Sandri land offer to Chester goes behind closed doors

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Sandri, in yellow, town property adjacent, in green.

The Chester Select Board meeting of Wednesday, Sept. 20 was mostly about checking in with ongoing projects before holding two executive sessions – one to interview candidates for the Planning Commission and Development Review Board and another to discuss an offer by Sandri to purchase town land behind the Sunoco Station on Main Street.

In the first executive session, Cheryl Lipton was scheduled to be interviewed for a seat on the Planning Commission and Russ Monier and Gary Coger were to be interviewed for one seat on the DRB. No decision was made on the appointments.

While the consideration of the Sandri offer and the framing of a negotiating strategy and counter offers is a proper use of the exemption to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law that allows closed door sessions, The Telegraph requested a copy of the Sunoco offer. The Telegraph is maintaining that we would not be privy to the board’s deliberations and that disclosing the offer does not put Sandri at a competitive disadvantage since no one else is asking to buy the land.

Town Manager David Pisha and Executive Assistant Julie Hance told The Telegraph that lawyers said that the offer did not have to be disclosed to the public. The select board has added an executive session to its Sept. 27 meeting following the presentation of the Village Center Master Plan by consultants SE Group. The session is “To consider an offer from Sandri Co. to purchase Town property behind their current facility. 

Town financial condition improves

Ron Smith of RHR Smith & Co. – the town’s outside auditor — told the board that the town’s financial condition improved in 2016 over what it was in 2015. Smith said that on the town’s $3.5 million budget, he would like to see cash-in-hand that allows it to function for 90 days. In 2015, the town had more like 30 days and in 2016 that rose to between 45 and 60 days.

Chester’s outside auditor Ron Smith tells the board that the town’s financial condition has improved Photos by Shawn Cunningham

“The good news is that it went up,” said Smith

Smith also noted that the funds that operate the water and sewer departments also improved and suggested that the next step for those departments — and for the town as a whole — is to build a capital reserve. Smith noted that having put $4 million to $5 million into new water infrastructure, this is a good time to get ready to repair it in the future.

Smith suggested budgeting 10 percent of the depreciation value of town assets to build the capital reserve.

“What areas in particular?” asked board member Dan Cote.

“Three,” said Smith. “No. 1 is roads and No. 2A would be water and 2B would be sewer.” Smith noted that water and sewer are equally weighted in his priorities.

Reprising a question asked by resident Michael Leonard at an earlier meeting, board member Heather Chase asked Smith what is a healthy debt level for the town. Smith said that there are benchmarks in the for-profit sector but it’s harder to gauge in municipal finance.

“If you didn’t have debt, you’d have higher taxes and higher water and sewer rates,” said Smith. “You pay for long-term investments with long-term debt. The only other way to finance large investments is to raise taxes.”

Responding to the question of whether the town’s debt level was problematic, Smith said, “Listen, you’re not close.”

Architect Claudio Veliz updates the board on the progress of the feasibility study for public service and public works buildings.

Chester architect Claudio Veliz told the board that, for the feasibility study for a new home for the public safety and highway departments, he would be visiting Castleton and a couple more buildings with similar functions and that he was waiting for some responses to requests for information from state agencies.

Veliz said that this process is only to identify the possibilities for such buildings and provide a menu of options to the town. Veliz’s firm is not designing the buildings. That would only happen after the town selects a course of action.

Veliz told the board he would like to hear opinions and suggestions from members of the public on the topic. He can be reached at or at P.O. Box 428, Chester, VT 05143. As the process is on a schedule, send ideas and observations by the end of the September.

The study is expected to be released in early to mid-October.

Next stop, the 21st century

At a meeting in August, board member Ben Whalen asked Pisha if there was a way to cut down on the amount of paper that goes into preparing the packets that board members receive several days before each meeting. Pisha and Hance looked into solutions and decided to buy computer tablets for each member and park all the documents in internet storage referred to as “the cloud.”

“They’ll be able to find what they need and we can update things like budgets online rather than issuing more paper,” said Pisha. “And when a member decides to step down, that member’s replacement gets the tablet.”

Pisha said that the tablets will be town property and are to be used only for town business.

In other business

Speaking for Chester’s American Legion, Jeff Holden asks board members if they are behind putting a flag pole in front of Town Hall.

Appearing on behalf of American Legion Post 67, Jeff Holden asked the board if it was prepared to go ahead with placing a flagpole at the southeast corner of Town Hall. Holden said the legion would look at the costs and decide on an option for the board to approve. Board members thanked Holden and the legion for working on this.

  • The board signed a resolution allowing the town to apply for a municipal planning grant from the state of Vermont. If funded, the grant would pay for a consultant to help the Planning Commission work with the results of a zoning audit approved by the board and paid for through a rebate of money held by a two state solid waste district the town belonged to in the past.
  • There will be a special Select Board meeting on Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m. for a presentation of the Village Center Master Plan final report by SE Group, the consultant that conducted the planning and wrote the report. This is a public meeting and there will be additional meetings for the public at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19 at American Legion Post 67, 637 Rt. 103 South and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at the NewsBank Conference Center, 352 Main St.
  • Chase said that a couple of people had asked if the New England Forestry Foundation, which is raising funds to buy and conserve an 1,800 acre-parcel in Chester, ever develops wind farms on its properties. Pisha said he did not know, but in an interview with The Telegraph a few weeks ago, NEFF Executive Director Bob Perschel said that while the foundation does not currently do wind development, unless there is an easement that precludes wind farms, future boards and directors could exercise that option.“If someone wants to buy an easement to prevent wind power on the land, we are open to that,” said Perschel.
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