CHESTER – Stating that the point had been made, selectman Jack Cannon moved successfully to take an article off the warrant that would have sought to remove funding from the heritage committee’s efforts to erect a granite memorial to the town’s best citizens.
The selectmen and committee have not seen eye to eye on what the memorial should entail, and though voters approved $10,000 for the project at last Town Meeting, the effort has since stalled.
Committee chair John Colman has been frustrated with the lack of progress and last week aired his thoughts in a Tri-Town Times article.
Though initially presented as a relatively small granite monument that would name residents who gave of themselves to build and support Chester, discussions among committee members expanded the project. An initial presentation to the selectmen saw the committee suggesting they cut the trees on the green in front of Stevens Memorial Hall, plant small flowering ones, and landscape the area to make it not only more usable but to more effectively show off the monument and Stevens Hall.
This plan didn’t sit well with some of the board members.
On Thursday, April 3, Cannon said that as the members of the committee were set to meet with the board at their next meeting and it seemed as if there was a potential for compromise, the article could be removed. “It’s gotten their attention,” said Cannon.
Cannon went on to say that he was in favor of the monument in its original plan, and was the person who suggested the town fund the work through an article. He said he thinks the town did a good job of recognizing, through road names, town reports and other efforts, those special residents. But, he said, the memorial had become too large and too much of a “testimonial to our own greatness.
“And I don’t think that’s what this town is about, at least not in the short time that I’ve lived here,” said Cannon.
The board voted unanimously to remove the article.
The board spent time last week reviewing all warrant articles for the May Town Meeting and giving its recommendations. While many saw unanimous support among members, such wasn’t the case for all.
The first to see disagreement was the article to raise $370,000 to lease a new 3,000 gallon tanker truck for the fire department. Selectmen Joe Castricone and Rich LeBlanc have been against the purchase in recent weeks and in the vote to recommend, they again made their views known. The rest of the board voted for the article, but agreed to move it to the back of the warrant as a sign that they considered it less important than some of the other articles up for discussion.
Selectman chair Steph Landau pointed out amidst concerns on how the truck would impact the tax rate that because of the way the vehicle was being leased, there was no tax impact in the first year.
Further discussion centered on the articles dealing with Spring Hill Farm. The article facing the most discussion asks voters to begin caring for the farm’s buildings through the general government buildings budget.
While LeBlanc argued that he wanted to know what the town was getting into before taking ownership of the buildings, Landau pointed out that the town already owns the buildings.
The Spring Hill Farm Trustees note that when the town originally took possession of the farm from Muriel Church, it was agreed that because the town was benefiting so much from the land, taking care of the property would not be a burden. But since that time that responsibility has fallen to the wayside, say trustees.
Proponents of the property point to its recreational, agricultural and aesthetic benefits, plus the tax rate mitigation that leaving the land undeveloped provides. Conservative estimates put the tax savings to the town at over $3 million in the last 12 years.
LeBlanc asked that the town’s building inspector review the property thoroughly, “before we buy a black hole,” he said. Previously LeBlanc has stated that he’d like to see the 1850s farmhouse burned down and replaced with a modular home.
Landau reminded LeBlanc that the town already owned the property and therefore was responsible for it and any liability that came up. Landau pushed the idea, however, that if the town officially took over maintenance and the trustees were successful in their efforts to turn the operation into a charitable trust, then the selectmen and trustees should meet and discuss the town’s getting some or all of the funds from the rent of the home.
Per the trust documents, the rent goes to the trust to help it keep the farm operational, one of Church’s priorities in giving her land to the public.
Landau and Joe Hagan voted to recommend the article, Cannon abstained and LeBlanc and Castricone voted against recommendation.
Town meeting is Saturday, May 17.