Chester votes to make clerk, treasurer appointed posts; approves $3.7 million town budget

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

More than 85 residents turned out  — in person and via Zoom  — for Chester’s annual Town Meeting on Monday night. Town Moderator Bill Dakin kept the evening moving with most of the questions passing without debate or discussion.

Those on Zoom were not allowed to vote by state law.

Warning Articles 4 and 5 passed giving the Select Board the job of appointing the positions of  Town Clerk and Town Treasurer rather than having residents elect them as has been the practice for years. The idea behind the change is that those positions have become much more complex in recent years and require a set of skills to do the job. Under Act 27 of 2017, residents of a municipality can vote to have the Select Board appoint the town clerk and/or the town treasurer. The law also gives that board the power to remove the appointed official with cause and with a hearing.

Debbie Aldrich, who is likely to be the last elected town clerk in Chester, watches over the Town Meeting vote. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

As she oversaw voting at Town Hall on Tuesday, Town Clerk and Treasurer Deb Aldrich, who has served as town clerk for 18 years and as assistant town clerk for 22 before that, said she has definitely seen a lot of changes and a lot more complexity over the past 40 years, especially in elections. “You have to keep up with the times,” she said. “Tax time,” Aldrich recalled of the pre-desktop computer age, “was a little bit much.”

As for going from elected to appointed posts, she said, “I can see both sides of the issue on whether this is a good move and certainly, last night, people thought it was a good idea.”

Assistant Town Clerk Aime O’Brien said the change will also open up the posts to more people since they don’t have to be from Chester, adding that Town Manager Julie Hance said the changes were “more about the treasurer’s post.”

All in all, there seemed to be no doubt that the Select Board would appoint Aldrich, who has tended to be the top vote-getter of anyone seeking office in Chester, to both positions when they meet to make appointments later this month.

Town Manager Julie Hance takes the town through the annual budget presentation. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

On Monday night, after a lengthy presentation by Town Manager Hance on what the town had accomplished in 2022 despite the effects of inflation, she noted that the town’s budget request represented an increase of 6 percent – lower than the overall inflation rate. That national rate had hit 9.1 percent through June 2022 before dropping to 6.2 percent in December.

Planning Commission member Peter Hudkins praised the “hard work” of the town in keeping the increase as low as possible. Hudkins, who would win a one-year seat on the Select Board in Tuesday’s balloting, called it “very impressive.”

The $3.7 million budget passed unanimously.

The Chester Telegraph will have coverage of Tuesday’s balloting later Wednesday morning.

Board member Heather Chase presents Leigh Dakin with a certificate from the Vermont Secretary of State recognizing her community service

During the evening, the business of the warning was delayed to hear from local representatives, Sen. Alison Clarkson and Rep. Heather Chase, who spoke about their work in the legislature. Later, Select Board chair Arne Jonynas presented certificates from the office of Vermont’s Secretary of State recognizing the public service of Leigh Dakin, Ben Whalen and Danny Cook. Dakin has been elected to the Select Board over a number of terms as well as serving in the State House; Whalen, who is Assistant Fire Chief  has been elected to the Select Board twice and Cook was has worked for the Highway Department and served as coordinator for the town’s ambulance service.

All of the articles to fund social service organizations passed, but the absence of anyone to answer a question about the request by Windsor County Mentors prompted some Select Board comments. Both Jonynas and Leigh Dakin noted that the pandemic had cut attendance but hoped that such organizations would, in the future, send representatives.

The funding those organizations will receive are:

  • $13,800 for Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of VT & NH
  • $3,044 for Health Care and Rehabilitation Services
  • $3,040 for SEVCA
  • $3,000 for the Chester-Andover Family Center
  • $2,250 for the MOOver Rockingham (formerly the Current transit services)
  • $1,800 for Community Cares Network
  • $1,500 for Neighborhood Connections
  • $1,200 for Senior Solutions
  • $900 for the Women’s Freedom Center
  • $800 for Windsor County Mentors and
  • $400 for Green Mountain RSVP

It’s interesting to note that while inflation has made many things more expensive, the requests from all 11 of the social service organizations are exactly the same as they were in 2019.

Town Moderator Bill Dakin leads the meeting through the ‘excitement’ of amending an article.

Introducing the final article of the night, Moderator Bill Dakin promised “some excitement.” It turned out that the request for Neighborhood Connections had been entered into the warning incorrectly and would require an amendment to change. The organization normally requests $1,500 but the warning read $1,000. In the end, the “exciting” parliamentary maneuver was accomplished and the meeting adjourned at 95 minutes after it began, at 7:35 p.m.

Articles 1 through 3, which include election of town officers and two bond issues, will be voted today, March 7 by ballotting from 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. The polls are located at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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