Chester reviews policing, excited by possible greenhouse, sound system

CHESTER, Vt. – At their July 1 meeting, the Chester Selectboard looked again at policing policies, also discussion on two burgeoning town projects – a community greenhouse and sound system for the town hall – were welcomed signs of possible town improvements to come.

Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud gave the board an overview of how policing procedures are determined, developed first by Vermont League of Cities and Towns and handed down to the department, which are then adapted by Chief Cloud for Chester’s small police department. According to Cloud, new requirements are coming down from the state of Vermont that outline steps and procedures to file a complaint against officers, a topic the board had asked more information on at a previous meeting. Complaints can be filed with the police or at the town office. Once a complaint has been leveled against an officer, it is handled at the state level, automatically going to Vermont Criminal Justice Training Counsel, which will have their own citizen review board.

Cloud also indicated that other new statues are coming out of the state right now but would continue to evolve. According to Cloud, a new state policy might include mandatory body cameras, which would be a “huge” expense. Chester currently has dash cams and body mics, which have proven “very beneficial.” A “Duty to Act” policy for officers has already been mandated by the state, calling for officers to intervene if a fellow officer is not following procedure.

Town Manager Julie Hance said that she had received a phone call asking about officers’ rights in dealing with false accusations. Cloud said there would be some protection for police officers against false accusations as well.

Board Chairman Arne Jonynas said that they want Chester to have a fair and transparent system that is equal and will “safeguard citizen rights and police officer rights.”

Once all policies and procedures are completed after adapted from those coming down from the VLCT, Cloud said they would have them available on their website or town’s website, so they are clear for the community at-large.

Jonynas concluded that having the police officers involved with community, as Cloud is, makes a big difference by establishing that “personal connection.” He said that was why he appreciated their small town police department.

A Chester Community Greenhouse project has started forming by a group of Chester residents with the goal of establishing a community greenhouse within walking distance of Chester’s town center, with available plots for community to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The group has formed a Board of Directors which includes Cheryl Joy Lipton, Robert Nied, Tim Roper, and Melody Reed.

According to Lipton, the group is considering 501(c)(3) status and will pursue partnerships, grants, and capital campaigns to help their cause. They hope to extend the growing season by several months, include educational programming, provide affordable planting plots on a sliding scale, help to bolster local food production, encourage seniors to enjoy gardening with easy access, enhance Chester’s downtown, and add to Chester’s overall quality of life. The greenhouse could also enhance community gardens outside the greenhouse and provide a protected location for a winter farmer’s market, suggested Lipton.

Lipton expects the project timeframe to take one to three years although the recent availability of a historic greenhouse in Walpole may spur things forward.

The group had no formal request for the board per se but would likely look to site the project on town land in future. Board members Heather Chase and Leigh Dakin both expressed their enthusiasm for the project.

The Chester Community Greenhouse has launched a Facebook page and would welcome community help, involvement, and support.

Town Manager Julie Hance will be applying for a Cultural Facilities Grant, available through the Vermont Arts Council, to fund sound quality improvements in the second floor meeting room in the Chester Town Hall.

The grant, which could award up to $60,000, would cover the cost to install sound panels, a sound system, and a potential video system to the spacious meeting hall. The improvements would open up usage of the room for music, theater, and other programming to be enjoyed by the town.

The grant is a 50/50 grant, which would require half the commitment to come from the town. If the awarded money is less than the full amount, the project would prioritize sound panels, then sound system, then video system.

Jonynas said it was a fantastic way to open the space up to the community. Board member Jeff Holden agreed, saying it was a logical next step after the money they had already spent renovating the space last year.

The town pool has expanded the size of groups allowed, increasing the number from 25 to 40 due to the recent expanse of allowed crowd size. The town is asking that citizens follow CDC guidelines including use of face coverings and social distancing.

The board will be meeting Monday, July 13 at 8:30 a.m. to set the tax rate. This will allow the town to get out tax bills later that week, only a week behind their usual schedule. The delay is the result of waiting for the Vermont Agency of Education to set their tax rate, which is expected Friday, July 10. The next Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 15 at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Town Hall or via Zoom.

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