Chester budget staying lean with help from department heads

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard reviewed the budget for the Fire, Ambulance, Police, and the town office during their Dec. 1 meeting with no major surprises or large increases expected as Chester Town Manager Julie Hance and department heads continue to keep pencils sharp and expenses to a minimum.

Hance said that overall the budget in general will be up a bit, but she had been working closely with department heads. Together they made some cuts, focusing on only what’s needed for now. She also praised department members for coming up with many creative solutions to devise work-arounds, at times building their own parts to solve a problem.

“It’s really saving our budget,” she said.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson said his budget would be close to last year. The department did not end up purchasing a lot of replacement equipment this year, and Wilson predicted that it would be a tough year “trying to manage what we need to prioritize replacing aging equipment.” He said fire equipment costs have gone up 14% last year and were predicted to rise another 5 to 10% as of Jan. 1.

Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva said that most expenses were the same as last year with the exception of additional training costs. The service has five new personnel for 20 in total. In January, there will be 15 taking an EMT class, which costs $1,000 each. She said billing is currently is down, but a recent change in their services provider is working well and should improve on that.

Silva is researching costs for purchasing a new truck in 2023 – something the town would start paying in 2024. According to Hance, that purchase, which will likely be upwards of $300,000 for ambulance, stretcher, and loader, will likely be a bonded purchase although there are grants they will apply for.

According to Deb Aldrich, Chester’s town clerk and treasurer, the only costs up for the town office expenses are increased election expenses. In 2022, there will be three elections. Equipment is also up due to cybersecurity costs, which need to be added to be up-to-date for proper insurance coverage. The town office is getting quotes to get the rest of the town records digitized for everything prior to 40 years ago. Records spanning back 40 years have already been done. According to Hance, American Rescue Plan funds can be used for that as well as other grant opportunities.

Police Chief Rick Cloud said his budget was also largely the same, without a lot of changes. One item not on the budget, which will be added, is for fencing to be added around one side of the new safety building, in response to a neighbor’s request. That number will be added to the budget before next version.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at Chester Town Hall or via Zoom.

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