Warner mulling costs of employee pay increases and fire safety measures

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders are looking at two significant financial items as they prepare for the annual town meeting coming up in March.

According to Jim Bingham, town administrator, the board of selectman will be presenting voters with a long-delayed increases in town employee salaries, and the cost of installing new fire suppression systems in some municipal buildings.

The fire suppression system is the most expensive item. Bingham said recently that he was still researching how much it will cost to complete the safety requirements for the town hall, the public works garage and the transfer station.

Related: Warner wage study ignites war of words

The three-member board is particularly concerned about the public works garage, especially after fires at similar facilities in Henniker and Hopkinton caused major damage in those nearby towns. In at least one of those instances, virtually all the town’s valuable equipment stored in the structure was destroyed, Bingham noted.

In addition, because the public works facility and the transfer stations are located outside the village, they are not on the local municipal water system. “So we have to construct a holding tank, a cistern, there” the administrator said. “That could cost well over $200,000, maybe close to $1 million.”

The selectmen are reviewing those costs, as well as approximately $60,000 that would pay for fire suppression in the town hall, Bingham said.

The salary increases  would total about $50,000 but Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

The pending salary increases are related to a wage and compensation study that an outside consultant completed for the board last year. The members have been reviewing and considering the consultant’s recommendations for some months now, Bingham said, and has decided to move forward with several actions, including changing to a new system of employee steps and grades that are linked to years of service to the town as well as job-related education and training.

“This is not the first time that the town of Warner has done this,” Bingham said. “This is actually the third time we’ve had salary adjustments. The first was in the early 2000s, then we did another in 2009. And, now in 2018. So it seems like every seven to eight years we have to look at our salary structure and our job descriptions, and update them to keep them within the (local) market range.”

The town employs 28 full and part-time employees so when the current compensation package is compared to the newly approved one, the overall salary increases for the year would total about $50,000. But Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

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Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

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

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