Chester Town Highway Garage project moving ahead with safety in mind

CHESTER, Vt. – During Chester Selectboard’s brief Aug. 4 meeting, Town Manager Julie Hance outlined her recommendation for the over-budget Town Highway Garage project, including adding back several safety features and financing through a current expense line of credit.

The highway garage was initially over budget by $140,000 largely due to rising materials cost resulting from impacts from Covid-19 pandemic. That cost included cutting out the sprinkler system, which would have to be put in the following year, and a fume hood for the welding bay. Hance recommended adding both those features back into the project for health and safety purposes, bringing the total cost overrun for the highway garage to $180,000. This total includes $70,000 in contingency funds.

Hance recommended that the town cover the highway garage cost overruns as a current expense line of credit, borrow only what is needed, either paying off the line in 2022 or going before the voters in 2022 to extend that expense over four years. Hance noted that there was some upcoming savings in the budget that could help cover those costs including savings anticipated from gravel pit operation next year; state aid highway money coming in this year; and delaying the scheduled purchase of a town truck. Hance also recommended that the exterior paving of the highway garage parking lot could be rolled into the paving bond for 2022.

Key to some of the budget shortfalls for the entire project was the decision to include significantly less that a standard 10% contingency in the overall project initially. “If we had a 10% contingency on this project, we would not be having this conversation,” Hance said.

Board Vice Chair Heather Chase said that the best decisions had been made at the time but they didn’t know we would be facing a pandemic.

The board agreed with Hance’s recommended plan particularly adding back in the sprinklers and fume hood, with Board member Lee Gustafson saying the plan that’s been laid out is a good one.

The town will now proceed with sending the highway project formally out to bid.

ARPA money that had been earmarked for Vermont county use has now been approved to go directly to Vermont municipalities resulting in an additional $600,000-plus coming to Chester, for a total of over $900,000.

Hance said that she wants to make sure there is a transparent, public process on how Chester spends the money. She also noted that with an increase in grant funding coming into state, the town will also try to have many projects use as much grant funding as possible.

Vermont legislative directives for the usage of ARPA money has fallen into categories of water and sewer, broadband infrastructure, and other less clear directives such as “replace lost revenue and support affected industries and essential workers.”

Although Hance said they could easily spend all of the $900,000 on water and sewer upgrades, she would like to spread the funds around to the entire tax base, not just those on the town’s water and sewer system. Chase added that it would be good to understand what the funds can and cannot be used for. The funds do not need to be spent until the end of 2024.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Chester Town Office.

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