Chester Board dips into ‘Public Funds’ to pay for cemetery work Community garden license, STR regs, solar farm purchase inch forward

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With a quorum of just three members attending — including Leigh Dakin on Zoom — the Chester Select Board worked through a fairly light agenda on Jan. 4, from looking to bequeathed funds for money to offset a deficit in last year’s budget to sending a proposed contract with the town’s police union back for corrections.

Board members Arne Jonynas, left and Lee Gustafson discuss the board’s request for public funds. Member Leigh Dakin attended by zoom. Image courtesy of SAPA TV

The board was seeking to be reimbursed a total of $52,000 — $23,000 for two expenses at cemeteries incurred in 2022 (purchasing a tractor and performing tree work) as well as $29,000 for three budgeted expenditures in 2023.

The money would come out of a category called “Public Funds” that had been historically funded by bequests to the town  that go toward designated purposes such as for the poor, schools or cemeteries. Public Funds are overseen by three elected Trustees — currently Shirley Barrett and Erron Carey with the third seat vacant.

As of the 2021 Annual Report, those funds have added up to more than $900,000, which is invested. Barrett told the board that since 2022 was a down year for the markets,  the Trustees expected to see a lower balance in the final 2022 statement.

Board chair Arne Jonynas told Barrett that the board was trying to close a gap in last year’s budget and cushion inflation in the 2023 budget to reduce the impact on taxpayers.

Barrett questioned removing money from Public Funds to reimburse the town for past expenditures. Board member Lee Gustafson asked several questions about the trustees’ policies for disbursing funds. Barrett said there were no written policies  and that they would consider both the 2022 and 2023 requests when they met on Monday, Jan. 9.

Jonynas noted that there are three trustee positions and encouraged residents to considering serving on that board.

“It’s not a glamor committee, but it’s an important one,” said Jonynas. Later in the meeting, as the budget was being discussed, Town Manager Julie Hance told the board that the 2022 numbers are coming into balance and that the more important request was for funds for the 2023 budget. She said she would attend the Jan. 9 meeting.

On Monday, Hance, told The Telegraph that the trustees had approved the request for $29,000 to cover some of the 2023 cemetery expenses, which will include tree maintenance, expansion of the equipment shed at the Brookside Cemetery and a survey of the Pleasant View Cemetery on High Street.

Community garden license

A diagram of the proposed garden/greenhouse project on Canal Street

A diagram of the proposed garden/greenhouse project on Canal Street

At its last meeting the board reviewed a “revocable license” that was proposed by Jim Carroll, the town attorney for Chester. The license was recommended by Carroll instead of a long-term lease between the town and Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens for the use of the property at the end of Canal Street.

On Wednesday, Hance presented to the board answers to questions it had in December and said that she had forwarded all related information to Cheryl Joy Lipton of the CCGG so that organization’s lawyer could review it.

The CCGG originally proposed putting a large 1930s era greenhouse on town property but has scaled back its vision to a community garden where locals would be able to have plots for raising vegetables and flowers.

Police contract

The board went into an hourlong executive session to discuss a contract negotiated between the town and the recently formed police union. Coming out of the session, Jonynas said the board was not ready to approve the contract and noted that there were some corrections that needed to be made before they look at it again at their next meeting on Jan. 18. No action was taken.

Budget review, solar farm, STR proposals

Hance also updated the board on final numbers for the 2022 budget, saying that there is likely to be a small surplus. The 2023 budget will be a little less than $160,000 higher than the 2022 budget, which represents an increase of 4 cents on the tax rate. That increase would be an additional $40 of municipal tax for every $100,000 of assessed value.

Hance told the board that the company hired to evaluate the solar farm on Rt. 103 north near Trebo Road finally has all the information it needs to calculate an appraised value and that should be coming to the town on Jan. 26. After seven years of  operation, the town has the option to buy the solar installation from the developer and the appraisal is the necessary starting point for negotiations. Several board members – including Gustafson who is in the alternative energy business – see a long-term savings for the town if the right price can be agreed upon.

With the board’s recent adoption of a short-term rental ordinance, Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow has requested proposals from “host compliance” companies that monitor the websites of platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to find rentals in Chester and help the town enforce the ordinance. As of Wednesday, Bristow had received proposals from three firms.

Next meeting – Jan. 18

On Jan. 18, the board will have final numbers for the 2023 budget and review a draft of the Town Meeting Warning. It will also discuss the concept of a police advisory committee with Chester Police Chief Tom Williams and receive a report from the town’s Local Cannabis Control Commission. The board will also schedule a meeting for Friday Jan. 20 to approve the final version of the Town Meeting Warning.




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