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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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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