Chester fiscal responsibility delivers a $335k surplus

CHESTER, Vt. – During the Jan. 20 Selectboard meeting, Town Manager Julie Hance shared Chester’s final year-end budget review, the highlight of which was a surplus of $335,295.91 along with a budget that will see a decrease of $687.82 over last year and a total town budget of $3,342,887.01 for Chester voters to approve in March.

According to Hance, the surplus was the result of extra revenue received through Covid-19 relief funds, and was largely due in part to department heads watching expenses and purchasing only what absolutely necessary. Board Chair Arne Jonynas also commended the reorganization of the town office, which redefined responsibilities among current town office personnel when Hance took over the town manager position, and ultimately eliminated a staff position.

Hance acknowledged this would be a one-time savings and would not be sustainable moving forward since several items that department heads delayed will need to be purchased in future.

Board members praised Hance for her efforts in addressing budget concerns early during an uncertain year that dealt with a pandemic that might have impacted tax collection and other economic unknowns.

With the budget itself already coming in under last year’s budget, Hance presented several options for the board to consider for how to spend the surplus.

Hance recommended and the board unanimously agreed on “option 1,” which included paying $200,000 for the Depot Street sidewalk project, purchasing the police cruiser outright for $41,000, financing the dump truck as planned through the Capital Plan, transferring $20,000 to the Reserve Fund, and increasing the fund balance by $72,000. The remaining $2,295.91 would be used to offset any tax increase.

This surplus does not include or impact the current general fund balance of $263,000, which will remain intact.

During special meeting via Zoom Monday, Jan. 25, the Selectboard warned the upcoming articles that would be presented to the voters for approval following the informational town meeting.

An anticipated article (Article 22) that would have determined the fate of cannabis and marijuana sales in town was pulled from the list. Jonynas recommended that the cannabis issue be discussed at a regularly scheduled meeting when more people could be involved.

Other board members agreed, with Leigh Dakin saying that the topic deserved “a robust discussion.”

Hance confirmed that the town could always call for a special town meeting on the topic later in the year, although the article would need to be voted on by Australian ballot.

The board then approved the town warning, which included approving a $250,000 bond, minus grants received for paving; approving budget of 33,342,887.01; expending from the Capital Reserve Fund $887,249.36, which includes the additional surplus funds from this year spending – $18,750 for Fire Department air packs, $10,000 for signage, $200,000 for Depot Street sidewalk, $41,000 for police cruiser, $146,610.80 to pay previously approved equipment loans, and $470,888.56 transfer to Bond Plan; approving $130,000 purchase of dump truck to be financed over five years; approving tax exemption for the Chester Rod and Gun Club, Green Mountain Softball, and the Olive Branch Lodge; and approving funds to Meals on Wheels of Greater Springfield, Chester fireworks, Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire, Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, Southeastern Vermont Community Action, Women’s Freedom Center, Senior Solutions, The Current transportation, Windsor County Mentors, Green Mountain RSVP and Volunteer Center of Windsor, Community Cares Network of Chester and Andover, Chester-Andover Family Center, and Neighborhood Connections.

The town informational meeting will be held Monday, March 1, 2021 at 6 p.m. via Zoom for virtual meeting to discuss the budget and all articles with the vote happening by Australian ballot the following day Tuesday, March 2, from 9 a.m.-7 p.m., at the Chester Town Hall.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

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