Chester Selectboard discusses town stance on marijuana

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard meeting Wednesday, Nov. 20 provided updates to projects throughout town and opened the discussion on town marijuana legislation for the first time.

The town is awaiting the Act 250 decision for the gravel extraction from the gravel pit. The EMS project is getting underway with architect Kevin Racek leading the process and sending information to all the department heads as they move forward. Gustafson updated the Selectboard that they were awaiting a cost schedule. Pisha suggested that the town manager would be the point person on the project for ongoing questions. Once construction begins, Russell Construction will manage the project.

Town hall renovations are complete. Ron Patch from the Chester Historical Society presented several items to help decorate the new space. The items will be displayed in appropriate frames to preserve their integrity and the Selectboard will find someone to help with the professional hanging of the items. Patch will write up descriptions for each artifact that will be printed for display.

The Selectboard renewed their discussion about the Information Booth at the center of town and how it would eventually hook into the Academy Building. Jonynas talked about continuing to share the Academy Building with the Historical Society. Leigh Dakin suggested they consider securing the door from inside the building and utilizing the two bathrooms there, eliminating need empty the holding tank next to the information booth.

Jonynas said that would depend on whether the historical society portion of the building could be secured.

Julie Hance revealed that plaster repair estimates received for the ceiling of the Academy Building came in at $47,000. The Selectboard agreed to look at a sheet rock repair as an option. Hance informed the Selectboard she had applied for a new Preservation Trust, newly named for Paul Bruhn, for a total of $60,000 to help repair the roof, which would require a 10% commitment from the town. They are awaiting that decision.

Jonynas said that addressing these issues with the Academy Building “would be a good start” by fixing the plaster, secure the building, securing the historical society rooms, all with the eventual goal to use the Academy Building restrooms. That would eliminate the need to tear up the large tree near the Information Booth to accommodate new sewer piping.

A future agenda item will be added to discuss the upcoming Academy Building lease with the historical society.

The Selectboard then discussed restoring the North Street Cemetery tomb doors. They had received a quote for $5,000 to restore these heavy ornate doors. There was discussion about approaching the Trustees of Public Funds to see if they might fund the project. Lee Gustafson also suggested they look for additional quotes for the project as well as learn more about the historical significance of the doors and their value.

Salary scale for assistant town manager was brought up for discussion. The agreed salary for the town manager has been set for $60-75,000. Gustafson said it seemed like an assistant town manager would be someone who would have the same skill set but less experience than the town manager and would probably be anywhere from 10-25% less than the town manager. Jonynas thought that since the skills overlap, the range should overlap as well.

Gustafson suggested $45,000-68,000 if they considered the 10-25% less he suggested earlier. Jonynas thought both numbers were a little low. Ben Whalen said that if they were talking about a starting salary, then he would be okay with Gustafson’s suggested range. The Selectboard approved that suggested range.

The Selectboard turned to a general discussion on marijuana legislation and how it will affect the town should broad legalization and sale of recreational marijuana pass in the future. Jonynas began by saying that it seemed, based on current proposals, that the towns would not have much to say about specifics.

Gustafson, who had initially pushed for the discussion, was clear that he would like Chester to take a stand against allowing marijuana sales, such as through a dispensary, from coming to Chester. “From my perspective, I feel it’s my obligation to have our town reflect the values of the community, protecting our citizens and our children,” he said.

Jonynas said he did not agree with the concept of making laws to accomplish that. He suggested education was the way to go. “I don’t want anybody telling me what I can do” and that laws never seem to solve these problems.

He also suggested that it was premature to make decisions now but it would be appropriate to speak out to the Legislature with an opinion rather than waiting to see what the state tells the towns to do.

Gustafson continued that he wanted to look at this for what’s best for the community and could result in increased issues with policing and enforcement.

Jonynas countered that if recreational sales came to fruition and the next town over has dispensary, then the other town would get the tax benefits and Chester would still have the same issues. After must discussion, Jonynas said he wants to encourage people to contact the Selectboard with their own thoughts on the topic and that will help to guide the decisions on what they’ll do.

Chief Rick Cloud stated from the audience that a problem was that there is no roadside testing for marijuana impairment. The only way to test would be through blood tests, which cost $1,000 each.

A local hemp farmer said that as a farmer it allows him to expand his crops and keep his farm viable. “It’s a commodity that I want to add my farm.” He went onto say that he would be against a conglomerate dispensary coming in and that he focuses on small batch product much like other artisan producers. He did not want to see a town-wide restriction.

Jonynas restated that it was good to get information and input from the community as well as keep track of what was happening at the state level. “It’s very important,” he said.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 4 at the Chester Town Hall.

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