Chester board OKs three events; wayfinding signs in limbo as state panel goes missing

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board was in an agreeable state of mind last Wednesday night, giving all three organizations that came before them the permissions and support they asked for including use of town property, police security and the nod to conduct a second coin drop on Route 103 south this year.

Lee Whiting told the board of plans for the fall festival Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

Lee Whiting appeared before the board on behalf of the group that has taken over the Chester Fall Festival from the Chester Rotary. He said that the event – renamed The Chester Festival on the Green – would take place on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 18 and 19, with vendor setup on Friday afternoon and live music that night. The group envisions having live local music throughout the weekend including Saturday and Sunday evenings behind the Fullerton Inn. The arts and crafts sale portion of the weekend will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

To accomplish this, the group asked the board to close Common Street from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days

Whiting said the festival will have an agricultural theme with demonstrations taking place behind the Academy Building. He asked the board to allow the group to use that space as well as the front lawn and the area around the Hearse House.

In addition to the area around the Green, the group asked for overnight police security on Friday and Saturday nights, several areas for parking including Cobleigh Field and the Pinnacle and for the town to pay for the portable toilets. Hance said she had put funds into the budget for handling these items.

Kate DeRosia, owner of the Dance Factory school in Springfield, asked to use Cobleigh Field to present an outdoor, Covid-safe dance production of Thumbelina on Saturday Friday, June 25 with a rain date of Sunday Saturday, June 26. Hance told DeRosia that would be fine as long as the group followed the up-to-date guidelines of the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control. The board approved the Dance Factory’s use of the property and electrical hookups in the area.

George Legace of Ruck Up asks for permission to hold a coin drop to support services to veterans

And finally, George Legace of South Londonderry asked the board to allow Ruck Up —  a war veterans support organization — to allow them to hold a coin drop to support its programs. The proposed date was Saturday, July 10 with Sunday, July 11 as a rain date. But board member Leigh Dakin noted that the board had already approved an American Legion coin drop for the Memorial Day weekend and wondered if there could be more time between the two events suggesting August.

Legace said that his group was open to that and that August was clear. The board agreed that it would allow the coin drop for an August date to be established with Hance.

At the end of the meeting when the board considers future agenda topics, members Dakin and Heather Chase suggested that the board look at a policy regarding the number of coin drops the town would allow in a given season. Chase said the question had come up in the past, but the board did not reach a conclusion back then.

Wayfinding signs in state committee limbo

A key need identified by many people who worked on or contributed to the Chester Village Center Master Plan, completed in August 2017, was a network of wayfinding signs to guide visitors to attractions and conveniences in town. Many business people on the Green told stories of visitors who said that they had been coming to Vermont for years but always turned up Route 103 toward Ludlow and never knew the town had a longer Main Street and the town Green.

A designer’s concept for a sign announcing the entrance to the Chester village

So beginning in 2018, the design firm that facilitated the Master Plan began working on a plan for siting signs that would give visitors direction to find their way around Chester. But at the Select Board meeting, Hance told the board that the Travel Information Council – which must approve such signs – has not been available for more than a year and a half to discuss or vote on the plan submitted by the town.

According to the state’s website, the group the makes “rules relating to the determination of locations for official business directional signs” giving “consideration to the adequacy of information provided by highway directional signs and the preservation of scenic and aesthetic values.” These include the “official business directional signs” that give distance and direction to businesses and attractions along state highways. The council is administered by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

An example of a sign that would alert drivers that there’s more to Chester than the route to Ludlow on Rt. 103

The website also indicates that the council last met in July 2019 and that the terms of all its members have expired. Hance said she had emailed a letter to John Kessler of ACCD saying that the town had been working to get the council to approve its plan for more than a year and that it could not let another construction/tourism season go by, declaring that it intended to implement the plan without the council’s approval.

Kessler replied citing Covid-19 in saying it had been difficult to staff the council and that he would notify the town when the next meeting was scheduled. On Wednesday, Select Board members expressed their frustration with this and said the town should just go ahead and put the signs up without the approval of the state.

On Friday, May 7, The Telegraph asked Gov. Phil Scott and ACCD Secretary Lindsay Kurrle what was planned to get the council going again so towns and businesses can have approvals for signs they want for the summer season. Kurrle said she was unaware of the situation and would look into it.

At publication time on Monday, there was no response from the state. The Chester Telegraph has made a public records request to learn how many municipalities and businesses have applications pending with the council.

Kudos for Greenup Day

Greenup Day Coordinator Frank Kelley Telegraph file photo

During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting Greenup Day coordinator Frank Kelley told the board that more than 150 people from all walks of life had made this year’s event a “huge” success. Kelley said they had cleaned up 88 miles of road and filled the roll off dumpster at the town garage — calling that the goal.

Kelley thanked a number of people and businesses and organizations – including road foreman Kirby Putnam, the Whiting Library, Chester Hardware,  Erskine’s Grain and Garden and the Chester Conservation Committee.

In addition to handing out praise, Kelley also announced that Carrie King would be coming on board as a co-coordinator of the Greenup Day work in the future. Board members thanked Kelley for his longstanding dedication and work on Greenup Day and other events.

Security cameras at rec area after town pool damaged

Town Manager Julie Hance explains the damage to the town pool and the plan to install cameras to deter further vandalism

Hance told the board that someone riding a skateboard in the empty town pool had torn the liner resulting in $2,000 to 3,000 damage. After speaking with the vendor who is providing security cameras for the Police Department at the new public safety building, Hance proposed to have four cameras installed at the Pinnacle – including telephoto cameras that can cover longer distances including the skating rink, basketball courts and skate park as well as the baseball fields, pavilion and tennis courts.

She said the town recently has been experiencing some vandalism and graffiti and having these cameras monitored by the Police Department might be a deterrent. The cost would be $7,600, which would overspend the facilities line of the recreation budget, but Hance said they would try to underspend where possible to make that up.

First-quarter finances

Hance told the board that the town’s finances are in good shape after the first quarter, noting that the heads of departments have kept spending “in limbo” and putting off purchases – as much as possible – until after taxes come in. Because of that, she believe that the town won’t need to borrow in anticipation of tax collection until July.

Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said that in the past the town would already be borrowing – sometimes as much as $1 million.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas saying that the town is flexible with tax delinquencies, but if owners make no effort to catch up “it’s not fair to everyone else”

Hance also said that during the pandemic the town has been hesitant to put properties up for tax sale  and most people who are delinquent on property taxes make payment arrangements. Still, a handful of property owners have not responded to the town’s collection efforts. So in early June, the town will be putting seven or eight properties that are three years delinquent up for sale.

“We’re pretty flexible,” said Jonynas describing the town’s collection activity. “But when you get no response, it’s not fair to everyone else.”

The board also discussed looking into ways to collect delinquent ambulance fees. Hance explained that there are agencies that try to get money out of insurance companies and the board was generally in favor of that but wanted to be cautious about dunning residents who may have trouble paying for the service noting that it is also supported by their taxes.

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