Selectboard reviews budgets, discusses change to bond plans

Chester Selectboard, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Photo by Sharon Huntley

CHESTER, Vt. – Water and sewer budgets were reviewed to start the meeting with the 2020 budget for both categories remaining largely unchanged from last year. Water and sewer superintendent Jeff Holden did say that they were going to need to purchase a large generator to run the town well in emergencies since the portable generator they were using has been slated for the Town Hall.

He said that Chester assistant Town Clerk Julie Hance was looking into grants to help with the purchase and their department could do some of the prep work, including putting pad and conduit. Based on a state requirement, having a permanent generator is necessary to keep their “permit to operate.” The estimate was approximately $100,000 though they will likely be able to pare back that number by $20,000 by doing a lot of the work. Holden recommended this work should get done this year.

During citizens’ comments, resident Wanda Purdy brought up a concern about the cost of the Springfield Transfer Station. Chester currently pays Springfield $40,000 per year for town residents to use their facility. In addition, each resident needs to purchase a $15 sticker to display on their vehicle to use the transfer station. They also purchase tickets to dispose of each bag of trash. Purdy suggested that Springfield Transfer Station was double dipping, having Chester residents being charged twice, both with stickers and tickets, as well as paying for the service through their taxes.

Board member Ben Whalen said that Derek Suursoo had given them the reason for the large increase including the increased cost in recycling and the fact that Springfield Transfer Station had been saddled with debt.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas said Purdy had raised some good questions and agreed to seek more information and see if the amount Chester is contributing might be reduced.

Board member Heather Chase acknowledged that trash collecting and recycling was expensive to run and would like Chester to continue using their service versus bringing the service inside the town. She also suggested that they talk to Springfield about reviewing the cost now they have been able to pay off their debt. The issue will be put on a future agenda.

According to David Pisha, to keep marching forward on the EMS Building, he has been working with architect Kevin Racek and Russell Construction to prepare a Jan. 20 presentation to the Development Review Board. This would keep them on track for an April site preparation plan in mind. Later in the meeting, the Selectboard approved that Pisha sign a letter of intent from Russell Construction to also keep the project moving forward.

The gravel extraction project has moved forward with Act 250 application being filed by Attorney Jim Goss.

Academy Building plaster fixes will be investigated further before a decision is made on whether to repair with plaster, which is much more expensive versus sheetrock.

Leigh Dakin asked why they would be running the bathroom at the Information booth again this year rather than hooking into the two bathrooms in the Academy Building, which would save the pumping cost of $3,000 for emptying the tank currently at the Information Booth.

Ben Whalen said that was the permanent solution they were looking for, but that more repairs were needed in the building, one of the bathrooms was not functioning, and that building security is also an issue.

In addition, the lease for the Chester Historical Society in the Academy Building is up on March 1. The Selectboard has discussed continuing to lease to the historical society although some changes are likely to be negotiated. The Selectboard agreed to put the lease renewal on an upcoming agenda after the new year and have bathrooms be a part of that discussion.

The town of Chester received a response from the Vermont Traffic Operations Engineer regarding the town’s request to lower the speed limit on Route 103 in front of the entrance to Green Mountain Union High School. Despite the Selectboard’s request for a speed reduction, the traffic operations unit recommended retaining the existing speed limit.

Jonynas summed up their reasons for not changing the speed limit saying, “Their reasoning is everybody’s speeding, and if we lower it, it’s not going to change anything because the road was made to go fast.”

The response letter indicated there would be a meeting Dec. 11 if they wanted to challenge their decision. Both Dakin and Jonynas agreed to participate in the meeting via conference call.

They also received feedback on the request to have no parking on Route 103 in front of the new Jiffy Mart. According to their letter, there is already a certificate for “no parking” signs along Route 103 although no signs are there now. A Route 103 sign replacement project is happening now and the signs are being replaced. They did not recommend having “no parking” on Route 11. Dakin will also discuss during the Dec. 13 call.

The bulk of the meeting was in a detailed review of the General Fund budget going through each category carefully with input from town department heads. Other department heads such as the Library and Parks and Cemetery were slated to appear in the next meeting for detailed review then.

In his summary of the General Fund budget review, Pisha said the amount of additional tax to be collected for fiscal year 2020 is $143,000 versus last year’s $162,000. In the current summary, anticipated revenues come to $794,841.66 and expenditures are $4,226,737.30 for a total of $3,431,895.64. Amount to be collected is $3,277,660.31 leading to the additional amount of $143,000 needed.

After further discussion, Pisha mentioned that the amount needed had even gone down at bit more since this budget was printed. This is the amount that will need to be realized through a tax increase. Of note, Public Works was impacted last year due to weather resulting in a $90,312.33 overage in their budget.

Pisha discussed that there is a need for additional help for Chester Townscapes. Other town department heads also had a need for additional summer help, which would help support hiring one person to work for all departments for approximately three months for a projected cost of $8,000. The Selectboard agreed to add the position to the budget, asking Pisha if each of the departments might find $2,000 in their budgets to support it. Pisha said he would work on it and get back to the Selectboard.

Pisha recommended to the Selectboard that they change to the Capital and Bond plan, suggesting they purchase dump trucks on a five-year loan and police cruisers with a four-year loan, with payments not coming due until 2021, rather than doing an outright purchase. This would help manage their expenditures over the next few years through 2023 as they manage bond payments on the new EMS project. Pisha also suggested that they take $50,000 from Economic Development to pay the half of the first year’s interest for the EMS project.

After Selectboard pushback on vehicle loan costs and questions about the possible lifespan of these municipal vehicles, Pisha agreed to provide more detailed documentation to look at the issue.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson said that their fire tanker and utility truck were also becoming an issue and should also be part of the capital plan.

According to Chase, “From my point of view, we may have to kick some things down the road.”

Pisha agreed to revise the capital plan with more details, including the fire vehicles, and take it out as far in the future until the projects are paid.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.

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