Hance named Chester town manager Financially distressed urged to call town over taxes, bills

Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In the 15 years that Julie Hance has worked for Chester town government, she has been assistant town clerk, assistant town treasurer, zoning administrator, executive assistant and assistant town manager. On Wednesday, April 1, the Chester Select Board unanimously named her town manager and gave her a one-year contract.

New Chester Town Manager Julie Hance Telegraph file photo

Calling it “a long road to get here,” board chair Arne Jonynas noted that the town had done a formal search to replace retiring Town Manager David Pisha and found a strong candidate who was interviewed in February. Hance was then was made interim town manager when Pisha retired on March 6 and until the new town manager arrived. But then the coronavirus pandemic took hold with its subsequent shutdowns and life-alterations.

During the meeting, Jonynas said, “With her experience and her knowledge of the town, I think we are going to be really well-served, especially in the times we are in right now.” He added that he was thrilled that she “put her hat in the ring.”

Jonynas also said that the town would not be replacing Hance but that the town office staff would be “stepping up to the challenge” and shift some responsibilities around. The board also appointed Assistant Town Clerk Amie O’Brien as its secretary, taking over writing the minutes and other duties that Hance had performed.

Select Board member Jeff Holden told the meeting that the heads of the town’s departments are 110 percent behind Hance. Holden is the superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department.

Jonynas said that Hance would receive a salary of $68,000 per year plus benefits. Between that — about $15,000 a year less than what Pisha made — and the office staff taking over other duties, there will be some savings going into what looks like a difficult fiscal year.

Covid-19, town budget, residents’ taxes & bills

Turning to an update on the town’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Hance told the board that the town is still “fully functional, still operational,” and that everything is being done by mail, email and phone. Some departments are splitting shifts so they are not in close contact. Police, fire and ambulance are functioning as usual although the police are meeting people outside Town Hall.

The Chester Select Board meeting via Zoom as the Brady Bunch

Hance said there has been discussion about delinquent taxes and water/sewer bills. She said the bills have to be sent out to preserve the financial statements that are needed for loans, but people who have a hardship can contact the town office, and the staff will look at waiving penalties and interest.

Hance said department heads, who she meets with every Tuesday morning, have been put on notice to do essential spending only, which they all understand. She also noted that this would be a good year to go to zero-based budgeting to find cuts that can be made by adopting new ways of doing things.

Board member Heather Chase said that looking at how the town is spending could be the silver lining in this situation.

Hance told the board that the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development is working with the federal Small Business Administration to look at towns with revolving loan funds, asking if the SBA and the state could use some of the town money in the SBA and state loan programs. Hance said that the town’s economic development fund has lost about $50,000 – to a balance of just under $350,000 – since the beginning of the year.

According to Hance, these are early days on this request and she wants to get more information to bring to the board. She noted that doing anything with this would require a policy change.

Proud of Chester for embracing others

Some Vermont towns have not been welcoming its second-homeowners and visitors who are fleeing from Covid-19 hotspots like New York City.

But Jonynas, noting that he has seen a lot of people in town as well as license plates from other places, said, “I am proud that all the people that I’ve run into are positive … when they see other people in town.

“They (Those from away) are just trying to do the best they can to weather this storm like everyone else. I kinda don’t blame them in a way. It’s heartwarming and it makes me proud that our town has a good outlook on them. I like this town, it’s a great town.”

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  1. Stephanie Smith says:

    So happy to hear this! Congratulations Julie!!

  2. Julie was the perfect choice. She will do a great job!

  3. J. Mc Aneny says:

    Outstanding choice 👍

  4. Could not have made a better choice. Knows the town like no one else. Fair and reasonable person who will keep Chester strong.

  5. Betty McEnaney says:

    Well done, Julie. Congratulations. You will do well and so will Chester.

  6. Tim Roper says:

    This is great work by our Selectboard and I have no doubt that our town will be well served by having Julie in this key position.

  7. C. Tourigny says:

    Well Done, Julie. I am glad of your placement👍

  8. Katherine Henry says:

    Congratulations to Julie Hance – I suspect she will really shine, even in these hard times.

  9. Katherine Fogg says:

    Congratulations Julie!!