Published in the InterTown Record, Feb. 7, 2017
By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Approximately 40 people attended the budget committee’s annual review of the board of selectmen’s proposed 2017 town budget Thursday night, but the fiscal group postponed making its expected final recommendation to voters for one week.
The decision came late in the three-hour-plus town hall meeting after officials noted that there were still five more days for residents to submit petition articles for consideration at the annual town meeting in March. The deadline is Feb. 7. The budgeters are permitted to review any measures would have a fiscal impact on the town budget.
The issue became significant after Rebecca Corser, the executive director of the Warner Historical Society, spoke on behalf of a petition article she’d presented that’s aimed at removing the old Odd Fellows building on East Main Street.
“The (Odd Fellows) building’s footprint is really small and (refurbishing it) would be very expensive… And if that building ever catches fire, it’s going to go ‘whoosh.’ It would be a very intense situation that could effect other buildings around it.” – Rebecca Corser, Director of the Warner Historical Society
The selectmen’s proposed 2017 budget totals $3,079,486, which is a 1.8-percent increase over last year’s; the figure includes a 2-percent raise in town employee salaries as well as changes to their health insurance programs. Last year’s spending came in $144,020 less than what was planned, so Town Administrator Jim Bingham reported that If the selectmen are able come up with $100,000 to alter this year’s budget, the property tax rate for the town would rise from $8.87 to $9.47 per $1,000 of value.
Corser’s petition asks Town Meeting voters to “direct the selectmen to develop and implement a plan to dismantle” the structure in the next two years, and to turn the space near the Simonds School into a combination parking area and “green space.” It also ask that the abandon building’s clock tower be preserved and included in the redeveloped lot. The abandoned wooden structure, which was built in 1892, has been a concern for residents for years now as some have sought to preserve and/or restore it.
Corser said she served on a committee that worked to maintain the historic structure for years but she was disappointed that her “high hopes” for the building had not been fruitful. “The building’s footprint is really small and (refurbishing it) would be very expensive,” she bemoaned. “Things are falling off, it’s been broken into.. . And if that building ever catches fire, it’s going to go ‘whoosh.’ It would be a very intense situation that could effect other buildings around it.”
Warner native and selectman Allan N. Brown was one of several residents who voiced reservations about the idea. He said that he had spent several years working on road concerns with the Simonds School located by the Odd Fellows building, and he would feel like he’d wasted time if the building were simply removed. In addition, there would be “one monstrous hole” in the ground if it was taken down, and the cost of filling it – as well as dealing with toxic asbestos and lead paint on the property – could raise demolition costs to more than $300,000. “And if you want to take that clock tower down you’re going to need a 100-foot crane,” he added.
Mike Cutting, chairman of the budget committee, cut off the discussion by noting that the petition article did not mention a cost so the fiscal group was not legally required to offer a recommendation to the selectmen.
Another cost-related item was the proposed All Veterans Tax Credit. As explained by Paul Violette, adjutant with the local Wilkins-Cloues-Bigelow-Person American Legion Post #39 in Warner, current state regulations restrict veteran property tax credit to those who’ve served during war or significant military action. The new plan, which is being considered in towns across New Hampshire, would extend the $500 property tax forgiveness program to all U.S. military veterans, regardless of when they served.
Budget committee member Martha Michal, who also works as the town’s assessing clerk, said that Warner is estimated to have approximately 340 veterans and that 140 already take the tax credit. Adding an addition 200 people would reduce the town’s total tax revenue by about $99,000, resulting in an increase to the overall tax rate of approximately 35-cents per $1,000 of value.
Earlier in the meeting, discussion focused on a new proposal to add a solar panel array to help defray electricity costs for town facilities. The Warner Village Water District voters approved a system for their operations last year, but town meeting voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal. At this year’s meeting, town leaders will again advanced the idea but the new $338,530 project will cost $10,000 less and projections are that it will be “cash-positive” from the first year. The measure includes borrowing money to get started, and it needs to be approved by at least a two-thirds majority at town meeting.
[Water District Administrator] Ray Martin spoke about the benefits the Water District has seen since its system was installed last year. He said the system is actually producing 3,000 more kilowatts per month than what was projected. “It’s running the way it was designed to run and a little better,” he said, adding the total would likely drop early in the year as daylight hours are lower.
Then Selectman Clyde Carson described the energy committee’s new proposal to install a similar system for the town’s municipal needs by the transfer station. He said that working with the state’s Community Development Finance Authority and local banks – and an expected rebate of approximately $64,000 from the NH Public Utilities Commission – there should be no impact on property taxes, and the facility should be fully paid off within 12 years.
The Budget Committee will reconvene Thursday, Feb. 9, at 7:00 p.m., in the town hall.
Ray Carbone has been writing about New Hampshire life for more than 25 years. You can reach him at email@example.com