Chester recaps budget, projects, and a timeline for ongoing issues

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard’s last meeting for 2020 on Dec. 12 included a budget review through the first three quarters of the budgetary year, a decision to push policing policy discussion until after town meeting, a few town business decisions, and an overview of current projects.

The review of 2020 General Fund Budget through the first three quarters was a smooth process with no major issues seemingly on the horizon. Final numbers on several categories were pending the end of the fiscal year. Budget discussions for the 2021 budget will commence next month.

The board decided against approving a waiver requiring signatures when submitting paperwork to run for town offices. Citizens who want to run for town office will still need to gather 25 signatures from local voters before submitting their paperwork to appear on the ballot. The board felt that obtaining signatures could still be done while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The board approved an increase to the town credit card limit from $4,500 to $10,500. That total card limit is shared between three entities: Town Manager Julie Hance, Chester Town Clerk Debbie Aldrich, and the Whiting Library. Hance explained that the increase was not an indication of any attempt to spend more money but simply needed to more easily conduct business. All balances would still be paid timely, and there are many checks and balances in place to oversee card usage.

The Selectboard agreed to revisit policing policies and procedures for Chester after budget discussions and town meeting are over. The decision to delay was in part to give Hance a chance to gather information from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, as well as additional information that would be gathered through town attorney Jim Carroll including fallout other towns have faced when becoming involved in policing policy oversight. That information would be made available to the public prior to the meeting.

Chester’s current policing policies are under review with VLCT’s Trevor Whipple, a former police chief who works with the league. Whipple will provide preliminary comments and suggestions on Chester’s current policies and procedures on as well provide a recommendation for holding cell procedures that will be needed once the Public Safety Building is completed.

Once on the agenda for discussion, the board may consider whether or not to form a civilian oversight committee, something that town resident Leslie Thorson has been focused on in recent weeks.

Board Chairman Arne Jonynas for now is looking to bring the issue to the public for discussion, not committing to a specific outcome. “If you don’t have a problem, what are you trying to solve?” he asked.

Approval of additional design costs for town garage has been put on hold. They may revisit the possibility of adding to the town garage in the far future.

Hance assured the board that the Public Safety Building is moving along and is “approximately” on time despite social media comments that are saying otherwise. Framing and siding of the building will take place in about three weeks. That structure needs to be in place before floors can be put in.

Yosemite Firehouse work stabilization is complete for this year. Replacing the header on the sliding door and stabilizing the building has been finished.

The Jeffrey Barn may need to be torn down, which the board will need to discuss next year. According to Hance, the insurance company has indicated that there are concerns over the condition of the barn, and they are no longer willing to insure it. Signs have been put up indicating no entrance and no trespass. The board will need to address what to do with the structure next year.

One of 2021 goals for Hance will be to outline the long-term future use of the Historical Society Building particularly following the roof and ceiling repair slated next year. The board will revisit the issue after town meeting. Discussions last year revolved around access to the building’s bathroom as part of the welcome center.

Hance announced that the town of Chester was featured on Redfin as one of the “Top 10 Hottest Neighborhoods.” Chester was number two behind Lake Tahoe on the list.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Town Office or via Zoom.

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