Updates on town projects and a look ahead at budget in Chester

CHESTER, Vt. – During the Nov. 17 meeting, the Chester Selectboard heard updates on several town projects, were given an update on a few upcoming additions to the budget, and listened to a presentation by Springfield Regional Development Corp on increasing workforce participation in the area.

The town garage renovation is underway with a new roof in place and a new sprinkler line installed into the building by the town’s crew.

The Brookside Bridge project is finished for the year with beams and the substructure in place. The decking and railing will be installed in the spring. Town Manager Julie Hance will work with the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce to have the boardwalk from the bridge to the stonewall installed through an available grant.

According to Hance, several individuals in town have expressed interest in helping with the Yosemite Firehouse renovation museum project and offered to set up 501(c)(3). As a result, the group will need to act quickly to write bylaws and answer questions about how the nonprofit and museum would operate.

Hance suggested that two board members work with the group to help with their process. Board members Heather Chase and Leigh Dakin both volunteered and will report back to the full board. Having a nonprofit set up for the project will open up funding that municipalities can’t apply for.

The Popple Dungeon Bridge has received their second round of bids, which all show that the project will likely come in about $100,000 over budget. As Hance begins to go through the budget for next year, she will see where those additional funds might come from.

Hance did not go into extensive detail on the budget in this meeting, noting that she still needed to work through the Capital Plan budget numbers. She did reveal, however, that according to department heads, the dump truck will not need to be replaced next year and that a new ambulance could be pushed out to 2023. The town’s capital plan has several difficult “hurdle years” due town equipment expenses, with 2023 being the last tough year according to Hance.

Hance spoke briefly about two new additions that will impact the general fund budget including her request to hire a facilities person who would get all the municipal buildings on a maintenance plan and do the work themselves, saving money in the long run. When asked, she said they already had identified someone who would be a perfect fit for the position.

Her second significant addition to the budget is bumping Chester’s Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow from part-time to a full-time zoning planner position. Bristow has worked as a zoning planner already and has grant writing, economic development, and marketing experience, and would be “working to develop our town.” Hance said he was a “tremendous asset to our team” and would be a win for the town, without a lot of money.

Bristow recently sent out salvage yard ordinance letters to 10 of the most egregious properties in town. They have heard back from seven homeowners who are now working on addressing concerns. Another will receive help in cleaning up. The two that remain and have not responded will move to the next steps, which will test the waters of their ordinance and according to Hance, will be new territory for the town.

Bob Flint and Amanda Sidler from Springfield Regional Development Corp gave a presentation to the board on their Working Challenges Program, a three-year project to help low and moderate income people get into, and stay in, the labor force. According to SRDC, workforce participation in the Springfield area, which is defined as 16 surrounding towns, which include Chester, Ludlow and Cavendish, have an employment rate of 56% in this area. Comparatively, the Vermont rate is 62%, but they’ve seen even more declines since the pandemic.

The SRDC is addressing three key factors that contribute to the issue including transportation, childcare, and affordable housing. They are capturing data from residents and employers through the summer of 2023, will look to create a childcare assistance fund, and will implement a free laptop program. They are also working with a group that functions as a temp agency that places those who have suffered from drug addiction. Issues on housing were not presented at this meeting but would be discussed down the road, according to Flint. For information on those programs, contact the Springfield Regional Development Corp at www.springfielddevelopment.org.

A group that is interested in having a dog park in Chester has approached Hance and is working to put together a proposal including costs, potential funding ideas, and a possible location. Hance will bring it before the board once she receives their proposal.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Chester Town Hall or via Zoom.

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