To the editor: Chester issues more complex

While I greatly appreciate the call for Chester voters to educate themselves ahead of Town Meeting, I think it’s important to add some clarity to some of the assertions made by Fred Greenwell (To the editor: Chester needs to educate itself before March vote), as well.

I have not yet seen a ballot, but I don’t believe there’s anything involving expenditures for, or decisions regarding the purchase of the Tomasso property on Tuesday’s ballot. The only movement around this significant decision has been to apply some grant money to complete a survey of the property. That survey was needed to inform discussion on the possible uses and the overall value of the property. There will be much discussion and public debate before any action to purchase takes place, so let’s leave this topic out of the conversation for now and look ahead to having robust conversations about it in the future.

The issue of real estate valuation is a bit more complex, at least to my mind. We need to remember that the last town-wide assessment was completed at the height of the real estate bubble and that bubble burst in December 2008. At that time, assessed valuations for tax purposes became disconnected from actual market values, across the country. Market values have not recovered to 2008 levels in any portion of southern Vermont as far as I can tell, meaning that this is not just a local issue.

It’s also crucial to understand that property tax rates are set to the level required for funding the town’s annual operating and school budgets, regardless of property valuations. That means reducing assessed values to be in alignment with the current market will necessarily trigger an increase in the tax rate to allow the town to collect enough in tax revenues to fund our budgets. It’s all about the total dollars needed to keep our town and schools running.

As far as “budget creep” goes, inflation is a fact of life for all of us and not making needed repairs to our infrastructure just isn’t an acceptable option. The only path to a level budget would be to cut from other areas, or let things deteriorate rather than making needed repairs to our roads, bridges, buildings and equipment, all of which have an expected useful life at the time they’re purchased or constructed.

Lastly, as anyone with a bit of business experience can tell you, one must invest money to realize a return. What Chester’s leadership must not do is pinch our pennies in reaction to a shortage of new, full-time residents and businesses locating here. Projects like the Streetscapes plan are precisely the kinds of investments we need to make to enhance the appearance and livability of our town. Those enhancements play a key role in helping to attract the people and businesses we want to join the good people of our beautiful town.

There’s a lot of good energy in town right now and I see progress being made on multiple fronts with regard to enhancing the look, the feel and the overall quality of life in Chester. It’s important to build on this momentum and continue working together to continue in a positive direction.

I appreciate the Select Board candidates’ interviews that were recently published here and hope all voters will read them before voting on Tuesday. Please vote as if the future of our town depends upon it, because it does.

Tim Roper

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