Chester board adds full-time ambulance staffer, seeks clarity in capital bond plan

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board finalized the municipal budget for 2016 at its Jan. 6 meeting, adding a full-time ambulance position and approving the capital bond plan but sending Town Manager David Pisha back to the drawing board to come up with a clearer way of explaining the capital plan for the town’s annual report and for the Town Meeting.

Under the budget – which will be on the ballot on March 1 – town spending will increase by $12,252.15 or just under 1/2 of 1 percent.

Ambulance services chief Dan Cook explains the problems with getting service on some days. All photos by Shawn Cunningham

Ambulance Service chief Dan Cook explains the needs of the community versus what the service can supply. Fire Chief Matt Wilson sits to his left. All photos by Shawn Cunningham

Ambulance Service coordinator Dan Cook told the board that the volunteers who staff the ambulance can cover the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift and all day on weekends, but it’s more difficult to get the number of qualified people needed during weekdays due to work schedules. Cook said that the choice was between contracting with Golden Cross or hiring a full-time person who would be available during the week. While the cost of hiring a person is more than the contract with Golden Cross, Cook said that using the for-profit service would cost the town the fees charged to take patients to the hospital.

Cook also told the board that the added benefit of having a full-time person on the ambulance service would be keeping the response times low. “Golden Cross is coming out of Westminster,” said Cook, “and that adds 10 to 12 minutes to the response, especially in places like Smokeshire or Potash Brook Road.” The board asked Cook to see to it that an ambulance employee has tasks – like billing and other administrative work – to do during down time.

Former board member Derek Suursoo asked that money be put in the budget to start the process of getting gravel from the property purchased from O’Neil Sand and Gravel for the town’s water project. Any use of the property will involve getting an Act 250 permit from the State of Vermont.

“There’s resources there. We need to get that pit producing,” said Suursoo.

Board member Arne Jonynas agreed. “Once we closed, we have those assets,” said Jonynas. “If we don’t do something now we’ll be waiting another year.”

Pisha and Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that rather than applying piecemeal for several of the projected uses of the land, a plan should be put together for an overall project. The uses include the new 330,000 gallon water tank, a forest plan, deer wintering and hiking trails as well as gravel extraction.

“Even more reason to expedite this,” said Jonynas.

Derek Suursoo suggests moving quickly to extract gravel from the new town site.

Derek Suursoo suggests moving quickly to extract gravel from the new town site.

Suursoo said that the savings in the cost of gravel, fuel to transport it and wear and tear on town trucks could free up money for other areas of the budget. But board member Tom Bock wasn’t in favor of appropriating money for engineering and legal fees, which some estimated in the range of $50,000.

“I’m reluctant,” said Bock. “We have a budget increase of less than one half a percent. I like that. It makes me feel good so I’m reluctant to do it.”

Suursoo told the board that it needed to realize that there is a natural growth in budgets. “It feels like the old ‘level budget’ days. Each year the cost of living goes up, it’s a natural thing,” he said.

Citing the Fire Department’s need to replace hose, Suursoo said he favored a higher budget over long term bonding. “$40,000 is one cent on the tax rate,” said Suursoo. “If it’s an emergency, what happens if the bond vote fails? If critical things are in the budget, then you’ve got them.”

Turning to the warning for Town Meeting Day, the board departed from the traditional practice of leaving the amount of taxes to be raised out of the warning, only to have it added verbally at the meeting. This year that article will state that the town will raise $2,847,925.67 ($2.848 million) in taxes.

Board drops ‘by request’ from four warned articles

The question of articles placed on the warning “by Select Board request” came up when the warning described the requests of three organizations to have their properties exempted from taxation as coming from the Select Board.

“I don’t remember asking for that,” said Jonynas.

Hance said that in the past the board had asked that fiscal articles be shown as “by petition” or “by Select Board request.” Traditionally, the four organizations that ask for tax exemptions have been allowed to do so by sending a letter rather than getting signed petitions.

“I don’t want to pull the rug out from under them at this late date,” said Jonynas, adding that he’d like more information on this.  DeBenedetti asked Hance to take the “by Select Board request” off the three articles saying that it made it look like a board endorsement. He also asked that the language be removed from the appropriation for the Springfield Regional Development Corp., saying that he didn’t want to give that impression.

Chester school teacher Frank Kelley asks residents to come to a meeting Wednesday to discuss plans for a townwide party.

Chester school teacher Frank Kelley asks residents to come to a meeting Wednesday to discuss plans for a townwide party.

Property tax exemption for five years must be voted on at Town Meeting. There are four organizations that enjoy tax free status and three are up for renewal this year. They are the Chester Rod & Gun Club, the Green Mountain Softball League and the Olive Branch Lodge (Masonic Temple.) The combined assessed value of those properties is $802,700 which represents $16,591.81 per year in taxes at last year’s rates.

Anniversary Committee to meet Jan. 13

Frank Kelley and Tom Hildreth told the board that they had some positive responses to forming a committee to mark the 250th anniversary of the 1766 New York patent for the town of Chester. There will be a meeting of those interested in planning the celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. in the library at Chester-Andover Elementary School and all are welcome.

“We’re looking for people to come with ideas,” said Kelley.

DeBenedetti asked Hance to post a meeting of the Select Board for that time and place in case a quorum of the board decides to attend.

Jonynas told the board that the Chester Conservation Committee was beginning work on the hiking trail behind Brookside Cemetery and needs to get some money together for materials to build a temporary bridge. Hance told Jonynas that there was money in the grant fund for the $700 to $800 needed.

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  1. Frank says:

    What benefit to the WHOLE of Chester does the Chester Rod & Gun Club and Olive Branch Lodge (Masonic Temple) provide to warrant tax free status? Remember, only a relatively small number of people pay for water and sewer, including new fire hydrants, but the whole town reaps the benefits.

    The Gun Club used to be free, not anymore. If the police use it free for training then how often do they use it for training? Would it not be more civic minded for the gun club just to give the police free time? I would like to know how many other gun clubs in the area have tax free status. I know Precision Valley in Perkinsville does not enjoy this status. There should be a full justification from all these organizations as to why they should be tax free. It should be presented to the board and debated. With ever increasing financial demands, Chester can not afford to give away over $16,000.

  2. Tim Roper says:

    I’m wondering what the current policy of the Chester Rod & Gun Club is regarding public access to their tax exempt shooting facilities. As I recall from the days when I was more active there, part of the agreement for the club’s tax exempt status was that non members were allowed the use of the shooting ranges without being charged any fee, or being required to join. Can anyone tell me if that’s still the case? The answer could impact my vote on that article.