3 hopefuls for 1-year Chester seats weigh in on issues

©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

There are three candidates running for two one-year terms on the Chester Select Board this year. Incumbents Tom Bock and Arne Jonynas and newcomer Ben Whalen are all hoping to secure one of these spots in the Tuesday, March 1 election. As we have done when there have been contested races in the past, the Telegraph asked the candidates a set of questions about issues that concern Chester in hopes that their answers will give voters some insight into the people who want to represent them. Answers to each question are listed alphabetically by last name.

  • Tom Bock came to Chester in 1970 and before retirement owned Vermont Ts. He has served 12 years on the Select Board, is chairman of Chester’s planning commission and chairman of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission.
  • Arne Jonynas, owner of Chester Heating and Plumbing, has lived in Chester for 32 years. He has served on the boards of Chester Andover Elementary and Green Mountain High School and has been a select board member for five one-year terms.
  • Ben Whalen was raised in Chester, attending Green Mountain Union High School. He is a dispatcher at the Vermont State Police barracks in Rockingham and a captain with the Chester Fire Department.

All have raised or are raising families in Chester.

What are Chester’s biggest challenges and what should town government’s role be in facing them?

Tom Bock thumbnailTom Bock: A major challenge for the town is to increase the grand list, which has been stagnant for several years, the result being potentially higher taxes for our citizenry because of increasing operational costs and other upward budget pressures. We’ve been fortunate in recent years to maintain small tax increases due to falling energy costs and staff diligence. The role of town government should be to do everything possible to increase the grand list by attracting new residents and businesses that will be an asset to our community.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailArne Jonynas: A continuing challenge for town government is taxes and spending. Most of the town’s endeavors involve spending money. We need to be sure that taxpayer money is well spent in places that require it. A constant dialogue with town residents is needed to get input on spending priorities. Trying to keep taxes low is important, but not at the expense of services and responsibilities to our citizens. A revised town plan is being developed in the coming months. We should be sure of the changes and direction that it will be taking the town. I feel the Planning Commission is doing an excellent job in this area. The plan being developed has better language to defend the town in its aspiring goals.

Ben Whalen thumbnailBen Whalen: I think one of Chester’s biggest challenges is attracting new business and growth while retaining our current assets. We have a wonderful small town and need to be attractive to our current residents and businesses, but also to new businesses, tourists and people thinking about moving. We need to show that we want growth and that we are a strong, unified community with many diverse opportunities. While doing that, we also need to support our people, our community, and the town as a whole, so we keep our current residents happy and proud to be from Chester.

What are Chester’s biggest opportunities and what should town government’s role be in making the most of them?

Tom Bock thumbnailBock: The recently purchased 139 acres will be a financially lucrative asset once it is developed into a sand and gravel source for the town’s needs, thereby lowering substantially the public works’ expenses. Also with the same said land, the town should be exploring developing it for recreational opportunities.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailJonynas: Chester’s biggest opportunities are directly related to its assets. It is a vibrant, warm, inviting community that is framed by its idyllic Vermont setting and architecture. We need to take advantage of all of the positive energy currently abounding in the community and work toward common goals for the betterment of all. Its access to high speed internet and its excellent infrastructure should be promoted to attract new businesses.

Ben Whalen thumbnailWhalen: Our biggest opportunity is that we are Chester, Vermont. We are a wonderful and beautiful town, with great people, schools, businesses and a strong community. The select board is the voice of the people of Chester and we need to continue to build on what we have. We need to improve our roads, our buildings and infrastructure. We need to continue applying for grants to offset costs while having a balanced budget and fair taxes. We need to advertise our community and events to support the town and its businesses, and we need to be open-minded to new ideas.

What’s the best use of the $300,000 Chester Economic Development Fund?

Tom Bock thumbnailBock: Thus far we have made good use of it by supporting small businesses in the community. We should continue to support new and existing businesses when necessary, using the assistance and collaboration of both the Chester Economic Development Committee and Springfield Regional Development Corp.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailJonynas: The Chester Economic Development Fund is historically used as loan funding to start or expand local businesses. It has been used for other purposes related to economic development in the past. Aside from the small business loan aspect of this fund, I am open to dialogue and suggestions as to other uses of this money.

Ben Whalen thumbnailWhalen: I am going to start off with the purpose of the fund as listed on the town’s website: “… to encourage and support business enterprises or the Town of Chester’s municipal departments that produce a variety of goods and services that maximize the opportunities for the citizens of Chester. The fund is also available to assist in upgrading technology to improve the efficient operation of existing private business or the Town of Chester.” Let’s do just that! Obviously there needs to be some screening to make sure it’s worth the investment, but let’s use the funds to support businesses and the town! Again, we need to be open-minded and move forward!

If you are elected, what will be your top three priorities?

Tom Bock thumbnailBock: Foremost, the town should ASAP seek out permits to allow for the approval of the sand and gravel extraction project on our recently purchased land. As soon as permits are approved, the sand & gravel extraction system should be initiated so the town can take advantage of the considerable savings by having our own access to materials in town.

Second, it is important to proceed with the water project, which the voters approved last year and which will result in the long-term viability of a safe, reliable and sustainable water system.

Third is to encourage and monitor the long term bonding element of the capital plan which will allow the town to maintain level funding of equipment purchases and to keep up with our Road Surface Management Plan. The bonding plan should avoid year-to-year spikes in the tax rate.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailJonynas: If I am elected I will work to see a town gravel pit opened and operating on the town property just acquired for the water tank project. The water project was approved and is going ahead this spring. This is a chance for the town to have a constant, inexpensive source of gravel that is continually needed for the miles of dirt roads in town. I feel this project over the years will be a huge financial benefit to the town. It will save money in all aspects of our town’s gravel needs, labor, transportation, storage and equipment.

I would like to see all town buildings and assets maintained and repaired. A professional assessment of the Town Hall is needed to move forward with prioritized repairs and improvements that are sorely needed. We should not disregard the condition of our assets and pass the problems on to future budgets.

The Mountain View and Flamstead areas of town have always had storm drain and water problems. This will be addressed in a scoping study grant that is in the works and will, hopefully, be awarded. From that study, we will have a clearer picture forward as to costs and actions needed to correct these issues.

Ben Whalen thumbnailWhalen: The people of Chester
Moving Chester forward in to the future
Town infrastructure and upkeep


Technology is changing the world every day but the Chester Select Board has struggled with technological issues like the new website and the solar farm decision. While members are not expected to be tech gurus, what can the board do to get the most from technology and avoid missteps?

Tom Bock thumbnailBock: Currently we are looking into improving Chester’s website to make it more usable and attractive by possibly hiring a consultant. Also we should encourage staff training through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns plus University of Vermont seminars in this area.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailJonynas: I do not feel that the Chester Select Board struggled with the solar farm project. It was a thorough and deliberate process that was accomplished and is now saving taxpayers more money than was anticipated. The new website is up and working, but would greatly benefit by a dedicated web­ savvy person to manage it. This can be accomplished, but like many endeavors, would require funding. This is an area well worth looking into, a possible use of the economic development funds.

Ben Whalen thumbnailWhalen: Technology is awesome, but scary at the same time. So much can change in so little time, and you need proper guidance to fully comprehend and understand what is out there. Everyone is going to struggle, but learn from your mistakes and continue moving forward. Mr. Cote (Dan Cote, running for a 3-year seat on the board) wrote a great letter to the editor that appeared in last week’s Chester Telegraph. He spoke about VTel’s fiber network that goes right through our town and I feel he is right-on. That is an untapped technology going right through our back yards. To build on that, I believe we have a good website, with an easy navigation that makes it very user friendly. Now let’s build it up, get all of our local businesses on it, add more photos and use it to bring people in. To move forward, let’s improve our Facebook page and use it to promote our town. Further down the road, maybe we create an app for smart phones to allow people to directly see activities, stores, businesses and all that we have to offer. Technology is the future, and we need to stay open-minded about it.

As an incumbent, what was the most important initiative in the last year that you wanted to see happen but did not happen?

Tom Bock thumbnailBock: By not concluding the agreement with VELCO to replace our communication tower early enough, construction had to be postponed and thus loss of rental income to the town. As it stands now, work is proposed to start in 2016.

Arne Jonynas thumbnailJonynas: Our initial work on the new town website was a step in the right direction. I feel that our follow-­through on this matter could have been better. Once the website was upgraded, we should have paid more attention to the running of the site. We should provide the resources to maintain and improve this site. I feel this would help the town in many ways.

As a challenger, what was the most important initiative in the last year that the select board either did not take up or took up but did not complete?

Ben Whalen thumbnailWhalen: As a challenger, I would have to say the Yosemite Engine Company building is an important topic that hasn’t been handled. There has been considerable discussion with no resolution or claim of ownership on a very controversial subject. We have a building with property inside it that has been gone through and even sold but we haven’t fully decided who owns said property. Whether the town takes the building on or not, it’s an important topic that has not been handled. I feel it’s important for this to be settled. I personally feel the building is a representation of Chester and is important to find a way to keep it here, however that decision is up to the people of Chester.

Elections will be held by Australian ballot from 9 to 7 p.m. at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St. in Chester. Wednesday Feb. 24 is the last day to register to vote on Town Meeting Day. Town Hall will be open until 5 p.m. on that day.

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  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    Mr. Johnson, was that water well taken care of initially when the job was first completed or at a later date?
    Also did you do the initial work to remove the house? Thank you for your follow up.
    MJ Miles

  2. Jay Joseph says:

    To the Editor: Re-elect Tom Bock

    I am writing this letter to enthusiastically endorse Tom Bock in his bid for re-election to a one-year seat on the Chester Select Board. I have known Tom for decades and served on the Select Board with him in the 1980s.

    At that time, Tom showed initiative, diligence and insight into the issues impacting the town and was instrumental in the inception and implementation of Chester’s own recycling program. He actively supported the construction of the new wing of the Whiting Library and played a significant role in the rewriting and adoption of the town plan and zoning regulations.

    He played a large role in developing plans for extension of the sewer and water system to encourage growth of the town’s commercial zones. He has served the town not only in the capacity as a selectman for more than 10 years, but has served on the Chester Planning Board for 20 years and has been on the Regional Planning Commission for the last three years.

    Tom has always been mindful of keeping the town budget as close to level funding as possible and he has been a strong advocate of the town’s long-term capital plan.

    Tom was a proponent of the recent water project that will result in long-term savings and potential business development for the town. For these reasons, I urge voters to re-elect Tom Bock based on his proven dedication, his creative ideas and his accumulated knowledge of Chester’s town operations.

    Jay Joseph
    Chester, VT

  3. Chuck Johnson says:

    Mary Jane Miles,

    I am the contractor (J and J Enterprises) who completed the work for the Town’s Rte 11 buyout property. The abandoned well was filled and closed in accordance with the VT Water Supply Rule.

    The bank erosion at this site in July 2014 has nothing to do with the town’s project.

  4. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I have a question for all candidates. Why when there is a town project that we do not put it out to bid and notate all the bids that come in?

    It appears that we grant jobs to only one bidder and yet I know for a fact there have been jobs bid on by others that have not been presented. I also know that — like the town website issue with poor follow up and management — others who have done jobs for the town have not been held accountable for their botched work. For example: the house on Rte 11 that was partially washed out and removed and became town property on the western side of town.

    That well now sits in the river and it is my understanding was not filled properly. Am I correct in this understanding and because it was the cheapest bid we got work that was not done to state standards! What is the follow up with any of this?

  5. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I have a question for Mr. Bock. How did you determine the property purchased from the O’Neils was potentially “lucrative” The O’Neils were denied a permit to pursue what is being assumed as potential income from this land. We purchased the property blindly. We did not insist that we get an estimate of potential future gravel nor permits be approved for such before overpaying the value of the land. These are assumptions that have no guarantee nor basis! It is at the mercy of Act 250, which has in the past, already denied this!