Chester board mulls cost of fire, ambulance coverage for Andover

Andover Select Board Chair Red Johnson speaks to the Chester board in June 2015 as a draft memorandum of understanding bounced back and forth between the towns. Telegraph file photo

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Members of the Andover Select Board came to the Sept. 1 meeting of the Chester Select Board to begin discussing the cost of fire and ambulance coverage. Vermont towns are required by statute to provide fire service, however those that are too small to have a fire department can contract with neighboring towns to satisfy that requirement.

For at least the past five years, Andover has paid Chester $24,000 per year for fire coverage, $6,000 for ambulance and $3,000 for dispatching.

The cost of covering Andover has been an issue in the past. In 2014, as the Chester board was preparing the town budget members decided they had not kept up with increasing the charge for fire service to reflect rising costs. They then proposed an increase from $9,300 to $20,000 per year. The Andover board balked at that and Chester Select Board member Tom Bock agreed, saying at the time, “It’s our fault.”  “We let this slide for 10 years or more. It’s on us.”

The Chester board admitted that with costs rising over the years, it would have been advisable to let Andover know that fire and dispatch fees would need to rise too. Rather than doubling the 500 person town’s fire fee, the board agreed to raise Andover’s rates in a two-step increment.

At the time, there was work done on a memorandum of understanding (rather than a contract) between the towns that outlined a more gradual increase and at various times the rate has been calculated based on grand list value or per capita or per parcel.

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance said that it’s not typical of the way other towns contract for services. And in fact there in no contract between the two towns. Hance said she is waiting to hear back a couple of fire departments on how they handle the charges.

Town Manager Julie Hance explains that the arrangement between Chester and Andover is not typical of contracting for fire service

Andover Select Board member Maddy Bodin said that for most of the 27 years she has lived in the town, Andover had not contributed anything to Chester. She said this was not fair and that negotiations on paying for fire service took long enough that it was discussed at multiple town meetings.

Bodin said she does not see this as a contract (since there isn’t one) but a sum in recognition of the services provided. She also said that not everyone in Andover is happy with having Chester as its fire department. This, she said, has a lot to do with where they are located — closer to Windham, Ludlow or Weston — and feeling that Chester is too far away to respond.

“There are people who don’t feel any connection to Chester, and they’re very vocal,” said Bodin.

Board member Jeff Holden, who has served as Chester’s fire chief, explained the system of “run cards” and “mutual aid,” which sends firefighters and equipment to the scene of a fire to arrive as soon as possible. He also explained that to get an ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating, a town has to be connected to a mutual aid service. That lowers the cost of insuring a home.

Hance provided a set of calculations based on the Grand List, per capita and per parcel that ranged from $72,000 to $157,000 per year for fire, ambulance, recreation and dispatch compared with the $36,800 paid currently.

“Those numbers are huge,” said Andover Select Board member Scott Kendall.

“There’s got to be a simpler way,” said Holden.

Bodin told the Chester board that the Andover board had not yet discussed this and Hance said she would do some research and find out how other towns handle these relationships.

Vacancy on Green Mountain School District board

When Jeannie Wade recently accepted a position at Chester-Andover Elementary School, she could no longer be a member of the Green Mountain Unified School District Board and that position has become vacant.

Board chair Arne Jonynas reads from the statute on how members of a school board can be replaced. Courtesy SAPA TV

Reading from the state statute that prescribes the process, Board chair Arne Jonynas explained that when a school director’s position becomes vacant, the select board for the town that’s represented by that position has the role of looking at candidates and giving the school district board an opinion.

Jonynas said there are several people who have put their names in to replace Wade and it would be the job of the Chester Select Board to tell the GM board that all, none or a particular candidate is acceptable. However, he added, the school district board can ignore the Select Board’s recommendation.

While there are a few candidates, the board decided to wait until its Sept. 15 meeting because the school district is advertising the position. The select board will invite the candidates to come to that meeting. Whatever recommendation the select board makes can then be taken up by the school board at its Sept. 16 meeting. Then in March 2022, voters will decide who will fill the position through March 2023, when Wade’s three-year term would have been up.

Wheels in the Field

Lee Whiting of Andover came before the board to ask for the use of the Pinnacle Recreation Area to hold the annual Wheels in the Field event on Oct. 1 through 3. He told the board that the event is sold out with 125 riders coming. Whiting said that many of those attending will be camping at the Green Mountain Softball League’s field on Route 103 south.

Scottish Trials participant from the first Wheels in the Field event in 2018

While in Chester, BMW motorcycle owners will gather for rides around Vermont and for “Scottish Trials,” a type of obstacle course to challenge the skill of the rider.

In addition to the Pinnacle, Whiting also asked for the use of the area in front of the Hearse House for a Porsche car show, which is also part of the event. He also asked to shut down Lover’s Lane from the ice skating rink to the entrance to the baseball fields for 20 minutes on Saturday Oct. 2 for a stunt show put on by BMW.

Whiting told the board that the stunt event could be shut down “in two seconds” and access restored in an emergency.

The board gave Whiting the go-ahead.

This will be the third edition of the annual event, which began in 2018 but was not held in 2020 due to Covid-19.

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