenedetti.

Lindsay asked that the motion be called and DeBenedetti, Bock and Lindsay voted in favor with Chase voting nay. Board member Arne Jonynas was not at the meeting.

The difference in the vote tallies comes from DeBenedetti’s custom of not voting unless he is breaking a tie. While there was not a tie to break, DeBenedetti opted to weigh in nevertheless.

In addition to discussing the paving, the board and public talked about better signage to keep people from driving up the wrong way on the Common.

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