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