Chester Board OKs sending budget to voters $4.059 million plan would add 1.25 cents to property tax rate

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With little fanfare and one dissenting vote, the Chester Select Board approved sending the 2019 general fund budgetwith a $49,767  increase over last year, to the voters on Monday, March 4. The $4.059 million budget requires a tax increase of 1.25 cents per hundred of assessed value or approximately $25 on a $200,000 home.

Dan Cote was the lone ‘no’ vote on the proposed general fund budget. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Board member Dan Cote, who at the Jan. 8 meeting, called a $43,500 increase “insidiously dangerous” was the sole no vote. Cote had argued against “budget creep,” and in favor of a zero growth budget, but the board asked Town Manager David Pisha to add $6,000 to a landscaping line to help support the volunteers who spend many hours working to beautify the town.

Acting in their capacity as Water and Sewer Commissioners, board members also approved the spending plans for those departments. Water and Sewer budgets are not sent to the voters since their income is derived from user fees and does not come from tax revenues.

The board also finalized the Annual Warning for Town Meeting Day including a couple of articles that will need explaining.

  • In Article 3, voters are asked if they want to eliminate the elected post of Grand Juror, which is an obsolete law enforcement post the duties of which are done by the police. No one holds this office this year.
  • In Article 4, voters are asked if they will eliminate the Budget Committee. This committee has only advisory powers and has not had any candidates run to be members in a few years. The select board could establish an appointed committee to do this function if it was thought necessary in the future, but the Budget Committee would have to be eliminated by the voters first.
  • In Article 6, voters are asked if they would establish a reserve fund to cover unanticipated shortfalls or expenses. This is based on the advice of the town’s auditing firm – RHR Smith & Co. – to have a portion of the town’s operating budget set aside for an emergency. There was discussion of a reserve fund and a policy for adding to it and using funds from it and those talks will continue ahead of the town meeting.

Popple Dungeon culvert costs rise

VHB, the engineering firm working to replace the Popple Dungeon culvert destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene, came back to the board with questions based on information that will make the project more expensive than originally thought.

The temporary bridge spanning a failing culvert on Popple Dungeon Road

Project engineer Jason Keener told the board that the geological study done found dense glacial till under the current footings. That would make driving piles more difficult and expensive. Keener said that the piles would have to be pre-drilled, which raises the cost but also gives the highest resiliency to flooding.

The project is funded by two grants of $300,000 each with a 25 percent town match, for a total funding of $750,000. But if the board were to continue with the option it favored in the past – drilled piles, poured-in-place concrete and a detour onsite, are now estimated at $955,000 or $205,000 over the budget.

According to Keener, the option of precast bridge footings instead of poured would lower the cost and also the bridge’s flood resiliency. And routing traffic around the three- to four-week construction would also lower the cost. But the offsite detour would dramatically increase response times of police, fire and ambulance.

Ben Whalen reasserts that the off site detour will lengthen emergency response times

“If you have a cardiac event or a structure fire,” said board member Ben Whalen who is also a captain in the Fire Department “you’re looking at a 30-minute response and then 50 minutes to the hospital.”

According to VHB’s estimates, the precast footings with an onsite detour would cost $810,000 or $60,000 over budget while doing the same work with traffic detoured on Rt 121 or Rt 11 would cost $710,000 or $40,000 under.

Adding to the problem is that VTrans has scheduled a “reclamation” project on Rt. 11 between Chester and Londonderry, further promising to slow any response time to west end of Popple Dungeon.

The board asked Pisha to return with more information, including the cost of VHB’s engineering work, the availability of  Windham Fire and Londonderry Ambulance to help out and the work schedule for AOT’s Rt. 11 project.

New grant opportunity

Julie Hance explains the new grant opportunity for the Water and Sewer Departments

Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that a new grant opportunity had arisen in which the Drinking Water Fund will have money available for projects and will fund the first five fundable applications submitted to them.

These are 100 percent grants that require no matching funds from the town and Hance asked the board to quickly approve applying for $40,000 to create an inventory and a digital database – with GPS coordinates – of the water and sewer systems. The board approved making the application.

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