Warner budget committee member wants new purchase planning group for town

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – When voters gather for this year’s annual town meeting next month, they’ll be asked to consider a proposal to establish a new Procurement Committee that would evaluate all proposed town expenditures greater than $25,000.

The board of selectmen has decided not to recommend the idea to voters, but Alfred Hanson, who started the petition warrant article, said the new three-member group could assist the selectmen.

‘I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.’

-Alfred Hanson

 

“I’ve lived in this town all my life and I’ve seen the changes, especially in the last five or six years,” he explained. “And this is one of the things I think the town could really gain from… I’ve put a year’s worth of thought into this.”

The new committee would independently review all major proposed town costs looking at bids and any projected financial impact to the town, the petition state. The group would then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the selectmen at a public meeting.

Hanson, who has served on the budget committee for the last nine years, said the goal of the committee would be to provide the town leaders with additional data.

“I think you need as much information as you can possibly get,” he said. “I know that’s the way I run my business. The better you feel about what is taking place, or what’s going to take place, the better off you are. So, what better way than this (idea)?”

Hanson said he’s not interesting in starting a group that will start “micromanaging” town leaders. “I’m not saying the town is making the wrong decisions here and there,” he explained. “I think the board of selectmen and the others, they do their job. I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.

“What I don’t want to see with the government is it growing,” he noted. “We start seeing departments hiring an assistant this or that… Maybe we don’t have to pay for that information. Maybe we can find citizens to study this stuff.”

“I believe that there are some savings being missed,” he added.

At a recent meeting, the selectmen voted unanimously not to recommend Hanson’s article to voters. Jim Bingham, the town administrator, said the three-member board had concerns about how a procurement committee would work and whether it would add a step in the town’s processes that would slow things down, he said.

“And (the members) said that they already have several avenues for public input,” Bingham noted. “For instance, before the board itself (at its regular meetings) or, if there’s any proposed withdrawal from a highway or road construction capital reserve fund, that needs to be preceded by a public input meeting.”

The town meeting will take place is scheduled to take palce on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 9 a.m., in the town hall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. 

 

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Warner budgeters sharpen pencils to reduce fire station bond costs

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders concerned that voters might reject a proposed new fire station because of its costs are making last-minute budget adjustments to lower the price of the bonding project.

Last Tuesday, Alfred Hanson, a member of the budget committee, suggested at his group’s annual public hearing on the proposed 2018 town budget that the $2.8-million price tag could be too high for some residents. He concurred with town officials that the structure is needed but said that town leaders should find a way to lower the bottom line about $300,000, to $2.5-million.

The idea (involves) cutting some department budgets and warrant articles that would earmark money to go into capital reserve funds.

The idea spurred a flurry of ideas and the budget group voted to support Hanson’s idea, reported Kimberly Edelmann, a member of the select board. Before the meeting adjourned, the selectmen decided to schedule an additional meeting of their own for the following Friday, she noted.

Late Friday afternoon, Hanson gathered with the selectmen, some other budget committee members, a few other residents and Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator, at the town hall to address the issue.

Hanson outlined the basics of his idea, which involved cutting some department budgets and warrant articles that would earmark money to go into capital reserve funds. He suggested that a proposal to add $190,000 to a capital reserve fund for future roadwork could be trimmed by $50,000. “I’ve talked to Tim (Allen, the town’s public works director) and he said he’s not going to start that work (on Pumpkin Hill Road) until 2019, and that’s a full year away,” Hanson said.

Selectman Clyde Carson said that he hoped that the fire station bond could be funded without adding to residents’ property tax bills. He suggested that the selectmen could trim the annual operating budget and still keep its cost increase to 2-percent or lower.

Carson noted that the proposed budget included about $20,000 to deal with possible legal fees associated with the long-running gun range proposal; since that issue now appears to be resolved, that line item could be reduced to its more typical annual $1,000 amount. The selectmen’s annual legal expenditure budget could also be reduced, he added.

Brown said that the addition of the town’s new solar energy panels at the transfer station was projected to produce a savings of about $1,700, which could also be available for the fire station project.

With Bingham’s help, the selectmen decided that by using money in the current fire station capital reserve fund, as well as some in the town’s unassigned fund balance, the bond could be set at $2.5-million. They approved the proposed changes to the annual budget, which reduced its bottom line from $3,153,115 to $3,131,033.

The budget committee scheduled its final meeting in advance of the annual town meeting for Monday, Feb. 12, with the selectmen slated to meet the following night, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m. at town hall. The annual town meeting is set for Saturday, March 17, at 9 a.m., at the town hall.

A final public hearing on the fire station bond is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m., Brown reported. She noted that if town meeting voters approve the project, construction could begin as early as April 1, with a tentative completion date of December 1.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

 

Gun range project could land in Concord or another NH town

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Since his efforts to build a retail gun store/indoor shooting range in Warner were defeated last month, resident Eric Miller says he’s heard from numerous local communities that are anxious to see if his new business can be established in their towns.

Speaking by phone from his home here late last week, the owner of Dragonfly Ranges said that he’s seriously considering several potential locations, including two in Concord. “There are two (spaces there), and one is large enough for indoor skeet/trap shooting,” Miller explained. “So, I’m seriously considering doing two ranges. One for skeet/trap shooting and the other the more traditional range,” like the was proposed in Warner, he explained.

The two locations are “within four or five miles of each other,” Miller noted.

‘What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market. It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).’

  • Eric Miller, owner of Dragonfly Ranges

 

Miller said he’s decided against appealing the Warner zoning board of adjustment’s recent decision to deny a variance that would have allowed his $1.4-million firearms facility to be constructed on Warner Road, despite the urgings of his attorney. “My lawyer has said in no uncertain terms that the zoning board violated state law (by rejecting the variance request), and he has written me a very detailed analysis, even though I’ve told him I’m not looking to appeal this,” the business owner said.

“What it comes down to, quite simply, is that if I appeal then the judge would likely send (the case) back to the another zoning hearing,” Miller said. “And since its their (members) intend to violate state law, the only thing I could expect is that they would try to conceal their preconceived opinions and hide their real biases better than they did this go-around… It’s not a good investment of time.”

“What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market,” he said. “It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).”

Planning officials in Concord have assured Miller that there are numerous locations around the city – including some on Main Street – where he would have no problem opening up his retail gun store/shooting range operations. “We’d need no more than a building permit,” he said.

In Warner, Miller was unable to convince the five-member ZBA that his proposal was allowable under the town’s legal definition of a “permitted use” for a zoning variance. During the last year, a significant number of area residents said that they did not feel the facility was a good addition to the community because of concerns about noise, pollution and safety. Last month, the ZBA voted 3-2 to turn aside Dragonfly’s variance request.

Miller said that since the group’s decision, he’s received invitations from officials or private citizens in Hillsboro, Newport, Grantham, Springfield and Hopkinton, as well as City of Concord and his Sutton hometown, offering to discuss the possibility of locating his facility in their towns. Some involved procuring land and constructing a new building, something he’s not interested in at this time. Miller wants to rent space in an industrial-style building to speed his opening, he explained.

The business owner said he hasn’t yet developed any plans for the 2.9-acre Warner property he bought last year in hopes of constructing his facility.

“So far I’ve had three offers (to buy it),” he said. “One of them, of course, being from Norm (Carlson).”

Carlson is the founder and president of MadgeTech, Inc., the high-tech firm located adjacent to Miller’s property. He led the legal fight to defeat the firearms facility proposal, so the Miller admitted to having some reservations about his offer. “I’m not the emotional type but, it (selling to Carlson) certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

 

Sportsmen Club, others, can move forward with Wild Goose appeal

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The fight to develop a public boat launch site for Lake Sunapee on the Wild Goose property is moving forward.

The long-delayed Department of Environmental Services (DES) project suffered a major setback last year when Gov. Chris Sununu urged the executive council to remove it from its list of proposed 2018 projects in favor of finding and developing a new site. He appointed a commission that’s considering other possible locations, including the Sunapee State Beach, while the DES refused to apply for an five-year extension for the project’s wetland construction permit.

But the chairman of the DES’ wetlands council has given new life to supporters of the Wild Goose site. He’s rejected the state’s formal request to dismiss an effort by the Sullivan County Sportsmen and others that would have required the DES to reverse course and apply for the permit extension. The Sportsmen’s group, which includes the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Mountain View Gun Club, and several other nonprofit organizations and individuals, says the DES should have followed its usual protocol by seeking to extend the permit as its done previously since it’s already approved the construction project, rather than acquiescing to Sununu.

The Sportsmen’s group says the DES should have followed its usual protocol by seeking to extend the permit… since it’s already approved the construction project.

 

In a decision handed down January 11, George W. Kimball, chairman of the council, addresses the state’s two main arguments for dismissing the Sportsmen’s appeal.

One is that the organizations don’t have any legal standing in the case because they are neither abutters nor one of the original groups involved in the long-running legal dispute. Kimball wrote that the groups – which include fisherman and others with recreational interest in Sunapee – should be considered as a part of the general public that has a stake in the use of the project, just as the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA) has been allowed a voice in opposing the Wild Goose development.

The second argument states that extending the construction permit does not guarantee that the Wild Goose project will be developed. Kimball wrote that the group is only asking that the construction permit be extended to keep that option open, rather than follow Sununu’s lead. “(They) merely request that the permit be granted the five-year extension, an extension they assert was unlawfully and unreasonably denied,” he writes. “The appeal may be futile as an attempt to construct the project but the (group) states that it might save the state money and time later.”

Whether or not the effort turns out to futile is not a factor in request, he concludes.

The state purchased the 3.3-acre Wild Goose property off Route 103 in 1990 with plans to develop it into a public boat launch that would meet the state’s requirement to provide access to the general public.

But Newbury town official joined with the LSPA and others in opposing the idea, saying the facility would create significant traffic and environmental problems.

Supporters say that the property has already been approved by the DES and that current access is inadequate.

The dispute has faced years of litigation and Sununu said he hoped to move public access issue forward by abandoning a “flawed and controversial idea that has not gone anywhere in 20 years.” The 15-member Lake Sunapee Access Commission that he appointed has been holding a series of public meetings and is planning to make a recommendation next month.

Attorney W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the Sportsmen’s group, said he’s encouraged by the recent decision because the language that Kimball used in his ruling may indicate that he’s favorably disposed to the concerns raised by the Wild Goose supporters.

But he acknowledged that the question is not entirely resolved. Since Kimball’s ruling, he said, the state has filed an appeal of his decision, and Dunn has filed a response to the appeal.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

 

Warner’s legal costs jump due to shooting range dispute; town prepares for annual meeting

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s long-running legal dispute about a proposed indoor retail gun store/shooting range has created a major increase in its legal fees.

Last year town officials budgeted approximately $700 to cover the costs of all legal issues that could be related to its land use boards. However, James Bingham, the town’s administrator, said recently that the municipality spent $20,290 last year on court-related costs, most of it related to the firearms dispute.

In addition Bingham said that the board of selectmen is recommending that another $20,000 be earmarked for legal costs in 2018, which is almost $13,000 more than what the town typically projects for all its legal expenditures. “Because this may not be over,” he said, referring to the gun range issue.

The town administrator said residents should consider whether postponing the (fire station) plan for a year or more would likely result in a significant increase in costs.

About a year ago, Dragonfly Ranges of Sutton presented a plan to the town to construct a $1.4-million facility on Warner Road. The project initially won a variance from the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) that would have allowed the project to move forward, and was then approved by the planning board. But Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., a high-tech firm located next to the proposed site, began a lengthy legal fight with the town over the boards’ actions. Carlson said his 60 employees had safety concerns about being next to the firearms facility, and that the boards had not properly notified several abutters about their hearings.

After months of meetings, as well as a court action filed by Carlson’s companies in Merrimack County Superior Court, the ZBA effectively killed Dragonfly‘s plan by denying the zoning variance earlier this month.

Bingham said that the increase in the land use legal costs is one of several issues that are impacting the proposed 2018 budget. Expected increases for the town’s highway department is also a factor. The department has been able to keep sand and salt costs down following a relatively mild winter last year, he said, but now those stockpiles need to be replenished so the sand/salt budget is projected to jump from approximately $13,000 to $26,000. The selectmen would also like to add $190,000 to a capital reserve fund that will eventually pay for needed repairs to Pumpkin Hill Road sometime in the next few years, Bingham explained.

The entire selectmen’s budget proposal totals $3,150,015, which represents an increase of $82,631 – or, about 2.7-percent – over the 2017 budget. (Actual final expenditures for 2017 were less than that, at $2,865,240.)

In addition to the budget, the selectmen are proposing several warrant articles. The most significant would okay a new fire station on Rte. 103, costing approximately $2,800,000. (Last year, the town purchased the Rte. 103 property that would be used.) Without offering any specific opinion on the project, Bingham said that residents should consider whether postponing the plan for a year or more would likely result in a significant increase in costs.

The budget committee began its official review of the selectmen’s budget and warrant articles recently. It held its official public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the town hall. Voters gather for the 2018 annual town meeting on Saturday, March 17, at 9 a.m. At last year’s town meeting, they approved changing the annual meeting from a weeknight to a Saturday morning.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on January 30, 2018

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