Chester Selectboard talks budget and economic development

CHESTER, Vt. – The town of Chester continued to sharpen their pencils on the town budget with the latest version, presented at the Jan. 8 Chester Selectboard meeting, showing an additional savings of approximately $68,000 versus the last budget presented Dec. 18, 2019.

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Chester Selectboard works on budget and Town Plan in Jan. 8 meeting at NewsBank. Photo by Sharon Huntley

The total overall town budget comes in at $3,319,152.13, which is up by $231,565.27 versus last year, impacting the town tax rate with a $0.058 increase per 100K valuation.

Though most categories in the budget are slightly under versus last year, Public Works has had the biggest impact, accounting for about 80% of that shortfall, largely due to weather patterns last year, which resulted in needing much more salt and sand and overtime than expected. A 6% increase in healthcare and slight increases in Parks & Recreation, library, and revitalization account for the rest.

Municipal Manager David Pisha also gave the Selectboard an overview of Chester’s long-range General Fund Capital Plan and the Bond Plan, which lays out General Fund, Bond payment, and town vehicle expenses over the next seven years. The extensive grid shows town vehicles including dump truck, police cruisers, and other equipment being paid off with four- and five-year loans to help manage cash flow during that time. Pisha’s overall goal is that as the general funds needed in future years’ increases, bonds and equipment will be paid off, helping to minimize a cash crunch for the town. Copies of the plan are available at the town office.

The Selectboard reviewed the last revised chapter of the Town Plan concerning economic development. According to Julie Hance, the Selectboard’s comments will be returned to the Planning Commission to be revised into a document for a final review.

Selectboard comments emphasized a few key aspects of the town, including welcoming town wide events, highlighting a local news organization, trumpeting the town’s high-speed internet service, and emphasizing their ongoing commitment to revitalization and infrastructure.

Pisha wanted to stress that the town “actively encourages events and will work with the promoter to facilitate their success.” He wants to make sure it is clear that the town stands ready to help with events whenever possible.

The largest factor the Selectboard wanted to highlight was the town’s high-speed internet. Pisha made the point that outdoor enthusiasts can do something every week out of the year and that with high-speed internet, the town has a lot to offer for people who enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and may look to bring their home-based business or company to Chester.

The Selectboard discussed whether there were ways to incentivize home-based businesses or telecommuting and discussed that Chester’s development fund policy might be able to come up with that.

Discussing the purpose of the town plan as a vision for the town, Hance redirected the Selectboard to task the Planning Commission to include “language that is more encouraging” to business. She said she uses the language in the Town Plan in every grant application she writes, emphasizing the importance of aspirational language.

The Selectboard also agreed that the chapter should emphasize how infrastructure is being managed, developed, and continually improved. The Selectboard also wanted to show the positive changes that were currently in the works such as sidewalk project on Church Street and bridge and trail work. They also discussed the importance of streetscapes and the ongoing improvements to the character of town green.

Board member Leigh Dakin requesting that all data used in the chapter be as up-to-date as possible including changes to businesses listed.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m. The final budget should be presented then with a final budget approval date of Jan. 17.

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