Chester board raises water rates, hears grant request from Rod & Gun Club

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board began its Feb. 17 meeting in the guise of its mild-mannered alter ego, the Chester Water and Sewer Commissioners, which voted to raise the price of water by $2 per quarter.  The hike is one step in reaching the rate structure required by the terms of the loan from the Vermont Drinking Water Revolving Fund to pay for the new water project approved by voters last fall.

water artThe fund requires that the average single-family user be paying 1 percent of the median household income for the water district. A survey last year found that the median household income among water users is $33,480. So, by the time the loan repayment is set to begin – two years after construction is finished – rates will have to reflect that the average single family residential customer is paying $334.80 a year or $83.70 per quarter.

Town Manager David Pisha told the board that raising the rates gradually over a period of time was preferable to jacking them up all at once when the loan repayment period begins. Pisha recommended adding $2 to the “equivalent unit” which is currently $42.

An equivalent unit is 18,000 gallons or approximately the average amount of water used by a family in three months. The unit is charged for all users regardless of actual use as a base fee providing the funds to maintain the system. A water user taking more than 18,000 gallons in a quarter is charged a second unit. In addition to the equivalent units, users are charged $1 per every 1,000 gallons of actual use. Today, with one equivalent unit plus the per gallon charges, a water customer using 18,000 gallons will pay $62 per quarter. In about three years, that number will have to be about $83.70 per quarter.

The commissioners voted to raise the cost of one equivalent unit to $44 and discussed how best to reach the requirement of charging 1 percent of median household income. “I’d like to see a plan on how we get there,” said board member Heather Chase.

Rod & Gun Club asks town to sponsor grant application

Pisha also told the board that the Chester Rod & Gun Club has asked for help in applying for a Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Relief, to fund bank restabilization at its shooting range on Route 11 West. Immediately, board chair John DeBenedetti announced that, as a member of the club, he would recuse himself. He then left the board table and sat in the audience.

Photo Illustration by Chester Telegraph

Photo Illustration by Chester Telegraph

Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that this HUD grant could only be applied for by a municipality. The grant would be for $150,000 with up to 25 percent of that number being matching funds.

“It’s a fairly brutal grant,” said Hance describing not only the application, but also monitoring and maintenance. “The HUD red tape is extensive,” she said.

Asked what the town’s commitment would be, Hance told the board it would just be her time. “How much time would it take?” asked board member Tom Bock.

“About 40 hours,” said Hance, noting that the town could not be responsible for the engineering work that includes environmental assessments. Hance said that hiring a engineering firm to handle that would have to be part of the scope of work.

In an interview on Monday, Feb. 22, Hance told The Telegraph that the club had not qualified for some of the funding available after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 because it is a private organization and did not have dwelling units. After the July 28, 2014 flooding, a representative of the block grant program told Hance that she had been approached by the club and that the work was eligible for funding through a disaster relief block grant.

Hance told the board that she would recommend that the club put up its match – which could be as much as $37,500 – before she begins work on the application.

“Can they afford it; what are their finances?”  asked board member Arne Jonynas.

“There’s nobody from the Rod & Gun Club here,” said Bock.

Board members asked if there was a deadline for application and Hance told them that the block grant program is holding the funds for the project, but would like the application as soon as possible.

“It might be good if someone from the Rod & Gun Club was here,” said board member Bill Lindsay as the board decided to postpone the request until a future meeting.

The Chester Rod & Gun Club is one of three organizations asking for a renewal of exemption from property tax for five years at the Town Meeting on Monday, Feb. 29. At last year’s non-residential rates, the club’s exemption would amount to approximately $5,400 per year.

Anniversary group becomes committee of the Select Board

Tom Hildreth and Frank Kelley, who have been spearheading a celebration of the 250-year anniversary of a confirmatory patent that changed the name of New Flamstead to Chester, brought another update on their planning to the board.

As it stands, the celebration will kick off with a float in the Alumni Parade in June with major events on the weekend of July 16, including a barbeque at the Pinnacle, games, participation by car clubs, tours of the railroad station and the possibility of a railroad excursion. There are money and insurance issues with the train rides, Hildreth told the board, but they are working on them.

One problem, according to Hildreth, is that they have no structure to receive donations or sales income from merchandise and no way to pay bills. Hildreth and Kelley requested that the town set up an account where they could deposit funds and that they could use to take care of expenses.

Pisha told the board that if the celebration were a town-sanctioned event, supervised by the town,  municipal insurance would cover the activities without a premium increase. This does not include the rail excursions. The board moved to sanction the Chester 250 organization – making it an official project of the town –  and to set up an account in the town’s books for handling income and expense.

The meeting ended with an executive session for a mid-year evaluation of Town Manager Pisha.

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