CHESTER, Vt. – During their December 29 meeting after weeks of discussing and ultimately rejecting a formal mask mandate for the Town of Chester, the select board approved a statement encouraging residents to help control the spread of Covid-19. The statement included a list of mitigation strategies such as vaccination, handwashing, social distancing, testing, avoiding crowds, and wearing masks in an indoor setting.
The statement left local businesses free to decide their own policies stating, “The Town of Chester encourages all businesses who serve the public indoors to formulate a disease mitigation strategy and/or mask wearing policy suitable for their business.”
A list of protocols used by the town offices was also made available on the town’s website and posted in the Town Hall for reference. The entire statement can be viewed on the town’s website at www.chestervt.gov.
Board member Heather Chase recommended that the board place a date on the document since the statement should be considered a “living document,” that would change and be updated often. Chase also suggested that the Covid protocols become an item under old business so that they can update the town on changes at the town, state, and federal level.
Covid-19 rapid testing is now available for all municipal employees and their households, including board members, and will be performed by Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva at the public safety building location.
Later in the meeting, budget talks resumed as the board reviewed town facilities including the public safety building, recreation department, Whiting Public Library, and the town hall.
Chester Town Manager Julie Hance said that the largest request was for the public safety building: $17,000 in new fencing between the new building and adjacent apartments, necessary due to some threats of vandalism from residents. The town has also installed security cameras all around the building to prevent the vandalism.
Board Chair Arne Jonynas questioned whether the $17,000 would be better spent on a natural buffer, such as updating the landscaping. “I just think there’s better ways of dealing with neighbors than throwing up a big fence,” he said.
Hance said she could go back to the public safety department heads and that, if they agreed, return with costs from the landscaper on possible solutions for a natural barrier.
One addition to the facilities budget is a new position for a facilities director, which is, according to Hance, “A position that is long overdue.” The director, having a wide range of skills much like a contractor, would put all the town facilities on a maintenance schedule and perform much of that maintenance themselves. The $66,000 expense added for salary and benefits would largely be offset by responsibilities the director would then undertake, such as oil changes, tire rotations, and other routine vehicle maintenance. They would also fill in as needed to help with short-term departmental projects.
The Town of Chester increased their contribution to the Whiting Library by $12,000, largely to supplement health care costs for employees this year. Hance also alerted the board that beginning in early 2022, she would start working through logistics with Library Trustee Ed Grossman regarding modifying the town’s relationship with the library, specifically concerning employee pay and benefits, an issue on which Hance has received legal guidance from the town’s attorney.
Adding three employees under the town would increase the employee costs by approximately $25,000 in the following year. Chase expressed concern about the hiring and supervising of library employees by the trustees, stating that the library should remain an independent entity. She added that she would need more details to support the proposal, but agreed that the library staff needed to be supported and that they were a great resource to the town.
Overall the budget deficit is approximately $33,000, a small amount for a town of Chester’s size according to state consultants Hance has been working with. She will provide options for offsetting the deficit during the next meeting.
The next Chester Select Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 at 6 p.m. at Chester Town Hall.