From sidewalks to stop lights, Chester residents weigh in on priorities for ARPA funding

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Town Manager Julie Hance explains how the funding works and what is eligible for funding. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

With $900,000 on the table to fund most anything that could be labelled “government services,” around 20 residents came together – in person and on Zoom – on Monday evening to lend their ideas on how the money should be spent. There are only a few restrictions on the American Rescue Plan Act funds including not spending on funding pensions or directly lowering taxes so the possibilities were wide open but $900K doesn’t go as far as it looks.

Town Manager Julie Hance explained that the heads of the town departments had already put together a wish list of projects that would cost several times what ARPA could cover. But, she noted, many of those could be covered by grant funding while others belonged in either the regular or capital budgets.

Hance noted that the town had just learned that it has won a grant to cover the wayfinding signs within the village – a nearly $200,000 expense, but would need to find a way to come up with $50,000 for the “gateway” signs that welcome motorists to town.

Sidewalks: Church Street, Main Street, to GMHS

A state grant will pay for wayfinding signs in the village, but ‘gateway’ signs might be funded by ARPA

Many of those attending asked for more sidewalks – including stretches between the Jiffy Mart and Elm Street and to the high school. They also asked for sidewalks along Church Street to close the walking loop from the south village to the Stone Village. Also mentioned were a footpath from the parking lot on Cobleigh Street to the Green and extending the sidewalks along Main Street west from Lovers Lane. There was also discussion of several places where the sidewalks are in rough shape and could do with repair work.

Hance told the group that scoping studies have either been done or are in the works for some of those projects, including the Church Street portion that was estimated to cost around $2.3 million in October 2020. If the federally funded State Bike/Ped program were to be used for the project, it would take approximately four years in which the costs would be expected to grow and the town would have to kick in a 25 percent match.

According to Hance, however, the estimate is for concrete sidewalks and that costs could be reduced by paving with asphalt or simply constructing a footpath.

A feasibility study of sidewalks from Pleasant Street to the high school also has been conducted, but Hance said that because that stretch is state highway, a more in-depth scoping study would be necessary. That might be funded through the Bike/Ped grant program.

‘Outdoor library,’ Yosemite: Money sought for existing projects

One proposal would fund replacement of doors and windows and repainting the Yosemite firehouse

Several existing projects either requested money directly from the ARPA funds or were suggested for receiving funding by residents. Library board chair Robert Nied said they were working with the town on a grant to develop the area behind the building as an outdoor extension of the library space. The grant requires the library to raise one-third of the project amount by crowdsourcing, but Nied said that the grant may not cover the project and that other work beyond the grant could be funded by ARPA.

Lillian Willis said that the town had not received the Bruhn Grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and hoped to receive funding to continue the exterior work on the historic Yosemite Firehouse, including replacement of windows and doors and painting. Willis said that once that is done, the interior improvements could be done in “a more leisurely manner as money becomes available.”  She also announced that a new 501 (c)(3) organization would begin a “major fund raiser” in the summer or fall.

And Robert Sartini suggested funding the Chester Community Greenhouse Project, which stalled after three of six board members resigned last August due to a disagreement in the “scope and scale” of the project and its mission.

And a whole bunch of other ideas

Chester resident Charlea Baker suggested a flat bicycle trail

In addition to sidewalks and existing projects, attendees suggested a long list of possible uses for ARPA funds. These included:

  • A flat bicycle/walking/stroller accessible trail
  • Burying power lines along Main Street
  • Expanded sewage treatment to accommodate businesses like a brewery
  • Upgrades to the Cobleigh Street parking lot
  • Work on outlying cemeteries – headstone repair
  • Mountain View drainage work
  • Repairing the sewer pump line as part of the Depot Street sidewalk project
  • More benches – including portable ones
  • Traffic lights at the intersections of Routes 11 and 103
  • A community center including athletic facilities
  • Domed mirrors at intersections with poor sightlines
  • A one-year pilot project of bus service to Bellows Falls
  • Improvements to the Little League field (field, dugouts, scoreboard)
  • Bike/Rechargeable Scooter share program

A note of caution and a perspective

Chester resident Peter Hudkins suggested putting some money toward the canopy management plan developed by landscape architect Scott Wunderle. The plan was to look for trees – in the village area of the town – that needed removal, trees that needed maintenance and to plan on what trees to plant in the future.

Scott Wunderle urged caution in choosing projects as costs are rising. Telegraph file photo

Wunderle, also in attendance, suggested that the canopy plan should be a regular part of the budget rather than a big one-time expense. He also encouraged the board to be conservative in how it looks at the expenses, saying that the money won’t go as far as it has in the past.

Wishing the board luck, Wunderle cautioned them to “pull back on what you think you can fund.”

Hance and Select Board chair Arne Jonynas thanked the participants, saying that it’s good to know what the public is looking for.

It is notable that all of the projects discussed – except repairing headstones in outlying cemeteries – are targeted at the village area while the majority of the grand list – and thus the tax base is outside that area. Hance said that assembling the list of possible projects is ongoing and will continue. The town is considering conducting a survey to gather other ideas.

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  1. Graham Kennedy says:

    Again,most people in Chester don’t live on main Street. But all our tax money and grant money seems to go to the village residents.

  2. Arlene Mutschler says:

    It seems it is like a group of people handed money and asked to spend it??? And no one knows what to buy? This is NOT FREE MONEY folks. You have all paid for it in your taxes! And will be paid for in years to come.

  3. Hi Lorraine,
    Good news, the sidewalk from Bargfrede Rd. to Town Hall is being repaired next year. It was supposed to be this year, but there’s a right of way issue with the railroad crossing that needs to get ironed out.
    Here’s the project info:

  4. Lorraine Pelletier says:

    I think the money should go towards first fixing the sidewalks they are in such very bad shape especially the the one up by pinske business they have been in need of repair for years thank you

  5. Hi Tom,
    Unfortunately, that’s one of the few things the town
    can’t do with the money.

  6. How about a property tax break for all home owners?
    30 percent savings would help us all

  7. Odd — and a bit regrettable — not to see suggestions for an accessible senior center mentioned in the list of ideas.

    Yes, seniors could be included in a community center, but that is not the same as a dedicated space for seniors.

    On another note, it’d be helpful for a sidewalk to the high school to also extend to the Chester-Andover Family Center.

    Thanks for these considerations.