Chester board moves toward capital bond plan, discusses 2016 anniversary

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In years past, late November and early December was a time of wrangling over what would go into – and what would come out of – Chester’s municipal operating budget. But at two recent meetings – Nov. 24 and Dec. 2 –  the plan for capital spending has been the sticking point.

Town Manager David Pisha explains the capital bond program while board members DeBenedetti and Bock take it in

Town Manager David Pisha explains the capital bond program while board members John DeBenedetti and Tom Bock listen. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Town Manager David Pisha — in an effort to spread capital spending out over several years to prevent any single year’s purchases from spiking the tax rate — has proposed floating municipal bonds for $1.67 million over 10 years including $880,000 for catching up on deferred paving and $400,000 for a new pumper for the fire department.

The remaining $371,000 is distributed among several town departments including recreation, water and sewer, highway and fire. Water and sewer users would reimburse the town for $85,000 spent to replace a failing sewage pumping station and $31,500 on hydrants.

A $70,000 item for work on Town Hall was removed from the plan after a discussion at the Nov. 24 meeting when board members learned that the work suggested was not the result of an assessment, but a bid by a contractor.

Board member Heather Chase suggested that some money be put back in the plan each year for work to be done starting with an assessment.  Board chair John DeBenedetti contended that it should not be an historic structure assessment because he believes that Town Hall is not historic. Pointing to the new windows, DeBenedetti questioned how a building could be historic with changes made to it.

With successive changes and tweaks to the capital plan after each meeting, discussions on Wednesday, Dec. 2 leaned toward passing the plan that still must be approved by voters on Town Meeting Day in March 2016.

In looking at the general operating budget, the board heard from Chester Ambulance Service coordinator Dan Cook and Recreation Department director Matt McCarthy.

Cook told the board that it needed to consider retaining Golden Cross Ambulance for $12,750 per year to cover the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. period on weekdays. Cook apologized for bringing this news so late in the process, but he told the board that with only two people available during those times and one of them — Jeff Holden — considering stepping down from the service, there would not be a full crew available during those periods.

“We’re doing fine nights and weekends,” Cook said, noting that there are recruits working on EMT certification.  Cook told the board that the solution might be a one full-time EMT to fill out the crew on weekdays.

Asked how the Winter Carnival – which had been led by volunteers Bob and Julie Pollard until this year – was coming along, McCarthy said that everything is booked. “I’m psyched,” said McCarthy noting that there would be 11 events happening that weekend including a Friday night dinner at Chester-Andover Elementary and a Saturday night bonfire. McCarthy told the board that the dogsled rides were not available this year, but they would be replaced with a 15-minute horse drawn sleigh ride.

Another 2016 anniversary proposed

Tom Hildreth proposing a 2016celebration of Chester's founding

Tom Hildreth proposes a 2016 celebration.

Chester resident Tom Hildreth rose during the public comment portion of the agenda to claim that next year will be the 250th anniversary of the founding of Chester and that there should be a celebration.

Hildreth told the board that the people who came here to found New Flamstead in 1761 left to go elsewhere and thus the charter given by New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth failed. The 1766 date refers to a New York “patent” obtained by New Flamstead resident Thomas Chandler when that colony asserted its rights to the land that is now Vermont.

However, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that Chester is under the 1761 New Hampshire charter.

In November 2013, Ron Patch, then president of the Chester Historical Society, also asked the board to consider appropriating $15,000 for an anniversary celebration that would have included an encampment of 300 French and Indian War re-enactors. Hildreth said that at that time the society had no funds to put toward a celebration and that several people spoke up against the idea.

Hildreth also asked the board to change the founding date from 1761 to 1766 on the “welcome to Chester” signs. “Time has gone on, we are running out of time,” said Hildreth. “We need a plan and individuals to put it together.”

“I think it can work, even if it’s not a big dollar thing,” said Hildreth, recounting a trip to The Fort at No. 4 in New Hampshire where period games such as hoop-rolling were demonstrated for visitors who could then try their hands at the games.

In 2013, residents who spoke about the proposed encampment wondered if the history of Chester needed to be linked so much to wars. “We may not like to think about war and violence on the frontier,” said Hildreth. “That’s the way it was and we can’t acknowledge the anniversary without that.”

As to the question of what to do and how much the town should put toward the effort, Hildreth said that he could not say since the next meeting of the historical society is not until January when they expect to elect officers.

Pisha noted that January was too late to put money into the budget for anniversary expenses.

“I’m in favor of some money set aside for it,” said Bock, urging Hildreth and the historical society to bring the board a plan, “give us something to think about.”

“It’s important, but the date we can talk about,” said Jonynas. “There should be people to coordinate and use that money.”

DeBenedetti asked that the new anniversary be carried as an agenda item so people can participate in the decisions at future meetings.

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