Participants sought for workforce survey as Chester updated on Communities Challenge Chester board begins 2022 budget review; gets update on Lovers Lane Brook bridge

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Springfield Regional Development’s Amanda Sidler explains the task of the Working Communities Challenge as SRDC Executive Director Bob Flint looks on. Meeting images courtesy of SAPA TV

The Springfield Regional Development Corp. came before the Chester Select Board last week to update information on the Working Communities Challenge, a three-year, $300,000 grant program sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and several philanthropic organizations to remove barriers to work and increase the region’s workforce.

The effort includes a number of area businesses and organizations as partners

WCC coordinator Amanda Sidler told the board that barriers include transportation, childcare, housing, technology/education and substance abuse recovery. While the program began before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sidler said it is responding to that situation as well.

To accomplish its mission, the Springfield Area Working Communities Challenge is surveying residents and businesses to find out specific barriers to employment and offering resources such as a childcare assistance fund and a program to provide free refurbished laptops to those seeking jobs or furthering their education. Survey participants will receive a $40 gift card.

Click to enlarge the map of the 16 towns participating in the challenge

Since the pandemic took hold, a number of area businesses have faced dire worker shortage due to the Great Resignation, especially those in the restaurant business.

Made up of 16 towns in Windsor and Windham counties, the Springfield Area Working Communities Challenge is one of four regional organizations that received the funding, with four more to be funded in 2022. More information on this program and survey can be found by clicking here.

Town budgeting begins;
Hance hopes to make ZA full time

Town Manager Julie Hance kicked off the 2022 budgeting season with a draft budget document for the board to begin reviewing. She said revenue and expense numbers are dated to Nov. 17 and more detail would be available closer to the end of the year.

Town Manager Julie Hance introduces the draft budget and the budgeting process

Hance told the board there are two items she hopes they will approve. The first is making Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow full time at 32 hours per week (up from 24) She noted that he would not need the town’s health coverage but would receive a stipend for his existing plan. Hance said Bristow’s training as a planner and his experience with grant writing, economic development and marketing would be valuable for the town.

The second “wish” position Hance is requesting is a facilities manager who can get the town’s properties on a maintenance schedule and work “proactively” to keep up mechanicals and vehicles. She expects that this could save money overall.

The plan is to review the general government and public safety budgets at the Dec. 1 meeting, then look at Public Works and Parks and Recreation on Dec. 15 with an additional meeting before the end of the year. Hance has asked the board if Wednesday Dec. 29 would work for members.

Following the Select Board meeting, the members convened at the Chester Water Commissioners and got a first look at the 2022 Water and Sewer Budget. Water and Sewer Superintendent Jeff Holden – who also sits on the Select Board  – walked the board through the budgets for those departments.

Hiking bridge work over for season; dog park for Chester?

The Lovers Lane Brook bridge toward the end of construction for this year. Telegraph file photo

Hance told the board that work is done for the season on the walking bridge across Lovers Lane Brook that will give people access to the new downtown hiking trail behind the Academy Building.  The stone abutments are in place along with the girders and substructure, but decking and railings will have to wait until spring.

Hance said she would work with the Chester Conservation Commission on a boardwalk to give an ADA compliant link from the bridge to the stone wall at the base of the trail.

The board approved the annual request from the Chester Snowmobile Club for the use of portions of town roads to connect the VAST trails to one another. These include portions of Marcs Drive, Smokeshire, Ethan Allen, Old Forge, Blue Hill and Nudist Camp roads as well as all of Williams Road.

The temporary bridge spanning a failing culvert on Popple Dungeon Road will be replaced in 2022 at a cost of $100,000 more than original estimates. Telegraph file photo

Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow has sent out 10 notices to the “most egregious” violators of the town’s salvage ordinance and has received seven responses from people who are trying to comply. Two did not respond, according to Hance, and one will be getting some town assistance to help in the cleanup.

Due to price increases, the second round of bids for replacing the Popple Dungeon bridge just west of Zezza Road also came in at about $100,000 over the original $900,000 cost. That leaves the town looking for ways to bridge that gap as work begins in 2022.

Under future agenda items, board member Leigh Dakin mentioned that she had been approached about the town setting up a dog park, noting that there are “lots of new people in town and lots of dogs.” Dakin said residents are taking their dogs to parks in Rutland, Brattleboro and White River Junction. She thought a Chester dog park should be “within walking distance of our town center.”

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