January 21, 2018

Chester Town Meeting Approves Budget, Capital Projects

CHESTER-— Voters at a town meeting Tuesday approved a $12,328,940 for 2013-2014 that includes an unusual one-half mill decrease in the property tax rate. The town meeting, the first to be held in the recently completed second-floor community room at town hall, also authorized funding for several capital projects, and revised a town ordinance on the issuance of permits for properties with unpaid back taxes. About 40 residents turned out for the meeting, with all agenda items approved on unanimous voice votes.

The town/schools spending plan for 2013-2014 includes a $3,516,054 town government budget, a $373,620 capital expenditure plan, and a $4,182,373 appropriation for Chester Elementary School. The town’s $4,257,893 share of the Region 4 education budget had already won voter approval in a May 7 referendum.

Due to drops in student enrollment at the elementary school and fewer students from Chester attending the two Region 4 secondary schools, education spending for 2013-2014 dropped by more than $450,000. The drops in enrollment allowed the board of finance to authorize a one-half mill decrease in the tax rate to fund the total town/schools spending plan. The tax rate will drop from the current 22.45 mills to a rate of 21.95 mills. The new rate represents $21.95 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

On a series of voice votes, the town meeting authorized $273,580 in transfers from various items in the capital expenditure plan to create a total available capital expenditure fund for 2013-2014 of $647,200. Voters then authorized funding for seven capital projects, including $30,000 for town hall computers, $338,435 for road and sidewalk repairs, $56,200 for emergency electric generators for town buildings,  $50,000 for a fire company vehicle replacement, $100,000 for repairs to the firehouse roof, $54,000 for repairs to the elementary school roof, and $4,000 for administrative expenses for the Main Street Project committee.

Voters also amended a town ordinance on issuance of permits for properties with unpaid back taxes. The existing ordinance barred the issuance of any town permits for improvements to any property where taxes are towed to the town. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the board of selectmen had decided to “provide some flexibility,” to the permitting ordinance for situations where a property needs emergency repairs, such as after a fire or storm damage, and the owner lacks funds to immediately pay off a tax bill before obtaining a permit.

“It can be a Catch 22 for a property owner,” Meehan said, adding the provision in the amended ordinance would “be used very sparingly.” The amendment allows the board of selectmen to grant relief from the requirements of the permitting ordinance “in cases of exceptional circumstances affecting the welfare of the residents of the property or in the interests of the public health and safety.” The new provision would only apply to residential property,.

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