Chester board hears from department heads on budget

By Shawn Cunningham
©  2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Next year’s budget was the main item on the Chester Select Board’s agenda for Wednesday, Dec. 1 with the heads of the public safety departments and Town Clerk Deb Aldrich coming to the board to discuss their spending plans.

Heads of the public safety departments and Town Clerk Deb Aldrich talk with the board about their budgets. Courtesy SAPA-TV

Fire Chief Matt Wilson told the board that call volume has been up “extremely,” with medical assistance calls accounting for a portion of the increase. Wilson said that structure fires have also been up with 12 this year but most of those have been mutual aid to other communities so that the department has not had to use as much of its fire-fighting foam which, he said, is particularly expensive to ship unless purchased by the pallet.

Wilson said that in keeping spending to a minimum, the department is falling behind in its program to replace aging equipment, which began when he took over as chief. He did note that the replacement of air paks used with breathing apparatus on the capital budget ended with this year’s budget and there’s a break until 2024 or 2025 when it will begin again.

On the down side, Wilson said that the cost of fire equipment has been up about 14 percent this year and he expects to see another 10 percent jump in January.

Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva said that while the service’s 2022/23 budget is much the same as this year, she has budgeted for more “intercepts” – when neighboring town’s ambulances are called to meet the Chester ambulance to provide service by personnel with more extensive training. She said that this was due to being shorthanded. That may be remedied in the future since the Chester service has 15 people taking EMT training in the new year and the town is paying the $1,000 cost for each.

Town Manager Julie Hance noted that fire and police are cross-training with the ambulance. Board chair Arne Jonynas asked if anyone from Andover was taking the training. Silva said no.

In addition to working to improve the billing and management of receivables, Silva said her big project was to work at replacing the current ambulance, which was purchased in 2012. Silva said there is now an 18-month lead time for building an ambulance and she was getting quotes for a “new truck” for delivery in 2023.

And while a new ambulance is estimated to cost about $255,000 plus $40,000 for the loader and stretcher, Hance said there are a couple of grant possibilities. If those don’t work out, Hance said, the town could replace it using a bond that would have its first payment in 2024.

Board member Jeff Holden pointed to the town’s ability to save money by buying an ambulance on a truck chassis instead of a custom built rig. As The Telegraph has reported in the past, that was necessary because space in the two bays of the town garage was limited and both fire engines and ambulances needed to be shorter than standard models. But that’s not the case with the new Public Safety Building.

Board chair Arne Jonynas asked each of the public safety chiefs how the new building is working out for them. All of the services said they were pleased with the building, with both Wilson and Silva said it is a real morale boost and recruiting tool. Some clearing has been done behind the building to be used for training and as a landing zone for helicopters. Currently, when a medical helicopter such as DHART  is coming, a fire crew has to establish a landing zone. According to Wilson, once the landing zone behind the public safety building meets the standards, there won’t have to be people there for the aircraft to land.

Town Clerk Deb Aldrich said that the elections budget is up because of three elections in 2022 – Town meeting, the 2022 primary and the November general election. She also told the board there would be a need to spend more on cybersecurity. According to Aldrich and Hance, a higher level of security protection is necessary for the town to be insured against data loss.

Aldrich also said the town is getting quotes for digitizing the rest of the town’s land records. Currently the records online go back 40 years, but American Rescue Plan Act funding can be used for this and they are hoping to digitize the records all the way back to the beginning of Chester. That would allow access to land records for title searches to go on even if the town office is closed or restrictions on visitors are instituted such as has happened during the pandemic. The first group of land records can be accessed here.

Grant application season opens up

Hance told the board that the application periods for a lot of grants are opening up and she plans to go after funding for equipment and for a number of projects including:

  • Preservation Trust’s Bruhn Grant for replacing windows and doors at the Yosemite Fire House
  • Homeland Security Grant for ambulance equipment
  • Bylaw Modernization Grant for Zoning,
  • Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative grant for Brookside hiking trail boardwalk
  • Better Back Roads grant for culverts and ditch realignment on Lovers Lane
  • Assistance to Firefighters Grant for the Compressor and for a Tanker Truck.
  • Homeland Security grants for upgrades to outdated radio equipment for fire, police and ambulance
  • Downtown Transportation Funds for wayfinding signage
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian Program Grant to access additional funding for the Depot Street sidewalk project.
  • Large Structures Grant for one of several possible bridge projects

At a recent meeting, Select Board members Leigh Dakin and Heather Chase volunteered to work with Hance on how the town would work with a new non-profit, tax-exempt organization proposed by Lillian Willis in bringing a fire museum into existence in the Yosemite building.  Hance said they had one meeting and would have an update at the Dec. 15 board meeting.

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