Chester board mulls dismantling 131-year-old Jeffrey Barn Lack of insurance, upkeep at core of Select Board decision

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chester’s insurers say they will no longer cover the Jeffrey Barn…

The Chester Select Board is looking for a contractor to dismantle the 131-year-old Jeffrey Barn on Rt. 103 North after learning that the town’s insurer will no longer cover it.

Town Manager Julie Hance told the board at its Wednesday, Dec. 16 meeting that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which provides insurance for the Chester, has determined that due to the condition of the barn – and the lack of maintenance – it will no longer insure the building for a loss, but it will provide coverage of $50,000 for debris removal in the event of a collapse.

….citing poor condition and lack of maintenance. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

A VLCT memo to the town says that the barn has been covered for a cash value of $117,676 with contents insured for $143,000, but after a recent visit by a VLCT representative, the building was determined to be in poor condition and empty.

What to do with the barn has been a persistent question for a number of years but after receiving this news, the board discussed finding a contractor who would want to dismantle the structure. In the meantime the town will be posting the site with ‘no trespassing’ signs in a effort to reduce the town’s liability. Hance confirmed on Monday that as town property, the barn is still covered by liability insurance.

Candidates can get on ballot without petition drive

Amisunderstanding of Act 162, which eliminates the requirement of petition signatures for those who want to run for office, caused confusion at the Chester meeting. The measure, which allows select boards to put questions normally decided at Town Meeting on Australian ballot, was enacted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and was signed by Gov. Phil Scott in October.

Gustafson: “If you’re really dedicated…you’ll find the 25 signatures.” Meeting photos courtesy of SAPA-TV

Members of the Chester board thought they had the option of waive the petition requirement or leave it in place. And, after discussion, the latter is what the board decided to do

While two of the board members still attend meetings remotely, those at the meeting were dubious about the value of allowing anyone who wants to run for office without collecting the required 25 signatures to get on the ballot.

Board chair Arne Jonynas said he didn’t think the change would mean a lot of people would be running for offices.

“If you’re really dedicated and want to be on the ballot, you’ll find the 25 signatures,” said board member Lee Gustafson. “Seems like it’s not necessary in Chester.”

Board member Jeff Holden said he had misgivings about dropping the requirement asking “How many people do we want on the ballot?”

Holden: “I think if you want to do it, you have to put in the effort.”

“I think if you want to do it, you need to put in the effort,” said Holden.

“The only reason for it was for health reasons, the Covid thing,” said Jonynas, “not trying to make it easier or not having to go through the process.”

“I’m not seeing what the benefit is,” said Gustafson, who moved to keep the requirement, a motion that passed unanimously.

But on Thursday, Hance learned that the law only gave boards the option of moving questions to the Australian ballot. For 2021, the Legislature eliminated the petition requirement and select boards do not have the option of keeping it. That means anyone wanting to run for office must only file a consent form with the Town Clerk.

Civilian oversight of police continues to come up

Chester resident Leslie Thorsen continued her quest for civilian oversight of the Chester Police Department. Thorsen, speaking during public comment, asked if the topic would be discussed before the Police Department budget  is approved.

Leslie Thorsen leaves the meeting after renewing her call for civilian oversight of police

Jonynas said that the topic would be on a future agenda.

Hance noted that other towns that have enacted civilian oversight have had problems and the advice of town attorney Jim Carroll is to go slowly and be careful. Hance said that a select board does not have authority over police procedures and that everything needs to be understood before starting to look at this.

Holden, who is also a police officer, said that an oversight board needs law enforcement experience, “not just a civilian with a mindset that (police) were wrong.”

Pointing to boards that oversee doctors, lawyers and other professionals, Holden noted those would be made up of practitioners of those professions.

“There’s no one who has a bigger problem with a bad police officer than another police officer trying to do a good job,” said Holden.

Town puts brakes on truck servicing bay at Town Garage

Town Manager Julie Hance explains that planning for a future service bay now would be too expensive

At a recent meeting the board discussed whether to have design work done for adding a truck servicing bay to the Town Garage. Board members asked Hance to check into the cost of doing some of the engineering work but not designing the building.

After meeting with architect Kevin Racek — who is working on the new Public Safety Building and the rehab of the garage — Hance said the cost of even the minimal work was higher than expected and should be put off for now. Hance also noted that the project on Pleasant Street is about one week behind schedule due to a delay in the concrete work.

Hance also told the board that the organization that put on a disc golf tournament at the Pinnacle earlier this year has confirmed that they will be returning for another tournament in May 2021.

Credit card limits raised for “smoother business”

The board approved a request to increase the limit on town credit cards from $4,500 to $10,500. Hance explained that there are currently three cards that each have a $1,500 limit. These are used by the Town Clerk, town manager and Whiting Library to do town business when the town does not have an account with a vendor.

The cards are paid off each month. The snag comes when there’s more than $1,500 in transactions in a billing cycle and they need to pay the card down mid-cycle. The new limits will be $4,500 each for the Town Hall cards with the library card remaining at $1,500.

“This is not to spend more money,” said Jonynas, “but to make doing business smoother.”

The board also continued to review the town budget, looking at the general fund and grant fund. Hance said she would be bringing information on the capital and bond plans.

Chester is hot, hot, hot for real estate

According to Hance, Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin has released its “America’s Hottest Neighborhoods of 2021”  which ranked Chester/Andover as No. 2, below Lake Tahoe, Calif.

The rankings are based on an analysis that ranked U.S. ZIP codes by “year-over-year growth in listing views on Redfin.com and Redfin Compete Score—a measure of how difficult it is to (buy) a home based on factors including days on market, share of homes that sold above their listing prices and sale-to-list price ratio.”

 

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  1. The building was determined to be in poor condition and empty. Just create something new and useful out of it. Make it like a new one or reclaim those woods and do something both interior and exterior part of the house.

  2. Lee Herrington says:

    We have civilian oversight in the form of our Select board as well as Chief Cloud’s civilian boss Mrs Hance. A potential means of oversight are body worn cameras (BWC) or mandatory audio recording of all contacts. Keep in mind the management and review of data requires money and personnel time. BWC are a particularly expensive proposition given the hardware, software subscription, and data storage costs.

    Beyond our own layers of oversight our system of justice also allows for both criminal and civil judicial review of officers actions.

    We do not need the additional government bureaucracy in our small quiet town. Spend money on good training for our officers, demand professionalism from them, and treat them like the valued employees they are.

  3. Sandy Gregg says:

    Used to live in Cavendish and follow Chester news…one of my favorite VT towns. Has the Town applied for a state historic barn preservation grant? This barn is perfect for that program.

  4. Scott MacDonald says:

    Civilian oversight of our police force is an insult to the officers. People who have never had to face a violent criminal in an unknown situation have no business thinking they are qualified to speak about law enforcement.

    If we start something like this, qualified officers will want nothing to do with our town. We have laws for this reason, and if an officer is in violation of the law, it can be handled legally.

    For you folks who believe civilian oversight is a good thing, perhaps you should walk up to a door where there is a potentially drunk or drug-using person who is armed and dangerous, to know how it feels.

    These officers who take care of our town took their jobs in good faith. We need to respond in kind, and not behave as if they need unqualified babysitters watching their every move.

    If for some foolish reason this comes to pass, there had better be people who feel as I do on that committee. Balance would be required, and fair.

    Let’s boil this down: Nobody without experience in a field, should have oversight of someone who does.

  5. Kathy Vize says:

    Would the town be paying a contractor to dismantle it, with the contractor removing the structure for his/her/their later sale of reclaimed lumber?

    Can any of the framing be reused/repurchased to create an outbuilding at the town park?

    It seems a shame to have a piece of community history completely eradicated, but understand that insurance companies don’t care about anything other than risk.

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