Chester Select Board mulls budget priorities, asks departments for cuts

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chester’s Select Board meets in the town office on a Monday when the second floor was in use. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

With a short schedule for getting a budget approved and sent to the printer ahead of Town Meeting Day in March, the Chester Select Board met on Monday Jan. 8 to review its 2018 numbers with an eye toward reducing an overall increase of $242,986.

In a wide-ranging meeting that lasted almost three hours, the board reviewed individual budget lines, deciding to cut some and asking Town Manager David Pisha to go back to the heads of town departments to find savings in others.

While the board cut money from a number of lines, members frequently referred back to the priorities they had discussed and adopted in several “visioning” sessions earlier in 2017.

The board discussed what was described as a past pattern of keeping the tax rate low while “kicking the can down the road” when it came to maintenance of town assets. “The town garage is a perfect example,” said board member Ben Whalen. “Not a dime was put into it.”

“We have to commit to maintenance,” said board member Heather Chase.

Cutting $15,000 from the line for “historic facilities maintenance,” the board left the planned work for 2018 (replacement of broken roof slates on several town buildings and painting and cornice work on the Academy Building) intact. Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that leaving $25,000 in place for the major maintenance would be fine.

Rather than mandating specific cuts in department budgets, the board identified specific budget lines that prompted questions. Pisha was asked to speak with Police Chief Rick Cloud, Fire Chief Matt Wilson, Ambulance coordinator Dan Cook, Highway Superintendent Graham Kennedy and Recreation Director Matt McCarthy about lines in each of their budgets  with an eye toward reductions.

For the first time in some years, the appropriation for the Springfield Regional Development Corp. was moved from the articles voted from the floor at Town Meeting to the town budget. SRDC provides economic development planning and assistance to the town and to businesses starting in or moving to Chester. It also assists existing businesses with a variety of issues including applying for Chester Economic Development Fund loans.

Hance noted that there are a lot of changes coming in this year’s budget, not the least of which is the change from “cash” to “accrual” accounting. She suggested that a detailed explanation of the budget be included in the annual report. One of the larger issues that the board felt needs to be explained in the 2018 report is how the 2017 surplus is the smaller than it has been in the past several years.

The board will review changes that Pisha will bring to it at its next regularly scheduled meeting 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018at the Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

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