Select Board candidates outline views in Chester forum

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Thirty-five residents showed up on a snowy evening to hear the candidates. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

On a snowy, slushy Tuesday night, 35 Chester residents turned out at Town Hall to hear four of the five candidates running for two one-year seats on the town’s Select Board say why they want to be elected. SAPA-TV streamed the event which was available to residents who subscribe to cable.

For more of the candidates view click here.

Town Moderator Bill Dakin put four questions to the candidates, which they had seen in advance, a then opened the floor for questions from the public. Each candidate was allowed three minutes to answer. The candidates were Peter Hudkins, Arianna Knapp, Hugh Quinn and Donald Strohmeyer. Steve Slivinsky will also be on the ballot, but did not attend.

Why do you want to serve on the Chester Select Board?

Peter Hudkins

Peter Hudkins spoke of living in Chester for most of his life and recognizing the obligation of living in a small town and that Chester is evolving.

Arianna Knapp said she became intrigued with the state’s citizen run democracy when she was a 15 year old attending Vermont Girls State and Girls Nation. She learned “just how important it was to maintain this form of government.”

Hugh Quinn said he and his wife came to Chester for its smaller size and that in a place like this you can have a hand in change. He noted his skills at “distilling information and points of view” and finding a balance.

Donald Strohmeyer pointed to living in Chester for 37 years and running the Stone Hearth Inn for 15  and said he would bring his background in finance and accounting to the issues at hand. He said he had no agenda.

What do you see if the biggest issue facing Chester? How would you work to resolve that issue?

Arianna Knapp

All four candidates said it was difficult to name the “biggest” issue, but Knapp spoke of the town’s response to change noting that there is a lot of legislation at the state level in areas like housing and energy and that the town needs to engage in making what’s coming best for Chester.

Quinn likened the issues to a juggler spinning an ever increasing number of plates but he said that affordable housing would help to solve a number of issues and he looks at planning – where he is chairman of the commission – to help grow housing through bylaw modifications.

Strohmeyer said it was difficult to say one issue, but he felt the town shouldn’t drive residents and businesses out of town by making property taxes too expensive. He said the town should spend tax money in a frugal manner.

Hudkins called Chester a “pretty snow globe,” but said the resident population decline would have effects on police, fire and availability of employees. He pointed to housing as the the issue and said the town should be a place for young families.

If elected, how would you work to help the business community in Chester? How would you work to promote economic development in our town?

Hugh Quinn

Quinn said that Planning Commission has already made changes to the bylaws that make it easier to do business in Chester, but there is more to do. He also pointed to the hybrid work model to bring residents who can work anywhere to town.

“It’s not the Select Board’s job to determine what businesses need,” said Strohmeyer who said that if he was elected he would spend time listening to business owners to learn what the town could do to support them. He said the town should have done more to promote its high speed internet two years ago.

Saying that there are a number of things that are home occupations that should not need a permit, Hudkins said the town needed to keep working on the masterplan and not to over-regulate in the zoning bylaws. Hudkins said that if elected, he would stay on the Planning Commission.

Knapp said she sees a two pronged approach. First, listen to existing businesses to see what they need and then help them. Second, make Chester a place that welcomes new businesses. This would include looking at what it takes to start anew business in town.

With the rising costs due to inflation and the municipal budget getting tighter, how would you balance community growth with neutralizing tax increases? 

Donald Strohmeyer

Strohmeyer said he thought the town has done a “great job” of balancing the provision of services with taxes and that he would bring his finance and accounting background to the table to help with this.

Hudkins advocated for selling some town property to put it back on the tax rolls and to better plan future expenses. Knapp said she needs to learn more about the town’s budget although she has managed large budgets in her career. She also noted that there is a lot of affordable housing money in Montpelier that the town should be competing for.

Quinn said he’s not a “finance guy” but agreed with Hudkins on selling off assets that the town does not need and also deferring large capital expenses until the interest rates come down.

Declaration of Inclusion and other questions from voters

In response to a question from Chester resident Tim Roper about the recently adopted Declaration of Inclusion all four candidates said they would have voted for it. Hudkins said that Chester has a “festering wound” of racism compared to other places while Strohmeyer said it was “difficult to believe it’s controversial.” Quinn said it was “hard to take issue with those guiding principles” and Knapp saw it as a measure to show “cohesion” among towns throughout the state showing “support for all.”

Gladys Collins asked if the candidates understood the issues of those people who don’t live downtown but rather in the rural areas.

Gladys Collins asked if the candidates are familiar with issues unique to the outskirts of town

With three of the four living outside the town limits, the candidates said they had a handle on the issues but were interested in listening for more. Knapp spoke of mud and road issues and noted that living on a dirt road was also a choice, but the Select Board needs to pay attention to those areas.

Quinn pointed to speeding and the salvage ordinance for illegal junkyards as issues he is familiar with and he would advocate for a better balance in dealing with them.

Strohmeyer said he hasn’t always lived downtown, but he has been lucky enough to have lived on paved roads. He noted that Chester is a big area and he wants to hear about the issues of rural residents. Hudkins spoke at length about issues like open land that the state wants to regulate and perhaps less work on the roads – like grading – and more on things like ditches and culverts.

Frank Kelly asked what the candidates have done in the past to enhance the community.

Each candidate outlined past and current volunteer efforts and commitments.

Steve Mancuso asked what each candidate’s vision was for Chester “when it grows up.”

Steve Mancuso asked what the town should be like ‘when it grows up’

Strohmeyer said he would like to see the town “thrive” without changing the basic character of the village and the larger town. Hudkins noted that the state is taking control of the town’s flood plains and that we need to “embrace the open land.” He said that keeping Erskine’s open was important and it was part of getting those traveling on Rt. 103 to stop and spend some money.

Knapp said she would like to see some of the beauty and energy of the village come to Gassetts and the Depot noting that Chester is not just one four block stretch on Main Street. Quinn said he didn’t need to be the smartest guy in the room  and that the collective vision of town residents will be better than his. He hopes that people will engage in government to shape the future.

Select Board member Lee Gustafson asked whether the candidates were willing to push back on state regulations that cost the town money without the state providing funding.

After citing a number of regulations and laws, Hudkins said he is more than willing to “push back in favor of local control.” Knapp said that “if it doesn’t make sense for the town, yes, push back.” Quinn said he is always “up for a good fight,” but the town has to “understand likely outcomes and costs” of doing that. “Pick your battles,” said Quinn. Strohmeyer said that if an issue has a negative impact on the town the select board should push back, but talking to the town’s elected representatives is “not just the town’s responsibility. It’s everybody’s responsibility.”

In conclusion…

In wrapping up, all of the candidates urged people to vote. Strohmeyer cited his work officiating high school and college sports as evidence of his reasonable manner and ability to take criticism. Quinn said he had no agenda but felt a duty to engage and make Chester a better place to live and work.

Knapp said she wanted to be a part of making Chester a place where people can buy a first home and kids can return from college and put down roots. Hudkins said he firmly believes in doing the homework and he wants to avoid Chester becoming a place where residents age out of their houses which become second homes.


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