To the editor: Chester needs to educate itself before March vote

I am writing to the voting and non-voting landowners in the Town of Chester to share a few commendations, observations and concerns as we approach the Annual Town Meeting on Monday March 4 and voting on Tuesday March 5, 2019.

Firstly, thank you Dan Cote for your three years of service on the Select Board. Dan noted in his election bid three years ago: “Chester’s average property values declined by 50 percent since 2008 and yet our regional neighbors have declined by 8 percent.” He further noted it is extremely unhealthy for a community to undergo such a significant loss in property values. Sooner or later it will affect our tax revenue.

Cote’s comments at the recent Jan. 8, 2019 Select Board meeting called a $43,599 budget increase “insidiously dangerous.” This year’s proposed budget includes a significant increase in interest of approximately $100,000, the first payment in a 30-year bond payment.

Budget Creep. Our Select Board is contemplating another bond for the construction of a new EMS building, with an additional hefty annual interest payment for 30 years down the road. At its Feb. 13, 2019 meeting, the board, despite the continued call of board member Heather Chase for a disclosure of the cost savings of design/build process vs. the bid process, decided to move forward with the “design/build” approach to obtain a cost estimate for construction of the proposed EMS building (Pages 11-13 of 2018 Annual Report). This was despite the fact all members expressed the viewpoint that enhanced due diligent processes are needed going forward.

The Popple Dungeon Culvert project proposed costs are escalating.
At its Nov. 7, 2018 meeting, the Select Board voted unanimously to accept a $20,000 grant from the Open Space Institute (with the town contributing $6000 for appraisal cost per Assistant Town Clerk Julie Hance) to move ahead with the assessment process for a possible purchase the nearly 2,000 acre tract of land currently owned by the Tomasso family, at that time, on the market for around $3 million. Public purchase, subject to the approval of  town voters, would take the property off the grand list of taxable assets and incur additional debt for the Town. How will this be paid for except through taxpayers’ pocketbooks?

And this year, on March 4, we are being asked to approve the establishment of a reserve fund in an amount not to exceed 20 percent of taxes raised (get out the calculator), adding a potential source of funding for poor planning. (Article 6).

Since Chester’s last assessment in 2008, sales prices/market values of property are generally lower than the assessments on record. 2018 marketing time was prolonged and sales prices/market value continue at levels less than the assessment value on record during 2018.

At its Sept. 5 2018 Select Board meeting Lister Wanda Purdy reported that the reappraisal process started in August with appraisers visiting home owners, a process expected to continue throughout 2019 in order to reassess all real property for the grand list of 2020.

Dan Cote is right on point. With property values decreasing, and very little increase in the number of taxable revenue sources in the Town of Chester (little economic development) Cote’s warning about budget creep may be an understatement. And current property owners are going to bear a sizable tax increase, whether or not the assessments are brought in line with the market values…due to a thing called setting the property tax rate.

Cote’s comments were and continue to be a CALL TO ACTION. However, the call out appears to be met with general complacency among the citizens in the Town of Chester and some Select Board members. The challenge for our citizenry and my hope is people will inform and educate themselves. How? By obtaining the 2018 Annual Report from Chester Town Hall, making comparisons to the 2017 Annual Report (on the Town’s website), reading Select Board minutes (available on the Town’s website), viewing Select Board meetings on line (recorded by SAPA – Springfield Area Public Access). Unfortunately its Jan. 19, 2019 meeting, focusing on proposed budget, was not recorded.

ASK THE CANDIDATES: Lee Gustafson (incumbent on ballot), Scott Blair (write in) Leigh Dakin (write in) are seeking election. Like fellow citizens Tim Roper, Randy Miles and Thomas Simmons I would like to hear what fact based positions candidates promote for the issues at hand here in Chester. Our citizens are encouraged to reach out and ask each candidate, if elected, what they are going to do to keep the budget in line and thus keep the town affordable for its real estate taxpaying residents.

Fred Greenwell

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