Chester board talks party to celebrate N.Y. charter; Townscape recaps volunteer work

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board continued to wrestle with funding capital expenditures by municipal bond rather than through current tax revenues and worked on the budget at its Dec. 16 meeting, but not before talking about some partying.

In fact, while it did not delve into the question of whether 2016 will be the 250th or the 255th anniversary of the founding of Chester, the board was in full party planning mode.

Remembering the centennial celebration in his Minnesota hometown when he was a lad, board member Tom Bock said that the parade for that anniversary went on for two and a half hours. Bock asked Tom Hildreth and Ron Patch if they could get marching bands for a parade. Patch said he had never gotten one because the schools are on vacation in the summer.

Board chair John DeBenedetti suggested a barbeque at the Pinnacle for a few thousand dollars. Hildreth said he liked the idea of a barbeque while Bock felt that a large parade was in order with bands and floats. He suggested moving the celebration from the July 14 day of the New York patent to Labor Day or to the weekend of the Fall Festival so the school bands could appear.

Bock asked about moving the date to which Patch replied “Tom, I really don’t care at this point.”

DiBenedetti asked if Hildreth would help organize this event and asked Patch about the participation of the Chester Historical Society. Patch, who resigned as president of the group, told the board, “I’m on the nominating committee and so far there are no nominees.” DeBenedetti asked when the historical society would have its next meeting. “You can’t have a meeting without a slate of officers,” said Patch, “and we don’t have a slate of officers.”

“So it’s something that has to be done outside the historical society,” asked DeBenedetti.

“Maybe we need and ad hoc ‘Chester 250’ committee – or something like that,” said Hildreth.

After more discussion of dates and events including colonial period games and vendors known as suttlers who sell gear to re-enactors, the board decided to appoint a committee to organize a celebration and to make those appointments at the second board meeting of next month, Jan. 20, 2015. The board asked Hildreth and Frank Kelley for a progress update on forming a committee at the Jan. 6 meeting. Kelley told the board that he would help with a press release about forming a committee.

Board members  Bill Lindsay and Arne Jonynas suggested putting some money in the budget for the celebration while DeBenedetti said they should wait to see how the budget comes out.

Townscape continues sprucing up Chester

Tory Spater Somerville recaps Chester Townscape's 2015 work and outlines what can be done in 2016

Tory Spater Somerville recaps Chester Townscape’s 2015 work and outlines what can be done in 2016

Tory Spater Somerville came before the board to go over the activities of Chester Townscape, formerly known as the Chester Beautification Committee. Included in the works of this volunteer organization were brochures, the planting and maintenance of a number of flower pots throughout downtown, fall displays in a number of those pots, more daffodil plantings and 25 wreaths and garlands put up through town.

Going forward, Sommerville said that the group would be continuing to prune and shape trees on the Green, although there are a few that are not healthy and will need to be removed. She added that the group has an estimate of $1,450 to replace the roofing on the gazebos on the Green and in front of the Town Hall. The group also intends to repair the gazebo on the Green, repaint it with donated paint and labor.

Suzy Forlie of Chester Townscape reported that they had made repairs to the stone walls and slate roof of the Public Tomb and deposited money with the town to pay for the restoration work on the Hearse House. The group is currently raising money for an interpretive component in the building and asks the public for help with photos and memorabilia for the project.

Forlie also encouraged the town to apply to Preservation Trust of Vermont for a grant to have a condition assessment of Town Hall done.

“When a request like this comes up for relatively small money, I hope we put this in,” said Jonynas.

Funding capital expenses

Former select board member Derek Suursoo

Former select board member Derek Suursoo.

Former board member Derek Suursoo asked several questions on the idea of funding capital expenses with bond issues. Suursoo said that he understood the idea of flattening out the expense so no one year spikes the tax rates, but questioned whether some of the expenditures were truly large enough and long-lived enough to qualify as capital items.

Suursoo also questioned the strategy of including water and sewer items in the overall bond since these areas are supposed to remain apart from the general fund. Town Manager David Pisha said it’s an acceptable practice as long as there is a trail that shows that the water and sewer departments received the money and demonstrates that the departments are paying the money back.

As with many discussions about money in Chester, the conversation turned toward whether those who are users of town water should be the only ones paying for the water system. Suursoo noted that in the past, users had rates kept low by select board decisions to use a $220,000 surplus to offset rates rather than putting that money toward infrastructure.

He also said that a $20,000 hydrant fee has been paid to the water account each year from the general fund without expenses for hydrants to offset the payments.

“Now stop right there,” interjected Bock, pointing to the maintenance of water infrastructure as an offset to that expenditure and saying that you have to get the water to the hydrant for it to be effective.

Suursoo pointed to the taxpayer support of a number of buildings and institutions in town – including the Whiting Library, Town Hall, both schools among others – which are on town water and sewer and pay the those rates.

It was decided that the board could not finalize the general operating budget because there was still outstanding income and expenses that would affect whether this year shows a surplus or a deficit. The board scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Dec. 30. The budget must be finalized by Wednesday, Jan. 6.

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