To the editor: Chester needs new leadership with vision

Chester needs new leadership. The current focus of our town governance is on managing the tax rate – that is, the annual town budget divided by the cumulative assessed valuation of all the properties in the town.

Letters to the editor logoThis puts the focus on nickel-and-diming the services the town provides while ignoring the far more important factor, the cumulative value of all the properties in town. Effective governance optimizes both the cost-effectiveness of services delivered and the overall economic well-being of the community.

The market value of our homes has diminished substantially since their peak in 2008. In fact, they have declined 50 percent based on a recent compilation by the Springfield Regional Development Corp. By contrast, the average home sales price in the other nine southern Windsor County communities served by the SRDC has declined by 8 percent over the same period.

While I recognize that there are many factors that can distort short-term averages, the fact remains that Chester home prices have declined and the number of homes for sale exceeds market demand.

As a result, only two of the 24 homes sales for 2015, listed on the board at Town Hall, sold above their assessed evaluation. Overall, sales prices were 21 percent below the assessed valuations and homes selling for less than $200,000, sold for 30 percent less than their assessments. If the actual value of properties is less than the assessed valuation and the gap is growing, we are effectively seeing our property tax rates increase – not stay steady.

It is time to begin investing in the future of Chester!

One of the first things that should happen is the budget should be increased to hire a Chester economic development specialist to promote the town to prospective businesses and assist our current commercial base in finding the resources they need to thrive and expand.

We also need a vision for the town of Chester: What do we want to be as a community in 10, 20 or 50 years and how are we going to get there? Rather than ineffectively responding to challenges to the character of our town, we need leadership to craft the incentives to realize our vision for our community.

If we do not receive a grant to help defray this planning expense, the Town of Chester should appropriate the monies necessary for us to do it on our own. But as importantly, to do it right and not on the cheap.

Fortunately, the upcoming election will give us an opportunity to change the balance on the Board of Selectmen. This is our opportunity to take control of the future of our town rather than just focusing on what to cut next or what essential investments we can defer.

Steven Davis

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  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    Bravo Anne, wonderfully said. As for the term flatlanders and the like, let’s get real. Vermont is 70% non-generational Vermonters. Since when does being multi-generational in Vermont qualify anyone to be the only authority on what this state or our town needs?
    MJ Miles

  2. John Grady says:

    I wrote Vetroit, not Chetroit.

    We live in Vermont where about half the children qualify for free school lunches and about 40 percent of the people under 65 are on Medicaid.

    We The People have no clue if one single tourist-based business in this town is viable. Only their accountant knows for sure. People who take risks don’t always hit home-runs.

    “artisan’s alley”

    How much was lost on the art place across the street from Jiffy Mart? How many millions will it take to create artisans alley and where is the money going to come from?

    Just for conversation, say some filthy rich person or investment fund offered to loan a group called something like The Chester Artisans Economic Development Group, millions of dollars at 4 percent interest. Would the venture be able to make the monthly interest only payment and someday pay back the principle while providing the artists a respectable income with benefits?

    Vetroit doesn’t need to attract starving artists to add to the Food Stamp & Medicaid rolls while they live in Section 8 housing. The cost to society so some flatlander who set up shop can get an additional customer would be? No chance the greater good would ever enter their mind.

    “creating a fairground, where our town could host weekly farmers markets, seasonal events, and much more.”

    Is everyone who puts time and effort into it going to be fairly paid? Will the venture pay its own bills? Shyster economics isn’t amusing when poor people who don’t know any better waste tons of time and their hard earned money and get hosed when their dream to be a vendor doesn’t add up to a profitable venture.

    It sounds great to people looking for more customers for their business and to me it sounds like they want to socialize their marketing costs for their private profits without the first thought if anyone would have a problem with the circus always being in town.

    “artisan’s alley”

    Both sound like potential exploitation of gullible dreamers that will invest time and hard earned money into being vendors hoping to make money so a small special interest group can profit from it if they get more customers at their businesses.

    “put down roots”

    Roots are something that takes decades to grow. I’ve gotten a kick out of the flatlanders who think they can move to a small town and buy roots. Deep Roots go back generations.

    In general, this country became a nation of migrant strangers with caravans of yuppies cruising the interstate system looking for the next boom town to exploit, pillage and plunder.

    At least Chester has been well run so isn’t a financial disaster yet. Load the board with people who think we can spend our way to prosperity and they will do the exact same thing to this town that has been done all across the country. It’s their culture, you can take them out of the flatlands, but can’t take the flatlander out of them.

    If there was money to be made on Route 103, the multimillionaires and billionaires would be here setting up shop and hiring cheap McManagers and peasant workers and investing in marketing of their MR Green-Jeans or Sam Drucker General Store or Aunt Bea’s Bed & Breakfast run by cheap hired labor.

    I fled a flatlander town run by financially illiterate people. Chester sure doesn’t need to follow the same path by turning the town over to like minded people who just don’t get it.

    What are you tourist worshippers going to do if oil goes to over $100 a barrel?

    Maybe there is a reason nobody wants old houses in Vermont. It’s probably the excessive school taxes on top of heating oil recently being $4 a gallon.

    Fiber Optic? What a lure, like no place else is getting up to speed.

    “We all need to come together and have a respectful, spirited debate.”

    WE don’t need to do anything. If something is going to be done the MATH involved should add up. Emotions and dreams should be left out of decision making. As the great President Nixon or somebody said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts.

  3. Richard Pease-Grant says:

    I agree with Mr Davis, It is quite obvious that the situation that we find ourselves in is not sustainable. I am not an expert on town management, and by no means wish to come off as being critical of any one. I was told as a young boy, that if what you are doing is not working
    do something different. I think that Mr. Davis is correct in his stated summation of the problem. That said, I too believe that professional evaluation and guidance would be a wise and prudent direction to go.

    This is by no means meant to disparage those who who work so hard to make this town run. There is no shame in knowing when the throw in the towel and look for help to solve a problem that is this complex. I am sure that there will be criticism about wasting money, but you listen to those voices at your peril. With respect to all.

  4. Anne Paterno says:

    I did not grow up in Vermont. I didn’t go to Green Mountain High School. My childhood friends aren’t members of the legion. However, Chester is my hometown, even more so than the actual town where I grew up.

    My husband and I bought a little ski cabin 18 years ago in Chester. Originally, we were the classic ‘flatlanders’ … coming up one weekend a month, then twice a month, then every weekend, every day off, every vacation.

    We slowly and steadily fell in love with small-town living, with being connected to a community, and that intangible feeling of belonging to a “place.” The friends we have in Chester are some of the best ones we’ve had in our adult lives.

    For the first time since childhood, we have put down roots. And, as “ex-flatlanders,” we have put our money where our mouths are, investing into this community, and creating a destination restaurant in Chester that employs a dozen people and draws regional and local people into our town.

    Every single week I hear the same thing from many of our regional customers: “I haven’t been in Chester for years!!” Frankly, it breaks my heart.

    I drive through our town, past the Common, through the Stone Village, down to Lisai’s along 103, and I see, I believe, the same thing that most Chester residents and tourists see: aging charm. No compelling reason to stop. No clear message.

    Every morning I drive down to the Common, I pass at least a half-dozen for-sale signs posted in front yards. Currently there are 130 homes on the market in our little town. A significant percentage of them have been on the market for years.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of beautiful homes, great shops, boutiques, an amazing bookstore and one of the most charming and beautiful village greens in all of New England. But there is nothing that pulls them all together.

    One of the things I like the most about Chester is its residents. They are smart, interesting, educated, hardworking people who aren’t afraid to use their voices. Yet it troubles me to see such polarizing views about significant issues that face our community.

    This is a unique time for our town. We all need to come together and have a respectful, spirited debate. We learned yesterday that Chester was awarded the “Strong Communities, Better Connections Grant” from the state. This is a very big win for our town! These funds will help Chester develop a town plan and strategy for economic development, village revitalization and townscape enhancements.

    In my opinion, there are several opportunities for Chester to improve its economy. Many great ideas have surfaced recently, sparks of creative thinking that should be respectfully and thoughtfully explored by our town government.

    Mr. Grady talks about creating incentive for a small factory to build efficient senior housing. There is conversation about having an artisan’s alley from Bill Austin’s to the Stone Village. Personally, I still really like Barry Pinske’s idea of creating a fairground, where our town could host weekly farmers markets, seasonal events, and much more.

    As for the economy, the problem is very clear. We need more jobs. We need a reason for our young people to stay here in Chester: employment and affordable housing. Young working families are our future.

    Mr. Grady talks about our community as “Vetroit.” The reason Detroit, Mich., is a “dead” city is because it didn’t evolve and change with the times. The world is moving forward, technology is advancing in leaps and bounds (fiberoptics, anyone?) and we as a community have to evolve if we want to not just survive, but flourish. Change for our community is not only a good thing, it’s also necessary.

    For this to happen, we must first rejuvenate our town, with a clear identity that drives tourism dollars into our community.

    Let’s start by using what we have. There are thousands of people passing through our town every year, so why would we not make every effort to tap into this resource? To attract broader economic growth opportunities such as manufacturing, tech companies, other small businesses or even a college or vocational school, we need to start with a strong economic base.

    Why would any small company or business move to a town without a growing economy? This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Growth begets growth! But Chester’s future has to start with one step, with one vision. That first step may not have 100 percent support of the community, or benefit 100 percent of our people right away, but ultimately it’s for the GREATER GOOD of our community.

  5. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I am reading both the letter to the editor and the follow-up comments from Mr. Grady. I have some comments. I apologize if I am misunderstanding the purpose of either piece.

    My experience in attending town meetings in the past is that those present are not what I would identify as the ‘Me’ generation. It is the elder population of Chester and generally the same faces year after year.

    My reason for no longer going to town meetings has been in my frustration that all the funds asked for as special articles are given carte blanche even after years of listening to those present stating that if those asking for money do not bring representation to the meeting, they will not get funded, only to get funded year after year. These are organizations who often garner funds at the state, federal, private and personal level. Some provide services for our town that are paid through these other avenues and others do not provide services at all. This is not the ‘Me’ generation. Although I agree there is in fact a ‘Me’ generation.

    I agree that we need to have a changing of the guard. No public position should be allowed to have someone in office for 18 years. We need to have term limits to avoid some of what Mr. Grady mentions. But that is not because of the ‘Me’ generation in my opinion.

    It is because over time people lose sight of the big picture and allow their own purposes to cloud their judgment. This is unavoidable and I do not mean there is any malice in it.

    We need to add new ideas, we need new people to know what is involved in all these decisions so no one takes for granted the time and effort involved in what it takes to run town government.

    We have no vision that will sustain this tax base for the future. We cannot survive on antique shops alone.

    We need viable business to come but it must start with steps. Outlined steps that we do not have in place and frankly that need to come from a breath of fresh air.

    I believe it is time for new people to step up to the plate and try. We need to have the younger people and working families in this town take a part in the town’s future. Chester is not going to survive as a retirement community.

    As far as Mr. Grady starting say, a modular home business here, rather than across the state border, it is not financially worth running a business here in the state of Vermont when there are so many better options across the border. Other states welcome businesses and do not tax them to death. I say this with utter certainty.

    I see many people from Chester when I do my grocery and family shopping in Claremont and Keene, N.H. That is proof that what I say is true. We all go to these places even though we would like not to shop so far away. I do because I have a family of five to clothe, keep a roof over their heads, and of course pay the bills and taxes. Shopping in New Hampshire is how we survive and stretch our diminishing working dollars!

  6. John Grady says:

    ” the budget should be increased to hire a Chester economic development specialist”

    Alan Greenspan is an expert and available and probably other experts are available who will recommend more of the status quo and offer the same old canned sound bites for a large fee or salary.

    Excessive school spending has killed the economy in southern Vetroit. GMUHS is spending over $20,000 per pupil.

    What percentage of the housing in town is owned by people over 70 and what percent of the value of the grand list do they own?

    Now that Vetroit has a reputation as the worst place to retire because of the excessive school taxes, the days of caravans of dreamers looking to escape the rat race and retire up north are history. The supply of housing that will come on the market over the next 10 years is?

    The typical action to address problems by the ME Generation is to throw money at problems even though it should be evident by now that theory doesn’t work.

    We can’t spend our way to prosperity. Our economy is massively inefficient and full of waste. Running schools and classrooms half empty is like running dump trucks and log trucks half empty. The spoiled ME Generation that invaded Vetroit went on a wild spending spree making a mess of school spending and many of them are BAG Holders on yuppie castles and obsolete nostalgia housing.

    Nobody is looking to buy their money pits that are also tax targets so now they want a bail out and to use the town cookie jar as in everyone’s wallets to hopefully lure in more dreamers through marketing so they can unload their money pit and bail out leaving the bills they made for other people to pay.

    Vetroit needs to:
    Cut school spending 50 percent and create county school systems.
    Become a right-to-work state.
    Create a state bank.
    Overhaul Act 250 so it’s a 90-day or less process.

    Build small energy efficient so-called starter homes now called work-force housing to be PC instead of being called affordable housing.
    Build energy efficient retirement cottages in 55 and over communities that are affordable retirement housing for working-class Vermonters. A pre-fab housing plant to produce them in southern Vermont should be considered.

    A bunch of people trying to cling to the past is never going to build a future especially when they are part of the ME Generation that can’t for the life of them see the bigger picture or take into consideration something that is a total abstraction to them called the greater good.

    The last thing the town needs is a bunch of opportunists with no roots here getting their hands on the town piggy bank.

    Chester needs to have an agenda to provide quality of life for local working class people and drop the lure in the flatlander tourist and transplant home buyer business model which has not lead to widespread prosperity in southern Vetroit.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over an over and expecting different results. The Bob Newhart economic theory has run its course, time to move on.

    When I escaped to the backwoods nine years ago I had no clue this place was infested with trust fund babies, I never heard of the term before I got here and also found the backwoods infested with people playing Green Acres, playing Country Squire and aging hippies who went on too many acid trips back in the 1960s.

    I lucked out and landed in a town run by adults that can say no.