CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard met Wednesday, Sept. 20, taking up the issue of a benefits package for Whiting Library’s two full-time employees.
Whiting Library Board of Trustees Chair Matthew Gorsky told the board that the library has had issues retaining personnel as a result of the lack of benefits provided to staff, noting that the previous director had left when offered a position with similar pay, but which included benefits. “We as an entity don’t want to have a revolving door of personnel who…when a better offer with benefits comes along, goes out the door,” Gorsky told the board.
While several members of the selectboard expressed that they would like to see the library’s employees given benefits on par with town employees, there was a lack of clarity amongst the board concerning who actually had jurisdiction to enact benefits. The Whiting Library was established in 1888, and its relationship to the municipality is unique, leaving it both partially funded by the town, but also independent of the selectboard and town government. The Whiting Library Board of Trustees is independently elected by the voters of Chester.
Town manager Julie Hance noted that she had worked with previous iterations of the selectboard and trustees to provide a stipend to library employees, which was meant to be used to purchase health insurance on the open exchange, but that, due to the structure of the library’s relationship to the municipality, the town could not directly provide health insurance in the way they do to town employees. “Unless I can check the box that says they work for me, and are a town employee, they can’t be on our health plan,” Hance told the board.
Board members Lee Gustafson and Peter Hudkins also raised concerns about the cost to the town of providing a benefits package, noting that while both would like to see it happen, it would be a significant expense to the town, and recent tax increases in Chester had already been met with opposition prior to enactment. Board member Heather Chase objected, saying that creative thinking may be needed to find ways to both keep costs to the town low, and still provide competitive benefits.
Several citizens of Chester also rose to voice their support for library staff, telling the board that the library was important to them personally, as well as an important aspect of life in Chester.
The board determined to create a working group, to include the library trustees and two selectboard members, to explore what options exist for providing library employees with a benefits package.
The board then once again revisited the topic of short-term rentals (STR) in Chester, saying that, of the 54 STR owners sent letters notifying them of the registration requirement prior to the last meeting, 21 had registered, and six were either no longer renting, or rented less than 14 days per year, which does not require registration. Of those 21 registered units, 9 were hosted STRs, and 12 were unhosted, meaning the property owner or a caretaker is not on-site while renters are present.
Board member Arianna Knapp, whose tenure began after the adoption of the original STR ordinance in October 2022, told the board that she had revisited the original ordinance as passed, and believes that, at this point, it is adequate, and changes were are needed. “[The original ordinance] is pretty good,” Knapp said, “what’s missing is the reporting we requested from someone else, and our appetite to enforce it.” The missing reporting to which Knapp referred is that from Granicus, the company with which Chester is contracted to enact its STR registry. The project has fallen behind schedule due to Granicus not assigning a project manager until recently.
Board Chair Arne Jonynas felt that the ordnance could potentially be expanded, asking why other businesses, such as hotels and inns, are subject to zoning restrictions, while unhosted STRs are not. “The location makes a big difference on what type of business you would allow in a neighborhood…if it was a car dealership or a car repair place, I don’t understand why [unhosted STRs can be] in any district [in] town.”
In the end, the board felt that they needed to allow more data to be gathered to be able to make concrete decisions, though they agreed to begin meeting with the planning commission within 30 days to review options which the planning commission had proposed. A planning commission meeting has since been warned for Oct. 2, noting that the majority of the selectboard may be in attendance.
The next meeting of the Chester Selectboard will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 6:30 p.m., in the Chester Town Hall.