Chester Selectboard continue to hear about policing policies

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard heard additional concerns about police policies and procedures, reviewed the highway and library budgets, and discussed a possible addition for the town garage at their recent Dec. 2 meeting.

Chester resident Leslie Thorson was again before the board reading a statement voicing her concerns over Chester police policy and procedures. Per the last Selectboard meeting, Town Manager Julie Hance, following the advice to Town Attorney Him Carroll, sent Chester’s policy policies and procedures to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for review by Trevor Whipple, a former Chief of Police, who now works for the VLCT specifically for their review.

Thorson expressed her concern that the VLCT was “not a citizen’s rights organization,” and instead employed many lawyers and former law enforcement personnel with a main focus on saving municipalities from lawsuits. She went on to propose that the town create a police oversight advisory board to review policies and procedures and to make sure the citizens of the town have input and oversight. She specifically expressed concern for procedures for a holding cell that will be in the Emergency Service Building currently under construction. She also felt that citizens might be more comfortable going to citizens’ advisory board.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas expressed his thanks for Thorson’s comments but that they were not prepared to act on the issue since if was not on the agenda. He asked that her statement be distributed to the board for further review.

Town Manager Julie Hance said that the policies and procedures have been sent to the VLCT as advised by the town attorney and that Whipple will be recommending a policy for the holding cell as part of that process.

Speeding concerns throughout town were again a topic of concern as Hance informed the board that their plan for increased traffic enforcement has been paused due to Covid-19 restrictions. All minor traffic stops were on hold as a result of a health department directives from the state.

Ben Whalen has been appointed Assistant Fire Warden for five-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

The Selectboard reviewed both the Highway Department and the Whiting Library budgets at this meeting as part of their ongoing review of all Chester departments over the course of several meetings before negotiations begin.

Road foreman Kirby Putnam of the Highway Department said the proposed budget was approximately the same as last year. Paving projects for 2021 are yet to be proposed through capital fund or by bond. That plan is to come and will likely include finishing a remaining portion of Popple Dungeon Road as well as Lover’s Lane, estimated at approximately $270,000.

Next meeting will include overview of the capital plan and bond plan, which would encompass discussions on the paving plan, possible truck purchase, and a possible sidewalk project.

The Whiting Library budget includes a request for a 4% increase request, helping to bring their two full-time library positions up to current standards, allowing those employees to put out to the health exchange and helping the Library Trustees to match a portion of the health benefit.

A proposal to design an additional bay at the town garage to accommodate the addition of a possible in-house mechanic was also brought to the board. Current town garage height isn’t tall enough so it would be cheaper to add a bay to the garage rather than raise the roof of the entire structure. Now is time to have it designed to have it prepared if they decide in future. The design would cost approximately $11,000 now but would be likely double that cost in future.

Board member Lee Gustafson requested they look at a cost benefit analysis for a potential in-house mechanic versus costs needed for the project before approving the proposal.

Board member Heather Chase cautioned that if they were to come under on the overall budget, then they could use the money to consider landscaping or an additional bay but would not want to go over the bond amount that was approved by the town.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas suggested they might just look at the engineering required for additional needed electrical and other utilities needed for the possible additional bay, but not design of the bay itself. He said that hopefully they do that plan for less than the $11,000 plan if they just looked at those necessary engineering elements.

Hance agreed to have the design team provide a revised cost for that limited scope. She said that she did not see any additional bay happening for at least five years regardless.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. in person at the Town Hall or via Zoom.

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