Wage study spurs war of words in Warner

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A long-delayed wage study commissioned by the board of selectmen is at the center of a dispute between the board and its administrator, Jim Bingham, on one side and several residents, including some members of the budget committee, on the other.

In recent weeks, the disagreement had led to several developments. Mike Cutting, chairman of the budget group, has discussed the idea of submitting a warrant article at the annual town meeting that would restrict the selectmen from taking certain wage-related actions in the future; Bingham, the town administrator, has told the budget committee that he will no longer attend its meetings; and John Dabuliewicz, the selectman’s representative to the budget group, has said that’s he’s not seeking reelection, partly as a result of criticism he’s received related to his board’s work on the wage study.

Related: Town mulls town raises, fire safety measures

“Are we (selectmen) perfect and have we always been open,” Dabuliewicz asked rhetorically, according to the unapproved minutes of the Dec. 27 budget meeting. “No, we haven’t… But we’ve done the best we can and we are trying to do the best we can, and I resent the fact that people only talk about you when they have criticism… And that’s one of the big reasons I’m not running again.”

At the most recent budget committee meeting in town hall last Thursday, Jan. 3, Cutting read aloud an email message from Bingham sent earlier in the day.

“After much thought, reading the minutes and listening to the recording of the (Dec. 27) meeting, I feel that a reassessment of how these meetings are conducted needs to be made immediately,” Bingham wrote. “The culture of the proceedings must change towards one of civility, respect and orderly discussion. As I have no assurance that the hostile tone of the last meeting will not continue (at the Jan. 3 meeting), I have decided not to attend tonight’s meeting.

Police chief Billy Chandler said he was told that no (wage) decisions would be made until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

“The dynamics of the budget committee meetings are too unruly and the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” he added. “This is a problem that has been quietly yet resentfully endured for a number of years, but for me, no longer.”

In many New Hampshire towns, the budget committee plays an important role. The members serve as a final financial “check-point” in the annual budget crafting process, reviewing the selectmen’s proposed budget. But because budget committee members are usually not as ingrained into the town’s day-to-day workings, their meetings tend to be less structured and more casual than those of other town boards.

The selectmen and Bingham say that the Warner group’s meetings have sometimes crossed the line into disrespectful behavior.

The selectmen originally commissioned the wage/compensation study from Thorton & Associates, a human resource consulting firm based in Maine, in 2017. Its goals were to clarify town job descriptions and compensations packages, as well as to evaluate the wage structures as compared to other local communities.

The selectmen began evaluating the consultant’s report in early 2018, according to Dabuliewicz’s comments at the Dec. 27 meeting, and the three-member board is still working through the final details of job descriptions. Because the project took longer than anticipated, the selectmen recently approved pay raises for several town employees based on the new plan, which took effect in December.

At the Dec. 27 budget meeting, some committee members and several other residents criticized the December raises, saying that selectmen shouldn’t have okayed the pay increases.

“The precedent (in Warner) is that anything that is going to be a long-term major expenditure goes before the town (at the annual meeting), and this did not go before the town,” said Martha Bodnarik, a member of the committee, according to the minutes. “This is an every-year increase because you have put in in (the budget annually).”

At last week’s meeting, Cutting suggested that a citizens’ warrant article could be drafted for consideration at the March town meeting that would require all future salary increases be included in the annual operating budget, and “not be paid until (the budget) is adopted by the town meeting.”

At the Dec. 27 meeting, some residents also criticized the wage study’s methodology, which they claimed didn’t provide enough input from department heads, placed too much emphasis on comparisons to other towns, and was needlessly motivated by fears about employee retention.

John Leavitt and Alfred Hanson were particularly harsh, asserting that the process of evaluating and implementing the new wage plan wasn’t sufficiently open to the public.

Bill Chandler, the town’s police chief, admitted that he was “a little disappointed” in how the process worked. According to the minutes, Chandler said he’d was told that no decisions would be made on his department’s wages until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

Leavitt said that he and others have requested sometimes information from Bingham’s office about the selectmen’s work on the wage package but haven’t received much response. “There are many situations where no data is supplied from the town,” he said.

The comment seemed to put the finger at Bingham, who was frequently the target of the criticism about the study, according to Kimberley Brown, chairman of the selectmen.

Late last week, Brown said that the meeting minutes on the town website do not accurately convey the unkind tone of some remarks aimed at the town administrator.

“It was pretty horrible, the way he was treated,” she said. “It was brutal.”

Brown added that, regardless of what’s been said, she has confidence in Bingham’s integrity and abilities.

She also said she understands his decision to not attend future budget committee meetings, if he’s treated disrespectfully. “I don’t see why he should go,” she concluded.

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

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Public trust is central to new Sunapee access legal appeal

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – A group of sports enthusiasts’ organizations and interested private citizens have filed a new appeal to the state’s decision to deny a wetlands building permit that would have allowed the construction of a public boat access facility on Lake Sunapee.

In papers submitted to the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Oct. 10, William Howard Dunn, the attorney representing the groups, reaches back to the English common law that is the basis for the American judicial system and even ancient Roman law.

Those systems support the idea that some properties – like New Hampshire’s lakes – are held in a “pubic trust” by the state government. “(As) stewards of public waters, the state safeguards the right to use and enjoy public waters,” he quotes from a previous case; Dunn also notes state statues that direct the state to “control the use of public waters and the adjacent shoreline for the greatest public benefit.”

The attorney quotes from a 60-year-old Gilmanton lawsuit… and from  a California case that found that members of the public ‘have standing to sue to protect the public trust.’

The issue of public access to Sunapee has been debated for more than 20 years. For some time, the state ‘s department of environmental services (DES) and its fish and game departments sought to build a facility to comply with the legal mandate that reasonable access be available to everyone. In 1990 the state purchased the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury and developed plans to construct a facility there.

But legal challenges from both the town and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association delayed the project for years. The opponents say there is sufficient public access to the lake (although not a state-owned/operated facility), and that dangerous traffic problems on Rte. 103 would result from using the Wild Goose land.

After years of administrative, legislative and court-related wrangling, it looked like the Wild Goose site would be developed. Then Gov. Chris Sununu announced last year that he was pulling the plug on the project because it had lingered unfinished for so long, causing widespread discord in the community. The move was opposed by the NH fish and game department but, not long afterwards, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) denied a request from fish and game official to extend it wetlands building permit for the site; for years, the five-year building allowance had been approved several times previously.

The local sport organizations (including the Sullivan County Sportsmen, the NH Bass Federation and the Mountain View Gun Club) joined with Gary Clark, author of The New Hampshire Fishing Guide, and others asking the DES to reconsider its ruling. But an officer with the DES’s wetlands board dismissed their appeal, stating that the groups lacked legal standing to question the decision.

Last August, Dunn filed the sports groups’ initial request, asking the court to overturn the state’s actions and force it to move ahead with building a public access facility on the Wild Goose land. At that time, he argued principally that the state had acted incorrectly and in opposition to its own legal responsibilities, bowing to political pressure.

In his latest filing, Dunn focuses more on the state’s actions based on long-standing legal precedents, as well as its own laws and regulations.

“By law, the nature of these things (that) are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea” are part of the public trust, he writes, quoting from a lawsuit filed by the National Audubon Society in California in 1983.

“This rule, that such land are held by the state in trust for the public at large applies to all states, as it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Dunn adds. “New Hampshire came to hold the public trust in its waters and shoreline when it joined the union” (in 1776).

The attorney also quotes from a 60-year-old lawsuit filed in Gilmanton to illustrate that New Hampshire courts have recognized that common law rights are applicable to “private individuals.” The California case also found that members of the public “have standing to sue to protect the public trust.”

“The denial of the (wetlands building) extension is a breach of trust by the public trust,” Dunn concludes. “By refusing to grant the wetlands permit, the (state) has violated its own duty under, not just under (state) law but also under common law under the public trust doctrine.”

The legal filing asks the court to order the DES to grant the fish and game’s wetlands building permit extension to August 28, 2022, and to allow the sportsmen organizations to continue to be considered in future actions under the “public trust” doctrine.

In response, DES’s legal team did not object to the new filing, but it argued that the case had already been decided. In addition, the group said that it would appeal the court’s decision if the ruling goes against the agency.

At this time, there’s no indication when the court will issue its final ruling.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

 

 

Sutton fire department addition delayed

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Plans to build an $800,000 addition to the town’s North Road fire station have been put on hold, according to Cory Cochran, chief of the fire department.

Late last week, Cochran said that the board of selectmen has directed the fire department building committee to reach out to an architectural engineering firm to rework the group’s original specifications.

“We put them out for bids (from construction companies) in the spring, and ended up with three proposals,” the chief explained. “We noticed that our bid specs didn’t work, they weren’t detailed enough.”

Proposed construction costs ranged from $1.4-million to $700,000. “We rejected them because of inconsistencies, so it’s back to the drawing table,” the chief said.

During the summer, the selectmen decided to get an architectural-engineering firm involved, Cochran reported. The chief later held a building site visit with Kelly Gale of KLG Architecture of Webster to discuss reworking the architectural/engineering plans.

 Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department, 

 

The status of the project was scheduled to be addressed at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, September 10. Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department,

One town official said it was likely that the addition project, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters at this year’s annual town meeting in March, will likely reappear on the 2019 town meeting warrant.

In public meetings leading up to this year’s meeting, Chief Cochran noted that the town has been considering an addition since 2006. The original building was erected in 1974 and has had limited improvements since that.

Right now, the building doesn’t comply with National Fire Protection Association Standards and doesn’t meet the department’s needs, Cochrane said.

The proposed 30-by-45 square-foot single story addition, which would be constructed on the Route 114 side of the building, would provide needed office space, room for gear storage, an equipment storage bay, an updated kitchen and updated restrooms, the chief explained last week.

“There will be a larger meeting-training room because we’ve outgrown the meeting room that we have now,” he said. “And the bathroom will be with showers, so they’re be more locker-room style.”

The new space will also provide sufficient room for the emergency operations center, according to the chief.

Cochrane said he hopes to have a clearer idea about how to move forward with the addition project some time this month.

This story originally appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, September 11, 2018.

Lawsuit against Bradford, employees could take some time

PHOTO: The former Candlelight Inn in Bradford village has reopened as the Bradford Village Inn, but it cannot operate legally as a lodging establishment until a lawsuit filed by the owner against the town is resolved. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A local innkeeper’s lawsuit against the town and two local officials may not be resolved for more than a year, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.

In March, Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility after he purchased in August 2014. Court papers filed in July indicate that a jury trial would likely last about three or four days’ but a tentative start date is still about one year away, on August 20, 1019.

In separate documents, both (employees) deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

Earlier this month, Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, asked the two sides to consider mediation to resolve their dispute. “By April 1, 2019, the parties shall inform the court whether they intend to mediate,” she wrote.

Rick Lehmann, the attorney representing Torro, said he’s preparing for a trial by jury but he’s open to discussions with lawyers representing the other sides. “If they want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said.

Torro claims that Goldberg and Gordon, who were romantically involved, used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the selectmen to withhold property tax abatements and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. He’s asking for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages.

In court paperwork filed earlier this summer, the attorneys representing the town and the two employees disputed the innkeeper’s claims.

In separate documents, both Goldberg and Gordon deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

“(Goldberg) denies that he attempted to destroy (Torro’s) business prospect,” the fire chief’s document reads. “(Goldberg) notes that he never ran the Candlelight Inn (the former name of the property),” as charged by the current property owner.

In her court response, Gordon refutes Torro’s claim that she had to sell the Candlelight Inn because she was not a successful business owner, and that she and Goldberg wanted Torro to also fail in the hopes of her eventually regaining the property.

In the town’s court paperwork, officials deny that their employees treated Torro differently than other property owners regarding his request for a fire permit and tax abatements. “The abatement application could not be granted for the 2014 tax year because the application was filed too late,” the town attorneys claim. “An abatement could not be granted (for the 2015 tax year) because the application was submitted too early.”

The town’s legal response also questions Torro’s arguments regarding the reasons for any alleged unfair treatment by Goldberg and Gordon. “While the town notes that it lacks information regarding the alleged subjective motivation of Goldberg and Gordon describe, it disputes the characterization of their actions as well was (Torro’s) allegation that there was a conspiracy, discrimination and/or abuse of government power and influence.”

This story first ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 28, 2018.

Water use limited in Warner village area

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The state’s current drought conditions have led the Warner Village Water District to institute a temporary ban on outdoor water usage, including watering lawns and washing cars.

On June 25, the water commissioners voted to take the precautionary measure, asking customers to restrict their outdoor usage during daytime hours until further notice (likely at the end of summer).

We have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing. We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day… A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,000 or more pretty quick.’

Ray Martin, admin. asst. for WVWD

“July and August are typically our worst months,” said Ray Martin, administrative assistant for the district.

The commission imposed a $25 fine for first-time violations and $50 for each subsequent violation but, based on past occurrences, Martin doesn’t foresee any enforcement problems. “Compliance will be very high, probably 99-percent,” he predicted.

The district, which is a separate legal municipality from the town, supplies water and sewer services to approximately 185 residences and 30 commercial enterprises. Its service area covers a radius of about a one-half to one-mile from the village center. The three-person elected commission manages is the district.

The commission’s recent decision to restrict water use is based on two factors, according to the website notice.

One is the state’s prolonged drought conditions, which have impacted the productivity of the district’s two wells that draw on the Warner River aquifer. (Officially, central New Hampshire is listed as being under moderate drought conditions.)

The second is that the district’s older well is experiencing a drop in productivity, Martin explained.

The commissioners’ statement says the board is looking at long-term solutions to the problems, including siting a new back-up well and installing more sophisticated well management controls, but the current budget can’t fund such improvements.

Martin said the new restrictions should allow the district to manage this summer, but the commission is prepared if the drought worsens. “Right now, if we have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing,” he explained. “We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day so just add that up. A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,00 or more pretty quick… Years ago, we had to truck in water.”

At around the same time that the Warner commissioners announced their decision, the Portsmouth Water Division asked its city’s residents to voluntarily cut back on their outdoor water use.

Martin said he’s aware of at least one other community that has already or is considering similar measures.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 10.

NOTE: Shortly after this story was published, the New London-Springfield Water System Precinct announced that, effective immediately, there is a mandatory water ban on all residential outside irrigation between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Lake Sunapee access will be focus of hearing in Concord this week

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The NH Office of Strategic Initiatives’ (OSI) Council on Resources and Development (CORD; part of OSI’s energy planning division) is scheduled to hold a public hearing this Thursday addressing the long-debated issue of public access to Lake Sunapee.

The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item.

The council will be discussing the recent report of the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission issued in the spring. The 15-member commission, which was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, recommended that the state abandon its original plans to build a mandated deep-water state-owned and managed public boat launch at the former Wild Goose campground area in Newbury. The report suggests that the 3-acre property be considered for other recreational uses, but made no specific recommendation about an alternative site for the boat launch.

CORD, which consists of representatives from 12 state agencies, was formed to provide a forum for interagency cooperation regarding environmental, natural resources and growth management issues and policies. The group is required to adhere to the state’s Smart Growth Policy, outlined in the 2016 Smart Growth Report.

Thursday’s hearing will be the first since the commission wrapped up its work several months ago. The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item; anyone wishing to present written comment must notify the OSI by emailing Michael A. Klass (michael.klass@osi.nh.gov) OSI’s principal planner, on or before Wednesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m.

Klass, who joined the state agency in November, has worked as an private attorney dealing with land use, real estate development, property disputes and related litigation.

The meeting will take place in the NH Department of Revenue Administration’s training room at 109 Pleasant Street (Medical & Surgical Building) in Concord, Thursday at 1 p.m. The building is handicap accessible and, for security reasons, everyone attending must sign in and show a valid photo I.D. Driving directions are available at https://www.revenue.nh.gov/contact-us/documents/campus-map.pdf

More information about the hearing is available at https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/programs/cord/index.htm, and questions can be addressed to Klass at 271-6651 or Micheel.klass@ois.nh.gov

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Local town administrators looking for ways to cut costs, expand services

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.

“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”

The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.

“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.

For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.

“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”

If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.

The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.

“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”

The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.

To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.

When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.

Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.

Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.

But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.

“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

 

Warner group looking at ways town can grow

Photo: The view from the front porch at Schoodacs Coffee & Tea on Main Street in Warner can inspire hope for the town’s business growth. (Courtesy of Schoodacs)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Things can be tough economically for small New England towns these days.

Municipal costs of both materials and employment regularly increase while property owners consistently complain about rising property tax rates.

But Charlie Albano, chairman of the town’s economic development advisory committee, says his hometown has an advantage over other communities.

“We have a Main Street,” he smiled, looking out onto the street from Schoodacs Coffees & Teas’s front porch one hot day last week. “It’s small and vibrant. And lots of small towns don’t have that, do they?”

The committee is also updating the town website to emphasize economic development and tourism, and working on a new visitor brochure aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Albano and his ten-member group, which was appointed by the board of selectmen two years ago, hope to build on that strength and other positive community attributes to spur economic growth, make the town more enjoyable, and temper the tax rate.

Albano says that a large part of the committee’s job is simply educating citizens about the advantages and ideas behind economic growth for Warner.

For instance, some have suggested that attracting a large business into the town would significantly lower their tax bills. “What do you think it would do if we brought in a big business that added a million dollars in tax revenue a year for the town of Warner,” Albano asked rhetorically.

“It would drop the property tax rate by about two-cents per thousands (dollar of property value,)” he reported, which is much less than what most people would expect.

Warner could benefit from some kind of bigger facility, the chairman explained, but it should be one that meets locally articulated needs, is environmentally responsible, fits the town’s aesthetics, and provides new tax revenue.

Those are the goals listed in the town’s master plan and the standards the committee is using, he said.

The group has just finished working a survey that will allow residents to identify how they would like to see Warner grow. It’s also involved with a redesign of the town website that will emphasize economic development and tourism, and its planning to distribute a new town-themed visitor brochure this fall aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Previous surveys have helped, he noted. In the past, residents have used them to indicate their desire for increased dining options in town and a local pharmacy. Now, the popular eatery called The Local is celebrating its fifth anniversary and the nearby Warner Pharmacy is only about two yeas older. In addition, the new Warner Public Market on Main Street, scheduled to open this summer, will feature locally sourced goods, providing more healthy food options, the chairman noted.

The committee’s new survey, which should be available in print and online within the next few weeks, might indicate that residents want a local dental office and/or more daycare options. “So, maybe we (town officials) should go seek a dentist,” Albano suggested.

Warner has an uncommonly large percentage of home-based businesses and some of those owners could benefit from access to economic development support, the chairman said. “We could look at creating a business incubator where a small business could learn how to grow and expand, how to do a business plan, modern marketing techniques, and more.

“Or, If a business wanted to expand or come to Warner, can we create and institute a new or existing tax incentive program,” he asked rhetorically.

Albano also suggests that Warner could benefit from an increased emphasis on tourism. While the town is known for its local museums, visitors may also be interested in more than 15 other businesses and activities in the community. “Tourism dollars circulate throughout a community,” he noted, without adding significantly to the cost of town services.

While the economic development committee is looking forward to reviewing residents’ input from its survey results this fall, it has already identified some tentative goals.

One is to develop a plan to permanently staff the parks and recreation department to increase awareness of local recreational opportunities. Another is to improve walkability in Warner with improved signage and street/trail development. The committee also hopes to raise the profile of agritourism in town.

Right now, the group is continuing to seek input from local residents and businesses. It meets the third Wednesday of every month and the meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20, from 6-8 p.m., in the town hall. (The meetings may soon be moving to a larger venue in the future so check the town website, http://www.warner.nh.us)

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

 

 

 

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