Chester Cannabis Commission and Police Advisory updates

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard invited Chester Cannabis Commission member Arianna Knapp to speak on the state of the commission and Police Chief Thomas Williams to discuss the upcoming Police Advisory Committee at the Jan. 18 meeting.

In March of 2022 Chester voted to opt-in to retail cannabis sales in Vermont. The local cannabis control commission formed later that month. It was unclear exactly what the power and role of the local commissions would be in the state. Knapp and the other members of the commission watched the state board to stay updated with statutes and regulations as they developed. As it stands now, the local commissions in the state hold little power, some of the few responsibilities of the board are to do with light, noise, and signage violations and nuisance ordinances. The local boards did not receive the authority that was originally implied.

Knapp feels it is up to the Chester Commission to decide what their role will play in the community. She believes that while the commission does not need to be as large as it currently is, it can still serve as a valuable educational resource to the community, as opposed to a policy making body. The board can assist with local applications to the state and serve as a resource to businesses, entrepreneurs, and everyone in the community.

Knapp spoke on the efficiency of the retail cannabis rollout in Vermont, comparing it to the way New York has gone about it. There are currently 22 retail dispensaries opened in Vermont. Cannabis sales became legal Oct. 1 of 2022, and by Nov. 30 sales in Vermont totaled $2.6 million. Knapp reminded everyone that 70% of the taxes earned from cannabis in Vermont are earmarked in some way for education.

Police Chief Williams spoke to the board and public on the creation of the police advisory committee. He expressed his feeling that Chester is the perfect place to start something like this. As Williams sees it, the citizens of Chester are paying for the service of policing, and he wants to make sure that service is provided to the best of the department’s ability.

The police advisory committee would be a place of input for the citizens to talk to the department, and for the department to relay information back to them. Williams wants to ask the question, “How would the public like to see Chester policed?” The advisory board would be the direct link to the public, giving the opportunity for open discussions between the police and public, and ensuring nothing happens behind closed doors.

Williams brought up the fact that the Chester Police Department does not have a mission statement, vision, or goals. He believes these should be created, but stressed that it is for the public, the town, to decide on, the police department works for them.

While the board was finishing going through the review of the 2023 General Fund Budget, a citizen asked if the board had chosen to accept the library’s request for an increase of $7,000 in their budget. This led to a discussion on the topic among the board and public. Some board members were hesitant to give additional funding to the library on the basis of the separate investment fund that the library has that was discussed at previous meetings. Library Director Pamela Johnson-Spurlock spoke over Zoom on the need for the increased budget, citing outdated technology and deferred general maintenance, and that the library has already planned to use some funds from the separate account.

It was brought to the attention of everyone at the meeting that in fact every line item in the 2023 General Fund Budget had increased from the previous year except the library. After hearing this, board member Heather Chase suggested giving the library $5,000 instead of the requested $7,000. There was further discussion on the issue, but eventually the board voted in favor of the $5,000 increase 3-2.

The board stated that they would approve the 2023 General Fund Budget and the 2023 Capital Plan/Bond Plan at a special meeting to be held Friday, Jan. 20 at 8 a.m.

The board reviewed the warning for this year’s town meeting. They explained Articles 4 and 5 which would authorize the selectboard to appoint a town clerk and town treasurer. Town Manager Julie Hance spoke on the importance of these positions and the growing requirements for doing the job’s well.

Hance also alerted the board that she had met with the Trustees of Public Funds after the last selectboard meeting and that they had accepted the request for $29,000 to cover some 2023 cemetery expenses. Board Chair Arne Jonynas asked about the other $23,000 requested to cover some 2022 expenses. Hance explained that due to the small surplus the budget was already at they had decided against it.

The board discussed going into an executive session to finish the police collective bargaining agreement. The board agreed there was no need for the session. Ben Whalen made a motion to authorize Hance to sign the agreement, Leigh Dakin seconded, and all were in favor.

The Chester Selectboard meets the first and third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the upstairs of the Chester Town Hall. The next meeting will be on Feb. 1.

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