School board ignores complaints, chooses open process for new member; Furlong resigns after husband is charged with election fraud

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – In a unanimous vote last Wednesday, the Sunapee School Board voted 4-0 to initiate a public hearing process to find a new board member after the recent resignation of Heather Furlong.

Furlong, who was elected last year, resigned after her husband Joseph Furlong was arrested by local police on March 15 and charged with three counts of forgery and two counts of false documentation. Authorities claim that he and an acquaintance, Adam Gaw of Manchester, altered an email that was originally written by resident Jan Bettencourt.

According to court papers filed by Police Chief David Cahill and the NH Attorney General’s office, the alleged forgery took place shortly before the March 2016 election when Bettencourt and Heather Furlong were among three candidates running to fill two three-year school board seats. Bettencourt finished third and some observers believe the doctored email damaged her reputation and cost her the election.

In his court affidavit, Chief Cahill wrote that Bettencourt had told him that the altered email “caused an immediate backlash against her.”

About 50 people attended last week’s board meeting at Sunapee Middle High School and several asked the board to appoint John Augustine to fill out the next year of Heather Furlong’s term until new elections are held next March. Augustine had the third most votes of the five candidates who ran for two board seats this year.

Early in the meeting, Don Bettencourt, the husband of Jan, said the board’s decision of how to fill the seat would indicate “whether ours is a government of the people or a government of the school board.” He said that while the board legally is permitted to choose among several ways how it chooses its new member, the current members would simply be “flexing their legal muscles” by instituting a search process rather than appointing Augustine.

Jan Bettencourt said that the board faced a similar situation in 2015 after two members resigned shortly after the election. At that time, the board bypassed the option of appointing her, although she had come in second in a two-person race. “Fortunately, there was a public outcry and I was appointed to the one-year seat,” she told the group. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”

Jody Mason also supported Augustine, pointing out that the election was only nine days before the meeting, and that the more than 300 voters had weathered a significant snowstorm to cast their ballots for him.

‘The democratic procedure took place and you guys appear to be playing the same game over and over again. I’m just pretty well disgusted.’ – Paul Mason, Sunapee resident

But when the board began discussing its options, vice-chairman Brian Garland noted that he was elected in 2016 with more than 600 votes and that he didn’t want to do his supporters a “disservice” by not looking for the best possible candidate in the community. “Signing up for a three-year term on the school board, that’s a lot,” he said. A one-term term could be less daunting, and therefore attract some more qualified people, he added. “I’m in favor of looking at pool of candidates. I would say we do a posting and an interview process.”

The other members agreed. They decided to announce the vacant seat to the community and ask interested people to apply for consideration before March 31, 12 p.m., though the superintendent’s office. Residents should include their names, address, contract information and a statement about their interest in the board in a message to Superintendent Russ Holden at rholden@sunapeeschools. Depending on the number of candidates, the board could hold public interviews with applicants on Monday, April 3, Tuesday, April 3, and Wednesday, April 4.

In a public comment session after the vote, Paul Mason said he was frustrated with the board’s decision. “The democratic procedure took place and you guys appear to be playing the same game over and over again,” he said. “I’m just pretty well disgusted.”

“I’m not shocked but I am disappointed,” commented Jody Mason. “Heather Furlong sat on the board for an entire year, knowing that an investigation was going on. Had she resigned when she should have properly, we would have gone to the third most vote-getter (i.e., Mrs. Bettencourt).”

After the meeting, Jan Bettencourt said that she was not seeking to serve on the school board at this time. “I was a teacher for many years,” she said, adding that she originally ran for a seat because she wanted to use her experience to serve the educational community. “I went to this school board’s meetings for three years (before I ran) and I never heard any discussion about quality of education or student outcome, things that were important to me… They only discussed capital improvement plans.”

Don Bettencourt said that the board’s decision means that the members will likely pick someone who already supports their approach.

“It’s hard when there’s a lack of interest in doing the right thing,” Jan Bettencourt concluded.

Published reports indicate that Augustine intends to apply for the vacant seat through the school board’s interview process.

Gaw has been charged with three counts of forgery and two counts of false documentation. He and Joseph Furlong are scheduled to be arraigned on May 2.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton NH, published March 28,2017.

 

 

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Warner approves solar array, fire station plans, budget…

 

Above: The town has purchased this parcel at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road hoping to eventually build a new fire station there. (Ray Carbone/photo)

WARNER – It took more than four hours, but more than 300 residents crowded into the town hall Wednesday for the annual town meeting, and voted to accepted virtually every proposal offered by town leaders and fellow citizens.

The group unanimously approved an annual operating budget of $3,070,486, which is an increase of 1.7-percent over last year’s budget, and will result in a projected property tax rate of $9.82. They heartily supported a proposal to advance plans for a new fire station. They accepted the idea of asking the selectman to demolish the historic Odd Fellows building if recent efforts to sell it to a local building contractor don’t work out.

But perhaps most significantly for many, in a 270-44 secret ballot vote, the residents overwhelmingly approved spending $338,530 to construct a solar panel array nearby the transfer station. The project could defray rising costs electricity costs in municipal facilities and eventually allow the town to generate revenue by selling “excess” electrical power back to the New England grid. Last year, a similar plan narrowly fell short of the two-thirds majority needed.

“I’m going to vote for it, but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

Paul Goneau, resident, referrinng to tentaive plans to build a new fire station.

Solar power is popular with Warner homeowners, according to town leaders, and voters at the meeting trusted their selectman’s claim that the array will have no impact on local property taxes. Speaking for the board, member John Dabuliewicz said that $273,595 of the total costs will be financed with a low 2-percent, 12-year loan the town is taking under the state’s Municipal Finance Act, and the payments will, in effect, be paid from the savings the town realizes from solar power. The remaining $64,935 will come back to the town as a refund from the NH Public Utilities Commission for extra electricity the facility puts into the regional electrical grid, Dabuliewicz added.

But not everyone was convinced. “The way this is being packaged is slightly misleading,” resident John Heaton told the crowd. “Eversource is not a charity,” he added, suggesting that the power company will raise its rates to pay for the income it loses to solar power initiatives. “Solar is expensive,” he said.

But George Horrocks of Harmony Energy Works, which is assisting the town with the project, said that recent jumps in energy costs are not related to solar, but rather to over-estimates about the impact of natural gas in the market. “As rates go up, you’re going to save over a half-million dollars (with the solar array),” Horrocks told the voters.

Resident Paul Goneau, a former chief finance operator with the NH Housing and Finance Authority, expressed concerns about cash-flow issues in the proposal, including the lack of funds for operating costs. But town leaders said there are virtually no costs to operating the passive solar array system.

The meeting then moved on to a plan to add $182,000, including $100,000 in new taxes, to a fund earmarked for the construction of a new fire station at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road. Town leaders have been working on the project for several years because they maintain the current Main Street station is inadequate for a modern department. The new funds will allow engineering and design work to move forward.

Some people were concerned about the final cost of the station, which town leaders currently estimate to about $2.5 million. Bill Balsam of Waterloo predicted that rising construction costs and debt service on a building loan could eventually jump the final figure for to close to $4-million. “I’m going to vote for it,” he announced, “but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

In a ballot vote, the proposal was approved, 159-48.

Later in the meeting, Rebecca Couser, director of the Warner Historical Society, addressed the warrant article she supported that would have the selectmen begin making plans to demolish the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building and bring a cost proposal to next year’s meeting.

Courser said that since contractor Nate Burrington entered into negotiations with the selectmen to buy the building in recent weeks, she proposed amending the article to give the board several more weeks to complete a purchase-and-sale agreement. If there is no deal, she said, the demolition plan should move forward.

A deadline is necessary, Courser said, because previous efforts to sell the building had languished for months without resolution. “I would just like a plan in place in case this (Burrington) plan does not go through in the next few weeks,” she explained.

The amendment passed, 92-25, and the approved article passed in a voice vote.

In other actions, the voters okayed beginning voting on election days at 7 a.m., one hour earlier than it currently occurs, and the selectman announced that an informal poll before the meeting indicated some support for moving the annual gatherings to Saturday mornings in the future.

Correction: The Odd Fellows building measure  approved by voters does not contain a deadline for negotiating a sale with resident Nate Burrington.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, March 21, 2017.

Warner’s Odd Fellows building is sold – almost

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At a meeting in the town hall Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen moved a step closer to selling the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building to a local contractor who wants to use it for business purposes.

The three-member board unanimously approved the sale of the historic 72’-by-42’ three-story wooden structure to resident Nate Burrington, the owner of Burrington Builders and Maintenance, “provided both sides can come to a mutually acceptable purchase-and-sales agreement.”

The board took the unusual move of approving an action with a significant contingency attached to avoid holding additional public hearings in the coming weeks. As John Dabuliewicz, a selectman, explained to the small group of people attending the meeting, state law requires an agreement be in place within 14 days of the last public hearing, which would be this Wednesday, March 15.

“We didn’t want to do that,” the selectman said, because it’s the same night as the annual town meeting.

The action means that the board can continue negotiating with Burrington and move forward with the sale when both sides agree to all facets of a deal.

But it also means that details about the plan, including the price Burrington will pay and any special stipulations attached to the sale, is not yet been made public.

The selectmen said that their ongoing negotiations with Burrington in recent weeks have been going extremely well. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close,” Dabuliewicz said.

“He’s anxious to get this done,” added Allen N. Brown, another selectman, referring to the local contractor.

Resident Martha Michal asked if the board is considering any tax abatements as an incentive to Burrington taking over the building, or a revisionary clause that would allow the town to regain ownership if the contractor is unable to meet certain renovation benchmarks.

“There is a revisionary clause” in the tentative agreement, Dabuliewicz said, which can be used as “leverage” to make sure the building is not left to deteriorate further, but no tax abatement has been mentioned.

Brown said that Burlington’s price to the town for the Odd Fellows building would be only a “token.” “You probably have it on you now,” he quipped.

Community leaders have been trying to figure out what to do with the historic building ever since the town bought it for $50,000 in 1999. Over the years, plans have been advanced that would have renovated it for elderly housing, workforce housing or commercial purposes. But none of the projects were able to secure the necessary financing.

In fact, Rebecca Courser, the director of the Warner Historical Society and a longtime supporter of the building, has recently announced support for a petition warrant article that would ask the selectmen to begin looking into ways to take the structure down.

After so many years of futility, Courser said that she’s concerned about the fire danger the empty wooden building presents to the village. (Residents will consider the petition at the town meeting Wednesday night.)

The building, first constructed by a local chapter of the International Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows in 1892, is structurally sound, according to town officials.

“We did receive a letter (on March 8), from the NH Department of Environmental Services,” town administrator Jim Bingham announced at Thursday’s meeting. “They’ve been overseeing (pollution issues on the building site), and they’ve given it full clearance for soil and groundwater issues.”

There may still be some hazardous materials on the site, including the possibility of lead paint, he said, but those would become the responsibility of Burrington if the purchase is completed.

It was only a few weeks ago that the local building contractor first approached the selectmen about purchasing the Odd Fellows structure. He wants to renovate the building to use as a combination workshop and office space for his business, which is based in Warner. He said he may convert the top floor to one or two resident apartments and that he hopes to find grant money to preserve the structure’s historic clock tower.

But Burrington is confident that his do-it-yourself approach to save and renovate the Odd Fellows building will succeed where other, more ambitious, proposals have fallen short.

Burrington was not at Thursday’s meeting, but the selectmen said they are expecting him to make a decision about buying the historic building soon. “It’s on him at this time,” Dabuliewicz said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Sutton, N.H., on March 14, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Town elections vs. the Storm of 2017

Latest word from Warner town officials is that the Town Meeting election is still scheduled for tomorrow, Tues,, March 14, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. at town hall, despite the impending storm. The public meeting will take place the next day, Wed., March 15, 7 p.m. at town hall.

But Andover has already rescheduled its meeting and voting. Elections will be held Saturday, March 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The public meeting section will take place on Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. Both will be at the the Andover Elementary/Middle School.

Warner Candidates – election next week!

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – With the news that selectman Allan N. Brown will not seek reelection this year, residents will have choose between two new candidates for a three-year term on the town’s leadership board.

Kimberly Brown Edelmann, who has worked as a reporter for this newspaper, is running against Paul Haganow.

The only other race on the ballot is for two three-year seats on the budget committee. Incumbent John Leavitt is running against Martha I. Bodnarik and David Minton, a local realtor. Bodnarik ran for a seat on the budget group last year.

There are no other contested races on the ballot.

Election Day: Tues., March 14 @ Warner Town Hall, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Town Meeting: Wed. March 15 @ Town Hall, 7 p.m.

Selectman, 3-year (vote for 1) – Kimberly Edelmann, Paul Hagenow

Budget Committee, 3-year (vote for 2) – Martha Bodnarik, John Leavitt, David Minton

Chandler Reservation Committee, 4-year (vote for 1) – Jonathan France

Foster & Currier Funds Almoner, 3-year (vote for 1) – Penny Sue Courser

Foster & Currier Funds Almoner, 1-year (vote for 1) – Jere Henley

Library Trustee, 3-year (vote for 3) – David Bates, Ralph Parsons, Judith Pellettieri

Library Trustee, 1-year (vote for 1) – No declared candidate

Cemetery Trustee, 3-year (vote for 1) – Kenneth W. Cogswell

Trustee of Trust Funds, 3-year (vote for 1) – David Karrick

KRSD School Board, 3-year (vote for 1) – Joseph Mendola, Faith Minton

KRSD Budget Committee, 3-year (vote for 1) – Jonathan Sevigny

KRSD Moderator, 1-year (vote for 1) – Brackett L. Scheffy

This story was first published in the InterTown Record on Feb. 21. Additional information about the upcoming town election and the annual town meeting is available here:

 

 

Warner residents learn about solar array, fire station plans

 

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – About 30 residents gathered at the MainStreet BookEnds store Thursday night (Feb. 23) to hear about two ideas that will be considered by voters at the annual town meeting next month. One is a proposal to build a solar panel array to mitigate the town government’s electrical bill. The other would move forward plans to build a new fire department station on Main Street.

Selectman Clyde Carson, speaking for his board and its energy committee, said that the solar array facility would include 380 panels and be built on an acre of land adjacent to the transfer station off Main Street. (At last year’s town meeting, a similar proposal narrowly missed the two-thirds majority needed for approval.)

Carson noted that the town’s Village Water District, which provides water and sewer service to approximately 200 customers, installed a similarly sized solar facility last year and is already reaping the benefits.

“It powers the wastewater treatment plant and the wells there,” he said of the project. “They use a lot of electricity.”

Now there’s even more reason to seriously consider the solar array option, Carson explained. Under the state’s original 2012 “net metering law,” solar power users who generate more energy than they need can transfer that excess back into the regional power grid, which provides electricity to communities throughout New England. The user gets a check back from the company that can be used as a credit against his electrical bill.

“But in 2013, what made this really attractive is that the state instituted ‘group net metering,’” the selectman said. “That means I can put in a lot of solar panels in one location and I can feed anything excess back into the electrical grid, and use (the value of that power) to pay for other places.

“And there are number of town buildings around the town,” he noted. That means the solar array facility can provide power for the transfer station, and pay for electric power used at the Pillsbury Free Library, the highway department’s facility and the police station, Carson said. (The proposed facility has been sized to provide – or finance – electrical energy for all the town buildings.)

The energy committee worked hard to keep the cost of the new solar project “tax neutral,” Carson added. “It will not increase the tax rate. In fact, we’ll be getting more revenue.”

The project’s $338,530 construction costs will be funded using a low 2-percent interest, 12-year loan from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority, and a $65,000 grant. Projections are that the facility will provide power for the transfer station and about $60,000 in additional revenue the first year it’s operating. (The town’s total annual electric bill is approximately $30,000, Carson said.)

Earlier in the meeting, Anthony Mento, a project manager with Sherr, McCrystal, Palson Architecture, Inc., of Concord, and a Warner resident, reviewed information related to the fire station project. He explained the need for a new facility because the current Main Street building is simply inadequate for a modern department.

“It’s served its purpose but it’s past its useful lifespan now,” he said. “There are lots of requirements that we fail miserably on… It’s not code-compliant, not ADA-accessible, and on and on…” In addition, the building is too small to house necessary equipment, particularly modern trucks and other apparatuses.

Since last year’s town meeting, a committee has been working on moving the building plan forward. Mentos said the group has been working with North Branch Construction of Concord to deal with some of the most important issues including noise pollution, traffic and longevity.

The tentative plan currently call for constructing a facility that would be approximately 11,00-square feet and would include offices and meeting space (for emergency management and training, as well as fire department personnel), a kitchen and a garage space for all the department’s apparatus. The one-story brick building, which would be on a 4-acre parcel at the southern corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road, will look somewhat smaller from the main road because its longest length will run north-south.

Early estimates are that the energy-efficient station will cost approximately $2.5-million or less but this year the selectmen are only asking for $100,000 to be raised in taxes. The money will be used to move engineering and design work forward, with an eye towards presenting a building proposal to voters next year.

Both the solar array project and the building proposal have the support of the budget committee and the selectmen. Voters will consider them at the town meeting on March 14.

Ray Carbone can be reached at raycarbone@yahoo.com

This story first appeared  in the InterTown Record on Feb. 28, 2017.

 

 

 

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