Chester board finalizes budget; cannabis retailer on the horizon; citizen police panel discussed Town meeting vote could end election of clerk, treasurer

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While issues like a report from the town’s Cannabis Control Commission, thoughts on a police citizen advisory board and the approval of the warning for Town Meeting were on the Chester Select Board’s Jan. 18 agenda, one line on the proposed 2023 budget took up a significant portion of meeting time. That was a request for a $7,000 increase in the appropriation for the Whiting Library.

Whiting Trustees chair Donna Hudkins makes the library’s original request in October Telegraph file photo

The board had been looking at the budget for the past several meetings and Town Manager Julie Hance presented a $3.7 million spending plan that is about 6 percent higher than last year and represents about a 5-cent increase in the municipal tax rate.

But while the board had decided not to grant the increase requested by the library Board of Trustees, its chair, Donna Hudkins, renewed the request, noting that many budget lines had increased due to inflation just as has happened in the town budget. In addition to Hudkins, Library Director Pamela Johnson Spurlock and Children’s Librarian Carrie Roy King also spoke in favor of the increase noting that with a possible recession on the horizon, library services – including internet connections, public computers and books and DVDs for entertainment become even more important for people trying to stretch to make ends meet.

Board member Lee Gustafson felt the added expense contributes to overwhelming taxpayers Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Saying that she appreciates everything the library does, Select Board member Heather Chase proposed adding $5,000 to the library appropriation rather than $7,000.  Board member Ben Whalen said that he has trouble adding to the budget when the library has an investment account that could make up the difference.

Hudkins said the board was still uncertain what restrictions are on those funds and what they can take money for. Hudkins, who became library chair when the rest of the board resigned in the wake of charges of censorship, has noted previously that the library did not do its regular fundraising in 2022 due to the governance upheaval but intends to resume that in 2023.

Board member Lee Gustafson said that the increase has to come out of the taxpayers’ pockets and could put some people on the edge of living in Chester as he pointed to the cost of food and fuel.

Board chair Arne Jonynas disagreed that the library increase would be a breaking point for taxpayers. The $5,000 represents one-eighth of a penny on the tax rate per $100 of assessed value of a property. That means that for every $100,000 of assessed value, the library increase would add $1.25 to a tax bill.

The increase passed 3-2.

Knapp reports on Cannabis Commission

LCCC chair Ariana Knapp outlined where retail cannabis is in the state as well as in Chester

Just short of a year after the Select Board created Chester’s Local Cannabis Control Commission, that panel’s chair, Arianna Knapp, gave the board a detailed presentation of where retail cannabis stands in Chester and in the state, announcing that Chester will likely have its first retail license application within a month.

Knapp noted that since the commission was formed in March “the state has continued to set policy and procedure … which leaves the local commission with little or no substantive decision making authority.”  And while the commission may still have an educational/community resource function and can inform town government on “shifting regulations,” Knapp said the group may not need to be a seven-member panel as first envisioned. She noted that as of October 2023, the state will have jurisdiction over all aspects of regulation and compliance “likely rendering local commissions unnecessary.”

According to her report, the first application for a retail cannabis license is expected this month or possibly next and the monitoring of compliance with state law will be with the state while questions of nuisance, noise, light  and signage would fall to the Zoning Administrator.

Knapp told the board that while all of the neighboring states – except New Hampshire – now have cannabis marketplaces, Vermont continues to go slow with a focus on a boutique, craft market that keeps the owners and profits in the state.

Commission member Barre Pinske praised Knapp’s work on panel. Calling her performance “quite amazing,” Pinske told the board they were “lucky to have her.”

Gustafson, who serves on the commission along with Select Board member Ben Whalen, told the board he was resigning saying he didn’t see the value of his being on the commission and he would put his energy elsewhere.

Williams talks about citizen advisory board for Police Department

Chester Police Chief Tom Williams speaking in favor of a citizen advisory committee for the police department

Saying that in his 33 years of police work “things have changed,” new Chester Police Chief Tom Williams called the town “prime territory” to start a citizen advisory panel for the Police Department. Williams told the board that there should be an avenue for input about what the community wants from its police department, since it is paying for it. He noted that while some places have had success with such panels, others have been a “mess.”

Williams said that “community policing” is not just “coffee with a cop” but is the public and police finding solutions together. He said that currently the department has no mission or vision or goal statements and that there should be public participation in framing those.

In addition to giving the police community input, Williams said the panel will be a communication link to get info out to the public. Advisory panel members will be “talking with the public all the time,” said Williams.

Jonynas said he sees the panel as a positive step and that the town needs to get the word out to find people who want to participate.

Williams and Hance will work on how to form the panel.

Town Meeting vote could end elected clerk/treasurer

The board reviewed the Town Meeting warning, which contains articles that could make a significant change in how two key roles in town government are filled.

The legislature’s Act 27 of 2017 allows municipalities to shift from electing their town clerks and treasurers to having those offices appointed by their select boards. Hance explained that the idea behind this is that the work of both offices has become much more complex and that it is conceivable that people who are unqualified for the posts could be elected by the public.

She said that there have been instances in Vermont where towns have had problems with elected town clerks or treasurers. Hance also noted that the town treasurer has the authority to change the accounting system for the town and considering how complex the municipal books are, that could cause big problems.

While select boards set the budget, enact ordinances and handle specific town business, other elected officials are independent of their supervision or control. Hance said that while elected clerks and treasurers are independent, those appointed to the jobs could be removed — for cause and with a hearing — by select boards. 

The vote on whether to make the Chester town clerk and treasurer appointed positions will be from the floor at the annual meeting on the evening of March 6. The actual wording does not explain that voting for the measure means the town voters will no longer elect these offices. According to Hance, an elected town clerk or treasurer must be a registered voter of the town, but the statute does not say that an appointed clerk or treasure must be a registered voter or even be a resident. Currently the town has appointed offices filled by non-residents.

If the the articles pass, the Select Board must appoint a clerk and/or treasurer within 45 days of the vote. The statute also does not specify the term of office. It is currently three years for an elected  clerk.

Speaking to the idea that the selection of these offices is too complex to be left up to the judgment of the public, Jonynas said, “I’m not sure (the board) is that much better at deciding who is qualified.”


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  1. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Hi Tom,

    Here’s what the regulation says: Cannabis retailers cannot operate if the store is on a property that abuts a school property and if the retail operations would occur within 500 feet of the school property. This includes property adjacent to a school and by a river, stream of a public highway.
    Because Vermont law prohibits the sale of cannabis within 500 feet of a school, buffer zones cannot be waived under any circumstance.

  2. How far from schools can a retail shop be.
    High school on one side elementary school on the other.
    Springfield finest buys an staying around to get more.
    Thank god it’s on the other end of town