The Warner Wonder: Hero or GOAT?

In honor of the baseball season’s Opening Day, we share a story of ours with local relevance that ran in New Hampshire magazine in the fall…

http://www.nhmagazine.com/October-2017/The-Warner-Wonder/

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Bradford voters nix town hall renovation plans, other proposals

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A plan to spend $1.3-million to continue renovation and restoration of the historic town hall was soundly defeated at the annual town meeting held at the Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last Wednesday, March 14. The bonding proposal needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but it failed to win even a simple majority, 78-99.

Before the vote, Frank J. Barrett of Barrett Architecture of White River Junction, Vt., said that, with the support of the Trumbull Homes construction company of Hanover, restoration plans for the 1863 building are now well-researched and estimated costs are on target. Acknowledging that there have been problems with the project in the past, Barrett said that, working with the town and various state officials, it’s reasonable to assume that the $1.3-million will fund the installation of all mechanical operating systems for the building, as well as complete restoration of both the first floor and the exterior.

The town could start using the first floor when the work was completed, although finishing the second floor work would result in additional costs, he added.

But Michael C. James, a budget committee member who was elected to serve on the board of selectmen the previous day, said that he and other budcom members who served on the town’s Capital Improvement Plan committee didn’t support the bond.

‘It’s a great idea. It’s just the wrong time.’

 – Michael James, budget committee member

Borrowing money for the town hall restoration “doesn’t make sense for the town at this time,” he said, especially when residents are still paying off a previous loan related to the project. “I don’t think it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” James told the voters.

Other residents also questioned the idea, and some even indicated doubts about the estimated costs.

But John Pfeifle, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the numbers were dependable and the town could afford the loan. “It’s just like a mortgage,” he said. “We all have them on our homes.”

In the secret ballot vote, residents rejected the renovation project but they later approved a $170,000 article to “mothball” the town hall building, preserving already-completed work and until it can be completed in the future.

The bond vote was just the first of several instances when voters turned aside the selectmen’s suggestions in favor of ideas presented by James on behalf of the budget committee and/or the CIP group.

For instance, a proposal to put $5,000 into a town building reserve fund was rejected. “It’s just not in the schedule of the CIP,” James said.

Similar articles to add money to a town building repair fund, a highway department fund, a road repair fund, and a bridge repair fund were also defeated after they failed to win the budget committee’s support.

“It’s a great idea,” James said, referring to the latter. “It’s just the wrong time.”

At one point, Pfeifle appeared frustrated with how things were going. “The CIP, they want to spend money where they want,” he told the voters. “The taxes are going up this year, and they haven’t figured that out…

“There are different ways of running a town, and we’re frugal,” he said, referring to the selectboard. “We run a good ship we need to make sure that the ship keeps going in the right direction.”

During the meeting’s opening, Brackett Scheffy, the town moderator, provided a moment of levity when he reported that there was a five-way tie among write-in candidates to serve on the town’s cemetery commission. “I don’t know that any of them wanted to win,” he quipped.

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

Warner firehouse wins overwhelming support

(Warner residents wanted to be comfortable for their first-ever Saturday town meeting.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At one of the most well attended annual town meetings in many years, voters on Saturday gave hearty approval to a plan to build a new $2.7-million fire department stationhouse on Route 103. Because it was a bonding proposal, the plan needed to gain at least two-thirds of the 351 ballots cast. The town hall gathering far exceeded that with more than 83-percent supporting the project. The ballot tally was 293-58.

Town officials have been concerned about the current East Main Street facility for some years due to its small size and inadequacy for a modern department. The town purchased property for the new stationhouse in 2016.

Edward Ordway Jr. said that the tax impact would be too high and that the selectmen should have suggested putting money aside for the project in previous years.

Before the vote, Kimberly Edelmann, the selectman who has worked closely with the fire department on its building plan over the last year, joined with Mike Cutting, chairman of the town’s budget committee, and Ed Raymond, the fire chief, to review the project and its funding.

Raymond talked about the crowded space in the current facility and the possible health issues for firefighters. Edelmann noted that the town was able to purchase a great site on the corner of Split Rock Rd. and West Main Street that could be used. Both Edelmann and Cutting addressed the cost and bonding process.

But some residents still have reservations. Edward Ordway Jr., who lost out in a bid to win a seat on the select board last Tuesday, said that the tax impact would be too high and that the selectmen should have suggested putting money aside for the project in previous years. “This is an aging community,” he told the crowd. “I do support the station and I would support the bonding if it weren’t for the taxes that would hit us.”

Others agreed that the project was relatively expensive but said it was needed nevertheless. “What is your safety worth? That’s the question,” said Richard Senor.

Before the final vote was taken, the article was amended to insure that the interest rate on loans connected to the bond would not exceed 4 percent annually.

During the later budget discussion, one resident asked the town leaders what they intended to do with the current old firehouse after the new one is completed.

“I think it should be sold to a business, put back on the tax rolls,” suggested Edelmann.

Responding to some comments made earlier about growing the town’s tax base, Cutting said that the old structure could be turned over to the town’s economic development committee to see if it could find a suitable business buyer.

In other news, voters rejected a petition article idea to institute a new three-person procurement committee in a voice vote.

They also approved an annual operating budget of approximately $3 million. Cutting said the plan would likely result in a tax rate of $9.60 per thousand dollars of property value. “That’s what I think,” he said, before adding, “but don’t take it to the bank.”

This was the first time that the annual town meeting was held on a Saturday morning. The long tradition of holding it on a weeknight shortly after election day ended when the change was approved by voters at last year’s meeting.

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

 

 

 

At New Hampshire town meetings & polls, residents spring surprises

By Ray Carbone

Despite a snowy week, voters came out to the polls last Tuesday to pick leaders in their local elections. Later, some residents gathered at their annual town meetings to make other important decisions for 2018 and beyond.

NEW LONDON – Residents turned down a plan to buy land where new town buildings could be built in the future, but they had to wait an extra day to find out who won their election for town clerk.

The former proposal, supported by both the board of selectmen and the budget committee, suggested spending up to $500,000 to purchase property where future municipal structures could be constructed; no particular parcel was identified in the warrant article.

The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some New London residents.

The latter involved incumbent town clerk Linda Nicklos and her challenger, William F. Kidder III. At the polls, the pair tied with 270 votes each, so they had to meet the next day for an official coin toss to decide the winner. Nicklos won, but Kidder has asked for a recount of the ballots, which town officials scheduled for Tuesday (March 22). (The recount affirmed Nicklos’s victor, 274-270.)

In other action, town meeting voters rejected the idea of abandoning their quarterly property tax bills in favor of the more common semi-annual schedule, but they pledged to make all municipal facilities 100-percent dependent on renewable sources for electricity by 2030, and 100-percent dependent for heating and transportation fuel by 2050.

SUNAPEE – The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some residents. Warkentien’s name was not on the printed ballot, but the write-in candidate came in with 314 votes, close behind incumbent John Augustine’s 325. Joshua Trow came in first with 500 votes.

Sunapee is an SB2 town, so all town meeting action occurred at the polls last Tuesday.

Voters also turned down several spending ideas including ones to buy voting booths, a highway department pick-up truck, and a fast-response utility-forestry truck for the fire department.

The question of whether to allow Keno gambling (lost in Newbury) in a tie vote, 110-110.

Residents made another change in the fire department, voting to have the selectmen appoint three fire wards to oversee its organizational operations.

A nonbinding article that won approval suggests that town workers and taxpayers share in savings realized from a new employee health insurance program. The Concerned Taxpayers of Sunapee, which originally presented the petition article, went to court recently to alter a wording change instituted at the deliberative town meeting last month, but the judge refused the motion.

In school district action, voters okayed a plan that will require future negotiations between with the district’s unions and the school board be held in public.

NEWBURY – For the third time in recent years, voters turned thumbs down on a proposal to build a new public safety building. The $3.6-million plan, which would have constructed a 9,000-square-foot building for the Newbury Fire & Rescue Department on Route 103, lost out in a tight race. Since a bond was required, the article needed support from at least two-thirds of the 253 town meeting voters, which would have been 168, but the final tally was 152-101.

Things were similarly tight in other town elections.

Less than a dozen votes separated the winner of a seat on the board of selectman, Russell Smith, from his opponent Joanne Lord, 113-103, and less than two dozen was the difference in a race for a cemetery trustee post, with Knowlton “None” Reynders besting William Weiler, 113-91.

Even tighter was a question of whether to allow Keno gambling in Newbury. The proposal lost in a tie vote, 110-110.

SUTTON – Unlike similar proposals in other area towns, a plan to build an addition for the town’s fire department won strong approval at last week’s annual town meeting, 104-20.

At the polls, incumbent town clerk/tax collector Linda Ford lost out to longtime resident Carol Merullo, 127-154. Ford had served in the post for most of the last decade.

Voters okayed an annual budget of $$2.2-million but they rejected the idea of establishing some new capital reserve funds and tabled a proposal to buy a new software package for the town clerk/tax collector’s office.

ANDOVER – One of the biggest surprises of this year’s town meeting season may have been the election of write-in candidate Charles Keyser. He won a seat on the board of selectmen with 168 votes, beating out three candidates listed on the ballot.

In other action, voters approved transferring the deed of the East Andover Fire Station to the Andover Fire Department and accepted the title of the town office building. But they rejected the idea of spending $100,000 to buy two lots on Overlook Avenue, as well as putting aside $10,000 for a contingency fund.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, March 22. (The print version contained an error, which is corrected here.)

 

Court rejects request to restore warrant article’s original wording

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – A late decision announced in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Friday will allow voters to consider a warrant article at the voting booth today just as it was changed at the annual deliberative town meeting on Feb. 6.
In the ruling handed down by Judge Brian T. Tucker, the court dismissed town officials’ claims that the Concerned Taxpayers of Sunapee organization didn’t have a legal right to question the language change, but decided that the group’s request to halt voting on the altered measure was inappropriate.

The alteration didn’t change the “textual subject matter” of the article because it kept the focus on costs of a new health insurance plan for town employees, Tucker wrote.

(Selectman John) Augustine argued that taxpayers have to fund an escrow account of approximately $65,000 to cover the cost of employees’ deductible…

The issue is related a recent decision by the board of selectmen to change the health insurance plan from a “Cadillac” program to a high-deductible “site-of-service” plan. Officials said that the program would save the town $70,000 this year but, for the first year only, the town would pay 100-percent of all employees’ premiums.

John Augustine, a board member, joined with others in the community in objecting to the idea. They offered a petition warrant article that suggested that town employees “contribute more than zero percent towards the cost of their monthly health insurance premium.” (Augustine also argued that since taxpayers would have to fund an escrow account of approximately $65,000 to cover the cost of one-half of each employees’ deductible, there would be very little tax savings.)

Then at the deliberative town meeting, the majority of people approved a change in the article’s wording. “Since the town employees this year are being offered a high deductible health insurance plan at a lesser cost to the employee and the taxpayer, shall both share in that savings,” asked the altered article.

The Concerned Taxpayers organization wanted the superior court to overturn the meeting’s decision, and restore the original language because state regulations do not allow an article to have its “textual subject matter” changed.

“The original petition warrant article was focused on ‘cost,’ whereas the amended article is focused on ‘savings,” Augustine explained.

But in his ruling handed down last week, Judge Tucker wrote that while the new language does not alter the “textual subject matter” because it keeps the focus on the town’s health insurance plan and its “less(er) cost to employees.”

Later on Friday, Augustine said that the Concerned Taxpayer group has no plans to appeal the judge’s decision because its intent was “never to win a court case,” but rather to make residents aware of the new insurance program pricing plan, which it thought unfairly burdened property owners.

Interestingly, the warrant article, however it was written, has no bearing on this year’s insurance program. The selectmen’s decision to switch to a site-of-service plan has already been instituted for 2018, so the question is intended to be merely advisory as the board moves forward considering insurance plan in the future.

Voters will have final say on the article at the polls on Election Day.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on March 13, 2018.

New fire station proposed for Newbury

For more detailed information about the proposal, read: http://www.newburyfd.org

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – For the second time in the last three years, voters who gather for the annual town meeting next week will consider a proposal to build a new public safety building.

The Newbury Fire & Rescue Department wants residents to approve a plan that will allow the construction of a 9,000-square-foot building on the town-owned Bald Sunapee property off Route 103. Because the $3.6-million project requires bonding, a secret ballot will be used and a two-thirds majority is needed for approval.

The town originally purchased the Bald Sunapee site in 2007 with the goal of eventually developing both a police and a fire department building on it.

 

Fire Chief Henry Thomas said that the department needs the new stationhouse because the current wood-framed Safety Service Building, which it shares with the police department, is inadequate. It allows the firefighters only 4,100-square feet of space and doesn’t meet current safety codes.

For instance, Thomas pointed out that the limited space means that some firefighters’ gear is stored too close to the trucks, which presents a safety concern. Without adequate ventilation and a modern air filtration system, the health of the crews can be significantly impacted.

“The trucks physically blows diesel fuel on the (storage) racks, and that’s known to cause cancer,” Thomas said. “Lots of firefighters die from cancer. I’ve had a death in my fire department, and we’ve had skin cancer, throat cancer issues… While you can’t say definitely that they were caused by (those issues), you can’t rule it out.”

Town officials say that the current building also lacks door and ‘head’ room space for contemporary trucks, requires dangerous maneuvering of vehicles onto Route 103, and forces safety apparatus to be “stacked” in a certain way, which can delay important emergency response time.

The town originally purchased the Bald Sunapee site in 2007 with the goal of eventually developing both a police and a fire department building on it, according to Thomas.

A committee developed a tentative development plan that year, but no formal proposal was presented to voters until 2016. At that time, a bonding proposal to build one $4-million-plus structure for both departments was rejected by voters, the chief said.

The new proposal will only be for the fire department, but it will also serve as emergency services headquarters and the facility will include a community pumping system that can service the village area. In addition, the current building is still structurally sound so the town can use it for other purposes, including offices.

The annual meeting is scheduled for Wed., March 14, 7 p.m., at the Mount Sunapee Spruce Lodge’s second floor.

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

 

 

 

 

Sunapee selectman wants court to restore his petition article language; hearing scheduled this week, voting next week

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – A court hearing scheduled for Thursday could have a significantly impact the ballot that town voters see at the polls next Tuesday, March 13.

A Sullivan County Superior Court judge is set to listen to a request from John Augustine, a selectman, and other residents, identified as “Concerned Citizens of Sunapee,” to reverse a change in the language of a petitioned warrant article that was approved last month at the town’s annual deliberative town meeting on Feb. 16. Augustine claims that the article, which he initiated, was altered in a way that muddied its original intent.

John Augustine decided to initiated the petition warrant article that would let town voters consider the question when they go to polls on election day.

\The town of Sunapee “acted unlawfully in disregarding (the petition’s) language,” according to the court action, because state law requires that “no warrant article shall be amended to eliminate the subject matter of the article.”

The issue is related to a decision made by the Board of Selectmen to change the insurance system that the town uses for its employees. According to Donna Nashawaty, the town manager who proposed the new plan, the idea was to terminate a so-called “Cadillac” plan to a high-deductible “site-of-service” plan. Nashawaty said the change could save the town $70,000 this year but, as a way to smooth the transition for its employees, the selectmen agreed to pay 100-percent of its premiums for this year.

Augustine was reportedly only person on the five-member board of selectmen to oppose the idea. “I thought it was unfair (for the taxpayers),” he said.

After he was unable to convince his fellow selectmen, Augustine decided to initiated the petition warrant article that would let town voters consider the question when they go to polls on election day. Augustine collected enough signatures to have the petitioned warrant article on the deliberative session ballot: “Should the town employees contribute more than zero percent towards the cost of their monthly health insurance premium?”

(As an “SB-2” community, Sunapee held its annual “deliberative” town meeting last month, where warrant articles were discussed and, if approved by the majority, altered; voters give final approval or disapproval on election day.)

At the deliberative session, former school board member Shaun Carroll proposed changing the language of Augustine’s article: “Since the town employees this year are being offered a high deductible health insurance plan at a lesser cost to the employee and the taxpayer, shall both share in that savings?”

Voters at the meeting approved the change, but Augustine believes that the town representatives made an egregious mistake. “While New Hampshire election law allows for a petitioned warrant article to be amended, the amended language cannot change the subject matter and the intent of the original petition warrant article,” he said. “The original petition warrant article was focused on ‘cost,’ whereas the amended article is focused on ‘savings.’”

“The amended warrant article entirely eliminated the subject matter of the original warrant article,” according to his legal action. “The subject matter of the amended warrant article deals exclusively with whether town employees should share in the savings, if any, derived from moving to a different health insurance plan. (It) eliminated the subject of whether the taxpayers consented to bear the tax burden for the employees or whether they voted to (support) a cost-sharing arrangement… The (town) acted unlawfully in disregarding the petitioners language seeking to require the town employees to share in the cost of their health care insurance premiums, as specifically stated in the petitioned warrant article.”

Augustine wants the court to order the town to restore his original petition warrant article wording prior to next Tuesday’s voting.

Last week, Augustine said that he’s not sure how voters will respond to his question but he wants to allow them the opportunity to provide some input for the selectmen to consider.

“This would let the voters voice their opinion,” he said. “And if their opinion is that they thought the employees should pay something, then change it for 2019. But we don’t want to get stuck for 100-percent of the costs when it’s a reasonable expectation that those costs will go up year after year.”

Both Augustine and Nashawaty agree that the 2018 health insurance plan cannot be changed at this time, and that the petition warrant article (whatever its language) is not binding on the selectmen but is only advisory.

In addition, Nashawaty said that the selectmen have not indicated that they intend to keep the town’s contribution to the employees health insurance cost at 100-percent in the future.

The court hearing is schedule for Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the Sullivan County Superior Courthouse in Newport.

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

 

 

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