Chester welcomes new Select Board members, considers new paper of record

The 2016 Chester Select Board, from left, chair John DeBenedetti, Ben Whalen, Dan Cote, Heather Chase and vice chair Arne Jonynas. Photo by The Chester Telegraph.

The 2016 Chester Select Board, from left, chair John DeBenedetti, Ben Whalen, Dan Cote, Heather Chase and vice chair Arne Jonynas. Photos by The Chester Telegraph.

Editor’s Note: The Chester Telegraph has reported on most Chester Select Board meetings since 2012. In the interest of full disclosure, we want readers to know that in our coverage of the March 2, 2016 meeting, we are reporting on an issue in which we are involved. To ensure that the information available to our readers is not biased, we invite you to go to to see the full discussion of the issue of the “paper of record.” It runs from minute 56.55 to 1:32.38. References to documents in this story are clickable to a copy of the document itself.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board held its annual, post-election reorganization meeting on March 2, welcoming two new members, making appointments to boards and offices and considering whether or not to change the town’s “paper of record.”

Each year under Vermont law a town must designate a “paper of record” where it will run required public notices. Such notices might be for public hearings, elections, tax sales and other important announcements, and for many hard-copy newspapers, it is a steady and important income stream. Several years ago, the Vermont Journal succeeded the Message as Chester’s paper of record and this year The Telegraph put in a bid for the designation.

Ben Whalen, left, and Dan Cote at their inaugural Select Board meeting.

Ben Whalen, left, and Dan Cote at their inaugural Select Board meeting.

Vermont Journal owner Robert Miller handed the board a copy of one Vermont statute and told the board, “Statutes state that in Vermont, there has to be a paper of record printed on newsprint in general circulation. … If you go up with the Chester Telegram (sic) and they go online with them, it’s going to be illegal.”

The Chester Telegraph provided the board with an 77 page document citing all 248 references to “newspapers” in Vermont statutes, none of which defines a newspaper as being printed on paper.

“I talked with the Deputy Secretary of State and Mike Donoghue, who’s  … president of the Vermont Press Association,” Miller continued. “There’s no way in Vermont they will let legals on any website because a website is not a newspaper.”

In a telephone call on Thursday, VPA Executive Director Mike Donoghue told The Telegraph that he had been asked by the Journal to provide a citation in Vermont statutes regarding legal notice,  which he did. Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters told The Telegraph that he did speak with Miller but did not tell him that it would be illegal for an online newspaper to publish legal notices.

Miller proposed to continue handling legal advertising for the town, raising the ad price from $12 per column inch to $12.50.

The Telegraph’s proposal centered on additional features and ad prices that would cut the cost of legal notices for the town.

After discussion and comment from several members of the audience, the board voted to postpone the vote until May 4 to have the time to research the issues raised.

Reorganization, 2nd Purdy named lister

After being voted chairman of the board, John DeBenedetti congratulated new members Ben Whalen and Dan Cote. He also thanked outgoing members Tom Bock and Bill Lindsay for their many years of service to the town.

Lister Wanda Purdy asked the board to appoint her daughter Sarah to a one-year term as a lister since no one ran for the position and Purdy is currently doing the work of a three-person staff. The board appointed Sarah Purdy to a one-year term.

All of the other appointed offices were renewed by the board except the three-year Planning Commission term of Harry Goodell, who has decided to leave that board. Alternate Claudio Veliz will replace Goodell.

Lessons, refreshers for the board

Last year, board member Heather Chase asked that the board look at its conflict of interest and purchasing policies. The discussion had been postponed for several meetings and as two new members began their terms, it was suggested that the board ask that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns give the board a presentation on Vermont Open Meetings Law. Chase suggested “killing two birds with one stone” by asking them to also present on purchasing and conflict of interest concerns. Town Manager David Pisha said that would take all night, but Chase suggested a Saturday session. It was decided that they would continue the discussion at the next meeting.

Cable steps down, decries delinquent taxes

Auditor Jack Cable announces retirement.

Auditor Jack Cable announces retirement.

Town auditor Jack Cable told the board that while he loves doing the job, he would be resigning from the position with one year left due to health considerations.

Cable told the board he had a few observations before going including his annoyance at the public questioning of tax exemptions for the Rod & Gun Club and the Green Mountain Softball League, which occurred at Town Meeting, when so much is spent on the Recreation Department at the Pinnacle. Cable also decried the large amount of delinquent taxes due and told the board that he thought that those owing taxes should be listed in the annual report. “Half a million dollars bothers me,” said Cable.

Chester resident Marilyn Mahusky asked what procedure the town followed for collecting delinquent taxes. Pisha, who also acts as the town tax collector, said that a taxpayer in arrears is sent a letter warning them that if the taxes are not paid by the due date for the next year’s taxes, the property can be sold. The property owner can then pay up or make a payment arrangement.

Those who don’t pay and become delinquent on two years worth of taxes can be listed on the tax sale in November. Pisha said that most make a payment arrangement. If those are not kept up, there is another sale in April.

Twenty-three parcels accounting for nearly $193,000 will be up for tax sale this April, according to town records. Of more than a dozen that were up for sale in November, only one sold. Pisha called that an anomaly and said that he tries to work with people who have hardships.

“If they are actively working on” paying their taxes, said Whalen, “they don’t need to be shamed.”

In other action

Executive Assistant Julie Hance asked the board if she could continue working with the Rod & Gun Club to secure a grant to help take care of some of the damage done its property in flooding caused by storms. The administrators of the block grant program have lowered the percentage of the required match to 10 percent and will allow some in-kind services to count toward the match. Hance will try to get an idea of the amounts so she will know how much cash the club has to have up front for her to do the grant.

Chase told club members that she is 100 percent supportive of their efforts and hoped that — in view of what the town is doing —  a solution could be found to the question of town residents using the range in exchange for the property tax exemption voted at town meeting.

In answer to a question by resident Suzie Forlie, Hance said that a grant from Preservation Trust of Vermont was approved. It will hire preservation architect Tom Keefe to come in the spring and make a condition assessment of Town Hall with an eye toward prioritizing work on the structure.

There was also discussion about what was happening with the Yosemite Fire House. Pisha said  that an inventory of the contents had been made, but it has been difficult finding someone competent to put a value on the town’s property. This prompted a discussion of what will happen  with the building and whether the town has a role to play in its preservation. Chase noted that the former board’s feeling was that the town did not want to own it, but she asked if the town didn’t have a stewardship role for a building “I care about.” “We should have some civic interest to preserve it,” said resident Kelly Arrison.

“Does the Historical Society still want to unload it?” Whalen asked society board member Harry Goodell.

“That’s on the agenda for the executive board meeting,” said Goodell.

Whalen requested that someone from the Historical Society come to a Select Board meeting to “say where they stand on it.”

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  1. MJ Miles says:

    I support the Recreation in this town 100%. There are families here and we need safe and productive places for our kids to go when not in school. A great recreation department brings families to our town for the same reason. We need people to move here and families are a strong, long term tax base. Second homeowners come and go but families are in it for the long haul. A strong family community that provides constructive fun for their children keeps them from meandering over to drugs and alcohol as the only option.
    I also agree with transparency if delinquent taxes can be published in the public newspaper they should also be in the annual report.
    If one is tax exempt I believe we should get more than a quick conversation on their financial status and how that is affected or not affected by their tax exempt status. Should they not also provide a report to for the annual report as well?
    Just some thoughts.

  2. Phil Perlah says:

    Since I was one of those who spoke at the Town Meeting regarding the tax exemptions of the Softball League and the Rod and Gun Club, I would like to respond to the statement attributed to Mr. Cable.

    I agree that the sums involved are small. But the issue for me is not the money; it’s transparency. Taxpayers have the right to know about the finances of organizations they support, directly (those organizations that receive town grants) and indirectly (those receiving tax exemptions).

    We receive as much information as we request for every dollar spent at the Pinnacle and every other town department. I did not speak against the exemptions or donations, but in favor of more information.

    I do not know Mr. Cable, but I thank him for his service and hope his health improves.