Chester board opts out of in-person Town Meeting All questions to be voted by Australian ballot; online informational meeting to be held

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board last Wednesday opted to hold an informational meeting on Monday, March 1 followed by a vote on all issues before the voters by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 2 — Vermont’s Town Meeting Day.

Board chair Arne Jonynas raises the question of how to handle the Town Meeting voting as the pandemic continues. Images courtesy of SAPA-TV unless otherwise noted

At the beginning of the discussion, board chair Arne Jonynas framed the choices as deciding whether to move the date of Town Meeting or have voted articles done by Australian ballot.

Town Manager Julie Hance said that Town Meeting would have to be “done” by early May because the tax rate is set at in July and there would have to be some time in between for a re-vote if the budget should fail. She also noted that by that time the Covid situation may not have changed and there would be no choice except Australian ballot.

“You need to have time to set that stuff up,” said Hance.

Board member Heather Chase pointed to the expiration of three select board terms in March and the need to hold a ballot then just to have a quorum at meetings. Member Leigh Dakin said that while she would love to have a full town hall for the annual meeting, there have been restrictions on the number of people who can be allowed in due to Covid distancing.

“I would like to keep the meeting date and vote articles by Australian ballot,” said Dakin.

“I agree,” said board member Jeff Holden.

Board member Lee Gustafson moves to vote all articles by Australian Ballot this year

Jonynas said that the town would have to have a good educational program about the budget so voters would understand what the board is doing.

Hance said that there can still be the required informational meeting via Zoom.

Board member Lee Gustafson moved that the town hold an informational meeting on the evening of March 1 and vote the budget and other articles the following day. The motion passed unanimously.

Less formal approach to Jeffrey Barn suggested

I‘d like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about the Jeffrey Barn,” said Chester resident Steve Mancuso, noting that the last time the board looked at maintaining the structures “was a lot of zeroes and it wasn’t worth it because you can’t use it for anything.” He asked if the board would consider a less formal approach to shoring up the barn.

Chester was recently informed by its insurer that the Jeffrey Barn could no longer be covered due to its condition and lack of maintenance. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Jonynas noted that to have the discussion it should be warned on the board’s agenda but he asked Mancuso to give the board his thoughts and comments.

Mancuso said he envisioned a group of volunteers working to shore up the structure. Saying that he had recently looked at the structure and that it “really hasn’t changed since Snow Cats left.”

“What if you had a crew of volunteers, would you guys throw a little lumber at it, hurricane strap?” asked Mancuso, referring to metal ties used to help build roofs that resist high winds. Hance invited Mancuso to come in to continue the discussion with her and said that the topic would be on the board’s agenda for Jan. 20.

Board members thanked Mancuso for his ideas and Hance told The Telegraph on Tuesday that the plans will be reviewed for effectiveness and safety.

Budget review 

The board continued its discussion of both the capital/bond budget as well as the general fund numbers that have been reviewed over the past few months. Board members thanked Hance for some of the changes she has made to the format to make the budget documents easier to read and understand.

The final approval of the budget was put off to the January 20 meeting when the town will have a better idea of what surplus it might have from 2020 to apply toward the expenses in the 2021 spending plan.

Action on gravel pit, town building work

Town Manager Julie Hance said that the Act 250 application is expected to be approved allowing the town to begin extracting gravel. Telegraph file photo

Hance told the board that attorney Jim Goss has reached an agreement with the state on the town’s Act 250 application to open a gravel pit at town property on Route 103 S, site of the new town water tank.

She said that all of the issues that led to the denial by the District Commission have been addressed so it appears that the application can be approved.

She also told the board that two grant applications have been approved. The first will allow the town to replace the west side of the Academy Building roof and the second to install a new sound system and sound dampening tiles on the second floor of Town Hall.

Hance noted that the plans for the first floor after the Police Department moves into the new Public Safety Building include re-establishing the meeting area in the room now used by the listers and zoning.

Continuing the Fall Festival

Chester resident Scott MacDonald told the board about his efforts to put together a group to continue the annual Fall Festival after the Rotary Club of Chester announced that it was looking for a “competent organization” to take over running the event. He noted that about half a dozen business people had stepped forward so far to work on making it a viable festival.

Scott MacDonald fills select board members in the plans for continuing to hold the Fall Festival

Saying that he did not want to give too many details because it was early in the process, Mac Donald said, “I think we could end up saving the festival and having a wonderful time.”

MacDonald said the vision was to make the festival “more about our town” including a “county fair” component at the American Legion field. “We could wind up with something special here,” said MacDonald.

Correcting an oversight, the board named recently appointed Zoning Administrator Jill Barber as salvage yard ordinance enforcement officer. Hance noted the ordinance calls for an enforcement officer but that it had been an oversight not to take that step when the board installed Barber in the zoning post.

“The intent was that the Zoning Administrator would also be the enforcement officer,” said Hance.

The ordinance was adopted in June 2018 after complaints by residents and about 10 months of research and discussion.

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