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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Tiny house developer will start looking elsewhere

Photo: Joe Mendola of Warner, who hoped to build the state’s first tiny house development in his hometown, is already building a 650-square-foot “tiny mansion” on Poverty Plain Road, pictured here. Unlike most “tiny houses,” it’s built on a traditional concrete foundation.

WARNER – At a town hall meeting last week, the five-member zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) turned down a request for a zoning variance that would have allowed a local resident and realtor to build the state’s first tiny house park on Schoodac Road.

In a 4-1 vote, the board rejected a request from Joe Mendola to utilize a cluster zone plan for his proposed 13-pad development on 15 acres of land near exit 8 off Interstate 89. Janice Loz, the ZBA’s chairman, said that grouping the small, mobile residences closer together than what was allowable under current regulations was “contrary to the public interests.”

“I was very disappointed because the whole issue is that that land is difficult to develop,” Mendola said after the meeting. “Doing it in a traditional grid system is going to be very, very expensive. (A cluster plan) would have lower environmental impact because it would not carve up the whole lot, so there would be more open space which would be keeping with the rural nature of the (building) zone.”

In previous discussions with the board, Mendola had indicated that he would move forward with the project even without the ZBA variance, but a few days after the ZBA’s decision, he said that he’s begun looking elsewhere.

“That (grid zoning) would just price us out of our market,” he remarked. “I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work. In Warner, it’s very difficult to find. But I’m also pursuing things in other towns.” Mendola has indicted in the past that local zoning rules could be favorable for his project in Henniker and Goffstown.

It was apparent from the beginning that Mendola was going to have trouble with the zoning regulations for his tiny house proposal. Like every other municipality in the state, Warner does not have specific ordinances regarding the new small residences, which are typically less than 300-square-feet and built on movable trailers. So, the developer chose to present his project under the town’s mobile home park rules; that meant that the structures would be at least 320-square-feet and be constructed on mobile trailers according to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements.

The zoning board was still hesitant about the idea, and asked at several recent meetings if Mendola would consider changing the name of the proposed development from “tiny house” to “manufactured homes.” He refused, maintaining that if the structures met the zoning requirements, the board should give its approval.

‘I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work.’…  Mendola has indicted that local zoning rules could be favorable in Henniker and Goffstown.

At last week’s meeting, the ZBA members again expressed their concerns.

Barbara Marty said that she was hesitant to approve the variance because the application referred to the project as a “tiny home” park. “It’s as if we’re sanctioning this wording,” she said, adding that ruling on regulations about tiny houses was not the ZBA’s jurisdiction. “California has a five-page definition of what a tiny house is,” she said. “At some point, the state of New Hampshire will have to define what a tiny house is.”

“We’re in uncharted territory here, we all know that,” agreed Howard Kirchner, the ZBA’s vice-chairman.

The final vote focused on how close the small residences would be in a cluster zone plan. Marty said that some manufactured home residents enjoy the extra distance they’d have under current regulations.

But Kirchner, the only board member to vote in favor of the variance, said the issue was not significant enough to refuse the altered zoning request.

“Nobody is putting a gun to their heads, saying you have to live here,” he said, referring to prospective tenants.

After the meeting, Mendola said the board erred by making a value judgment based on their own ideas, rather than the project’s target market. Millennials, who favor tiny house, like their low cost, environmentally-friendly design and mobility – and typically seek a sense of community as part of their lifestyle, he added.

But the realtor is still hopeful about building the state’s first tiny house development. “We’re going to get it done,” he concluded.

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

 

 

Bradford working to ‘button-up’ old Town Hall

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – In the two months since town meeting voters rejected a proposal to spend $1.3 million to continue renovation and restoration work at the old Town Hall, the selectmen have been working to “button up” the project for at least five years, according to Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the select board.

It’s not what Bibbo wanted, he admitted last week, but he and his fellow board members are complying with the town’s decisions, which includes spending $170,000 to secure and protect the property for the foreseeable future.

The original estimate was less than $1 million but it’s now closer to $3 million.

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Bibbo said. “It’s what the town wants.”

In recent weeks, the board has discussed several ways to move the “buttoning-up” process forward, including adding granite to the historic building’s foundation as well as providing both a heating and a fire alarm system.

Bibbo said the selectmen have estimates for both a furnace and the alarm system, but recently opted to put the projects out for new bids.

“The board felt it could be done cheaper,” he explained, especially after one business unofficially indicated that it would do some work at a much lower price. “We were going to be short a couple of thousand in the budget, so we felt we’d look to see if it could be done cheaper.

“We have time to bid it out, and if the bids come back and they’re not cheaper we can always still go back to the (original) contractors,” he commented.

The board has about five weeks before work begins on the heating and fire alarm systems because the granite foundation project is an “expensive, long process,” Bibbo explained. The new stone will be attached directly to the building’s concrete foundation, which will both add to the structure’s stability and restore some its original historic look.

“It will actually sit on the granite, it’s not just for looks,” Bibbo said.

The on-site cutting is already underway, but it will be more than a month before the local masonry work can be completed, the chairman noted.

“Then they’ll do all the rest of the stuff,” Bibbo said.

At the board’s May 14 meeting, the three-member board publically thanked the local Rural Heritage Connection organization for a recent $7,500 donation that will help defray the costs of adding structural steel reinforcement to the old town hall.

“The structural part of the original building was not good, but nobody realized it was so bad,” Bibbo said last week. “It was totally unanticipated, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. The front of building was built in 1863 and the back stage in 1906, and when they did that (newer section) they cut out some of the structural beams.”

The recent structural renovations added a “couple of tons of steel” to the old municipal meeting hall because “the back of the building was falling down,” according to Bibbo.

Bibbo noted that the controversial restoration project has been plagued with cost-related challenges from its inception. The original estimate approved by voters several years ago was less than $1-million, but it’s now closer to $3-million, and putting the work off for a few years may only increase the bottom-line, he suggested.

“I’ve talked to people in other towns and when you plan something for several years out, it’s going to end up costing more,” he suggested.

His professional experience working as an administrator of several significant building projects also led him to think that the town would be wise moving forward with the restoration work.

“But that’s not what the town believes,” he added. “And the town is my boss.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 28, 2018.

 

 

Historic New England inn owner sues hometown, fire chief & treasurer

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane and a longtime resident, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Concord against his hometown and two local town officials.

In the court papers filed in March, Torro charges that Mark Goldberg, the chief of Bradford’s fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, have conspired against him in his efforts to operate the 121-year-old lodging facility that was formerly owned by Gordon. Specifically, it claims that the officials have used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the board of selectmen to withhold a property tax abatement and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. The town is charged because Goldberg and Gordon are municipal employees.

Joe Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated that there would be no problems reopening as a bed-and-breakfast.

Neither Goldberg or Gordon responded to requests for comment last week, but in a recent story in the Concord Monitor Goldberg said that Torro is at fault for not exercising “due diligence” before purchasing the property last August.

Torro is asking the court for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages but, sitting on the inn’s spacious wooden desk last Friday afternoon, he said he filed the suit only after numerous attempts to work out a resolution with the town failed. “The two million dollars, that was just like, ‘pay attention,’” he said. “I don’t want to sue my own town, I just want to operate a business.”

On Saturday, Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator, said that the town has no response to the lawsuit at this time.

According to the court papers, Gordon owned the building, then called the Candlelite Inn, for more than a decade before trying to sell it as either a lodging facility or a private residence sometime in 2010. At some point during that time, she became romantically involved with Goldberg and he began staying on the property.

In August 2014, Torro offered to buy the inn from Gordon, first for $175,000 and then $195,000. Both offers were turned down, but not long afterwards the facility was up for auction.

Torro made the winning bid, paying $258,000. He said that he soon began making improvements and renovations to the old building that eventually totaled over $250,000.

In his court papers, Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as Walter Royal, the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated to him that there would be no problems reopening the six-bedroom building as a bed-and-breakfast.

Shortly after the sale, Goldberg began indicating that there were major fire/safety code violations at the facility.

“It was fine when you were living here,” Torro said he responded to the fire chief’s complaints.

“If I was told up front about this by the town, that I would have to do a sprinkler system and fire alarms, things like that, I would have used some of my (repair) money for that,” Torro commented. Estimates for the work range between $75,000 and $100,000, he said.

Goldberg eventually recused himself from the inn’s safety inspection and passed the issue onto the state’s fire marshal, but that was only part of a “ruse,” the suit claims; the chief appeared uninvolved but he knew that the state’s safety regulations were more stringent than the town’s. That meant that Torro would be “subjected to different treatment than the former owner,” the legal paperwork reads.

Goldberg also remained involved in other ways as well, passing on information about the inn to the marshal’s office, according to the suit.

The suit points more directly at Gordon by asserting that she helped squash a possible property tax abatement for Torro in 2014. The select board had indicated to the owner that it would approve the option as a way of easing some of Torro’s financial stress but after a closed-door session with Gordon, the abatement prospect vanished, he said.

Although the suit was filed more than two months ago, neither the town nor the employees have made any legal response, said Rick Lehmann, the Manchester attorney working for Torro. “I am surprised,” he admitted.

Meanwhile, Torro is not legally allowed operate the Bradford Country Inn as a bed-and-breakfast; He does rents it out as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) property, mostly for reunions, wedding parties, etc., but that only brings in “quarters on the dollar” of what he could make as a bed-and-breakfast, he said. And although he’s invested a good amount of money into the property, he is unable to add any more. He said he’s also unable get a bank loan because of the unclear legal status of his operation.

“I’m at a standstill,” he said. But he can hold on because he has a good-paying fulltime job, he added.

“I’ve put my life savings into this,” Torro said. “And, I’m stubborn.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

 

 

Warner tiny house project on hold as ZBA continues deliberations

Above: Joe Mendola of Warner, who wants to build a tiny house development in his hometown, already has a “tiny mansion” under construction on Poverty Plain Road.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A proposal to build the state’s first tiny house development on Schoodac Road has been set back for a least a few more weeks by the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA).

At a meeting in the town hall last week, the members decided to delay a final decision on a zoning variance that would allow Joe Mendola, a resident and realtor, to move forward with his plan to create a 13-unit tiny house park on 15 acres of property close to Interstate 89’s exit 8. The variance would permit Mendola to cluster the 13 lots into one area of the property, which he says will be both better for the environment and lower construction costs.

At the meeting, ZBA members expressed concerns, especially about the use of the term “tiny house.” Warner has no zoning regulations specifically for the unusual new mobile residences – nor does any other New Hampshire community – so Mendola wants his proposal to be considered under the town’s manufactured home parks ordinances.

“We understand that what you’re asking for is a manufactured housing park but the idea of a new tiny house is different from that,” said Sam Bower of the ZBA.

‘’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.’

– Lucinda McQueen

Tiny houses are a relatively recent invention favored mostly by young people, especially millennials, who are either unable or unwilling to make a large down payment on a traditional house or to pay current high rents. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or smaller, which makes them very energy efficient; they’re built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can easily be moved from place to place.

Many tiny houses are made by their owners and can cost as little as $10,000 to $25,000 but Mendola plans to have each of his 13 super-small structures built to specifications required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At 320-square feet each, they would meet the town’s manufactured home park ordinance.

Throughout the planning process that began in February, town officials have been debating about Mendola’s claim his facility can be both a tiny house and manufactured home park.

“If it’s a structure built to HUD standards then, by definition, it’s a manufactured home,” he said at the recent ZBA meeting, explaining his rationale.

Chairman Janice Loz was cautious. “I understand that’s how you interpret it,” she said. “But I do believe that it is good for the board members to question and try to get to bottom of what a manufactured home is (for zoning purposes.)

“The whole sticking point is that manufactured housing parks are tightly regulated,” she added. “What you really get to is the intent of the ordinance. And I wonder if the intent was for tiny houses since there wasn’t such things when they (ordinances) were drafted.”

Mendola said that tiny houses could help the state with its ongoing problem of attracting and keeping younger people in New Hampshire, but not everyone accepts that.

“The whole idea of tiny houses is just a little coy,” said Lucinda McQueen, another resident. “’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.”

The ZBA will resume its deliberations at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 29, at 7 p.m. at the town hall. If it does approve Mendola’s variance request, he will still need to win approval of the planning board before breaking ground on the tiny house project.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. 

 

Tiny House project proposed for Warner

by Ray Carbone

WARNER – When Joe Mendola, a local resident and realtor, meets with the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) Wednesday night, he’s hoping to win a variance that could lead to the creation of the state’s first tiny house development in Warner.

Mendola wants to build the 13-pad tiny house project on 15 acres of land off Schoodac Road, near exit 8 off Interstate 89.

But that’s a challenge. No community in the state currently has zoning ordinances that specifically address tiny houses, he said. As a result, the local ZBA and planning boards have been wrestling with the development for months.

On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Joe Mendola is building a tiny house ‘mansion’ of 650-square-feet.

Mendola sees tiny houses as a way to keep and attract more young people to the Granite State. Recent college graduates with valuable skills often leave because they have significant student debt and can’t afford our high rents, he said. “I have (young) colleagues who do not live here because they’re millennials and they either think that New Hampshire is not cool enough or they’re not ready establish a residence.”

Younger people are attracted to tiny houses due to their low cost, their small carbon footprint and mobility, he said.

Tiny houses are a relatively recent development in the housing market but they’re gaining in popularity with several reality television programs, a booming social network and construction growing in places like Texas and the northwest. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or less, so their small space makes them very energy efficient. They’re usually built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can be easily be moved from place to place.

While many tiny houses are made by their owners for as little as $10,000 to $25,000, there are companies that build them for people who cannot do that. Mendola wants to work with a company that would build tiny houses that conform to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifications at an estimated cost between $48,000 to $88,000.

(On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Mendola is building a “tiny house mansion” of 650-square-feet. While it will feature many of the same energy-saving aspects of tiny homes – no hall space, low heating/cooling costs, little storage, etc. – the structure is being built on a standard cement foundation.)

Warner’s planning officials first saw Mendola’s project in February. Since that time, both the planning and zoning boards have been trying to understand how it fits into Warner’s current zoning ordinances.

That’s not a surprise to Mendola, who is now eschewing the tiny house label and calling the project a “manufactured home park” for legal purposes. “I went from Warner, and I looked all the way to Portsmouth,” he laughed, recalling how he search to find a community with zoning regulations that might allow his groundbreaking development. “I found only three towns: Henniker, Goffstown and Warner – my hometown.”

A variance from the ZBA would allow the structures to be clustered together, which would make the development less expensive and more ecologically friendly, Mendola said. “It’s tough land (to build on),” he commented. “There’s wetlands, utility wires and 25-degree slopes. So I’m asking for a variance that would allow the town’s ‘open space’ or ‘cluster’ regulations to be applied.”

The realtor admitted that he’s not sure about his chances of winning a ZBA approval. And if he does, he will still need to get permission from the planning board.

If that doesn’t, he could appeal the decision, or look for another piece or property, either in Warner or one of the other two towns.

But he’s convinced that tiny homes could be a major economic benefit for the state by keeping younger people in New Hampshire.

“Here’s the brutal truth,” he commented. “When I moved here 25 years ago, I could buy a starter home. But there’s very little construction now. And people like me are retiring and scaling down,” which makes the first-time homeowner’s market even tighter. “We’re competitively moving these kids out of the starter home market,” he said. “We’ve got to keep these kids in the state,” he concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

 

 

Sunapee commission turns thumbs down on Wild Goose site

by Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission, which was appointed by Governor Chris Sununu late last year, has issued a report essentially agreeing with Sununu’s appraisal that the state-owned former Wild Goose campground property in town should not be included on a list of possible sites for future public access boat ramps.

“We strongly recommend​ that the Wild Goose site be removed from consideration as a

Department of Fish and Game boat launch site,” according to the report, which was issued several weeks ago. The move will “release the department from its focus on the Wild Goose development and empower it to find a more acceptable alternative for a deeper-water boat access point on Lake Sunapee,” the report reads.

The report (says) the fish and game department… did not give sufficient consideration to… traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense…

But the 15-member commission, which Sununu charged with developing a plan to expand boaters’ access to the lake, as well as advancing some alternative proposals for the Wild Goose land, did not identify any other possible launch sites and left ideas about the property’s recreational development to the state’s division of parks.

The state agency “should make its own determination as to the suitability of the site’s use, consistent with its mission to provide public access,” the report reads. “This may include providing fishing, car top boat/canoe access, picnicking, or even camping opportunities.”

While Sununu’s charge to the commission did not include reconsidering the state-owned Wild Goose property as a launch site, much of the discussion at the group’s public meetings – and in its final report – focused on the 3-acre state-owned land.

That’s not a surprise, given its history. In 1990, officials purchased it with plans to develop a deep-water public access site that could be used by larger boats. (Smaller vessels can use the State Park in Sunapee.) Then in 1999, they indicated that they might forego the idea because Newbury residents were considering letting the state manage their town-owned Georges Mill launch site.

When that plan fell through, the state turned its attention back to the Wild Goose property but local opposition grew. Some residents and town officials said developing the two-ramp project would create significant traffic and environmental problems for the area. Several legal challenges followed, but the state won them all, as well as all the necessary construction and environmental permits to begin work on the combination launch and parking lot area. The state legislature even earmarked $2.1 million for developing the launch and parking area in 2017. (The federal government will reimburse about three-quarters of the cost.)

But the money was removed from this year’s budget and Sununu opted to withhold an application to extend the site’s needed wetlands permit. (That issue is still being litigated in the Sullivan County Superior Court.)

The commission’s report criticizes the fish and game department’s “determined pursuit” of the Wild Goose project, noting that the department “did not give sufficient consideration to what was reasonable in relation to other concerns, most notably traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense, existing boat access and environmental impact.”

As an example, it points to the department’s definition of the state-required “reasonable access” to the public waterway. “The position of fish and game has been that the state should provide access for 100-percent of boat-types, 100-percent of the time, for free, for as many boats, regardless of the costs, concerns of the community, and safety hazards. This is as realistic as a motorist expecting the state to construct a highway for the capacity of the busiest day of the year, without regard to community, safety nor cost.”

There is already five boat launches on Sunapee that are open to the public at little or no cost, the report reads. “Thousands of boats are accessing the lake annually, approximately three-quarters of which are motorized boats,” it states. “There is no access crisis.”

It also gives attention to “unresolved traffic and safety concerns regarding trailer boat traffic patterns entering and exiting Route 103 to and from the Wild Goose site… The safety concerns of the Wild Goose site voiced to the commission by police, fire and emergency officials were critical to (our) recommendations.”

Finally, the report recommends abandoning the prospect of developing the proposed launch site to “end the long-term divisions and concerns associated with (it.)”

“For almost three decades, the high impact plan to create a boat launch for trailered boats there has been controversial, dividing people and communities. It has cost the (fish and game) department, the state and constituencies hundreds of thousands of dollars. The result is a stalemate,” it concludes, adding that the overall issue of increased access remains unresolved.

Three commission members – including Glen Normandeau, Fish and Game’s executive director – signed a minority report that sharply disagrees with the full board’s opinion. “Finishing the development of the Wild Goose site is the only realistic way to provide the type of site that the commission agrees Lake Sunapee lacks and needs,” it reads. “(We three) strongly believe that Wild Goose provides the only realistic possibility for providing adequate public boat access to Lake Sunapee in the next few years.”

 This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 11, 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.)

 

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