Ben Whalen: Chester needs to be good for people and business

Ben Whalen is seeking re-election to a one-year term on the Chester Select Board. Telegraph file photo.

By Shawn Cunningham
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ben Whalen is seeking a fourth one-year term on the Chester Select Board after having won low-key campaigns in contested elections in 2016 and 2017 and an uncontested one in 2018.

This year, Whalen’s name stands alone on the ballot for two one-year terms after incumbent Lee Gustafson decided to run for Dan Cote’s three-year term. Cote chose not to seek re-election.

However, he isn’t alone in seeking one of those two seats. Leigh Dakin, a long-time Chester resident and former Select Board member, and shop owner Scott Blair and both running as write-in candidates.

In a quick lunch break discussion about the issues, Whalen, a Chester firefighter, said, “Until I joined the board I didn’t know about the economic development fund. It would be good if more people knew about the fund, it’s on the website, but that’s about it.” The fund is makes loans to local businesses for expansion and hiring.

Whalen added that Chester needs “to be a town that’s a good place for people and businesses to be. ” He said that having P&L Trucking and M&M Excavation — located on industrial land on Pleasant Street — move out of town as “a big deal,” adding that “the DRB and the Town Plan need to not be so strict that no one can do anything.”

As for tourism, Whalen said, “People want to maintain the historic village – that’s for tourism, but there has to be opportunity for locals too, it’s got to work for everybody.” He also pondered what would happen with the town-wide reappraisal currently under way and what effect it would have on property taxes. “That will be interesting. We’ll see where that goes.”

Concerning the possible purchase by the town of 1,800 acres in Smokeshire, known as the Tomasso property, for possible recreational uses, Whalen said, “I don’t mind spending some grant money to investigate it and see if it will work, but I’m not in favor of spending money to buy it unless there’s more evidence that it’s good for the town.”

He added, “I’d love to be able to go there and camp and hike and mountain bike with my kids, but (at $2.8 million to $3.5 million) it’s a large dollar figure.” Whalen suggested that if the study comes back suggesting that “we could get our money back from it (through a variety of uses), maybe,” he’d be for it. “But if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.”

As the town also considers what role government will play in the many events that for years have been handled by volunteers such as the Labor Day Fireworks, the Summer Music Series and Overture to Christmas, Whalen said, “The Winter Carnival gets better every year. We spent a little money on it this year, but it’s really a big community event. I was there at the mini snowmobile event and everyone there was a local.”

He remarked how the Chester Rotary “has done a good job keeping the Fall Festival going and we even got people who joined the Fire Department from our participating.” The Chester Fire Department grills and sells hot dogs, hamburgers and sausage, peppers and onions at the weekend event.

He called problems with Route 35 in Chester, which The Telegraph has highlighted recently, “a hard subject. … I think the state needs to take ownership of it. It’s a long stretch of road that has foundational issues.”

Looking to the future, Whalen sees Chester as a town that both locals and visitors “are going to want to live in and stay. We have a lot of projects going on, a Master Plan and beautification efforts and those are all great. But we need businesses that keep the local economy going along with good roads and good schools so it’s a place people want to be.”

About Ben Whalen

  • Chester native
  • Attended local schools
  • Has been involved with Chester’s emergency services since he was 15
  • Holds the rank of assistant chief of the Chester Fire Department
  • Has served three one-year terms on the Chester Select Board.

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article

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