Chester will vote budget and articles via Australian ballot this year

CHESTER, Vt. – During their Jan. 6 meeting, the Chester Selectboard decided the town budget and articles will be voted on by Australian ballot this year rather than during a traditional town meeting, due to health concerns of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The informational meeting will happen remotely Monday, March 1 at 6 p.m. Voting will be the following day Tuesday, March 2, from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Chester Town Office.

Board Chairman Arne Jonynas made a point of saying it would just be for this year and that he would “hate to see town meeting go away.”

The board went through a general fund review and although the numbers aren’t finalized yet Jonynas said that overall it was “looking pretty good for the town as far as our tax rate and what our budgets going to look like.” He said that it did not see an increase, possibly even a small decrease.

One item discussed at length was the $10,000 that is in the marketing budget this year. Both Town Manager Julie Hance and Jonynas said that they had heard mixed feelings in the community about spending money for marketing; some saying it was only a benefit for businesses on the green.

Hance defended the expense saying that they had already seen “really good results,” including big response numbers for their Facebook ads and Google ads, and an increase in calls to Bob Flint at the Springfield Regional Development Corp about starting a business in Chester. She also said that there have been a lot of young families moving to town for their permanent residence as a result of the outreach.

Hance said it helps the whole community and is not just a benefit for the green, though that is Chester’s “eye candy.”

The board went through the Capital Plan review, which included past and upcoming capital expenses as well as the bond debt repayment plan. Anticipated purchases in 2021 include a truck for the highway department, fund match for sidewalk project, a new cruiser, and town signage. The only bond being proposed this year is for paving.

Chester resident Scott MacDonald updated the board on Chester’s Fall Festival, which was in search of new organizers after the Chester Rotary announced they no longer had the manpower to spearhead the town’s signature event. MacDonald said that a short couple of days many Chester business people have stepped forward to volunteer. He said he would have more details as they become organized.

Hance reported that town was awarded the historic preservation grant for the remaining outside work needed on the Academy building. She was also pursuing a claim to the insurance company to see if the ceiling repairs inside might be covered, which could potentially save upwards of $26,000.

Hance said the Public Safety Building progress was continuing and running about a week to 10 days behind schedule. Financially, the contingency fund, which has approximately $90,000, has not been needed.

The gravel pit has cleared it last few regulatory hurdles after initially being rejected by the state. Hance said the town should receive their permit for gravel extraction by the spring.

Hance has discussed the possibility of establishing a Civilian Oversight Committee for Police Department complaints with town attorney Jim Carroll. She said Carroll had good ideas and provided some cautions about how it could work. Police Chief Rick Cloud was also involved in the discussion. Hance will present details to the board in February. The revised citizen complaint form and updated trifold are now on the town website.

A Local Government Reimbursement Grant has been received that will cover the entire cost for the sound system, acoustic ceiling panels, and acoustical shades for the windows.

The future of Jeffrey Barn will be on the agenda for Jan. 20. Chester resident Steve Mancuso spoke to the board about assembling a group of volunteers to help shore up the barn. That option, as well as other ideas, will be discussed at the Jan. 20 meeting.

The next Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

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