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. 

 

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Local sportsmen groups continue to fight for LakeSunapee access at Wild Goose

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Despite two recent setbacks, the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the NH Bass Federation and others are continuing their efforts to have the state move forward with its long-delayed plan to develop a public access boating facility on the Wild Goose property in town.

Attorney W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the organizations and some individuals, has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the NH department of environmental services’ wetland board after a hearing officer overturned the board’s original decision to allow the sportsmen groups to have a say in the state’s recent relevant actions.

‘The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee.’

W. Howard Dunn, attorney

In his legal paperwork, Dunn argues that the officer erred when he disqualified the groups because the full board had earlier decided that the sportsmen organizations are legally recognized as “aggrieved” or “directly affected” parties.

“The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee on state-owned land without barrier or impediment,” he added, noting that the board’s recent decision to not apply for an extension of the site’s wetlands permit could “cause forfeit of the state’s only option to this mandate.”

In recent weeks, the Wild Goose plan has absorbed two major blows.

First, the 15-member Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu recommended that the NH fish and game department abandon the proposed site. Then the wetlands board decision disqualified the sportsmen groups’ interests.

Glen Normandeau, executive director of the department, said he’s ready to “move on” from the Wild Goose site project. “I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee (for possible alternative launch sites) when I have no money (in the budget) to spend on it,” he said.

While Dunn’s appeal to the wetland board moves forward, the sportsmen groups still have a legal motion pending in Sullivan Superior Court that could force the state to develop Wild Goose. It claims that the state had already committed to the project and that recent actions by the governor, legislature and others do not supersede that decision.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Fish and game director says Wild Goose launch unlikely

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The executive director of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department is critical of a recent report recommending that the former Wild Goose campground property on Lake Sunapee be removed from a list of possible future public boat launch sites, but says he’s ready to move on.

Last week Glen Normandeau said that the recommendation of the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission issued earlier this year likely ends any prospect of the local land developing a deep-water launch facility. “I don’t think anything is going to happen,” he said. “To me, that’s the way it is. I’ve got to move on… I’m not going to refight the last 20 years over again.”

‘I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee when I have no money to spend on it.’

Executive Director Glenn Normandeau

It was more than 20 years ago when the state originally purchased the 3-plus former lodging facility with the goal of providing its legally required public boat access to Sunapee there. Over the years, fish and game has worked with other state agencies to develop the plan but opposition from local officials, the Lake Sunapee Protective Association and others has been strong. Twice the project was at the center of lawsuits suits brought before the NH Supreme Court, but the state’s efforts were upheld. Concerns were still being raised during the commission’s hearing about possible road safety issues related to the site.

Last year the legislature removed funding for the $2.1-million project from its capital budget. (Three-quarters of those funds would have been reimbursed by the federal government.) Not long afterwards, Gov. Christ Sununu established the 15-member commission and charged it to come up with alternative ways of accessing the lake.

Normandeau served on the commission and signed a minority report critical of its recommendation to abandon the Wild Goose site.

“From my vantage point, none of that got the ball moving very far down the road in terms of actual sites on Sunapee that could accommodate a reasonable amount of access,” Normandeau said last week. “There isn’t any.”

The executive director also disputed a recent claim by Neil Levesque, chairman of the commission, that fish and game is unwilling to consider other lakefront properties for launches at this time.

“People seem to want to ignore the money side of this equation,” Normandeau said. “I’ve had the Wild Goose site appraised recently and it amounts to a house lot on the lake. So, it’s worth about $1.2 million. We’re looking at a couple of million dollars to build the project, and I don’t even have that, never mind the money to buy another piece of property.

Normandeau did agree with Levesque that the long-running debate has only hardened viewpoints over the years. “This thing has been a battle on one one side or the other since it began. People pick sides on this thing, and no one is changing their opinions.”

If state officials follow through on the commission’s other recommendation, to transfer Wild Goose to the state’s division of parks, the fish and game department will no longer play a role in, the executive director noted. In that case, Normandeau said he’ll turn his attention to other fish and game projects.

“I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee when I have no money to spend on it,” he laughed. “It’s kind of like going car shopping with an empty wallet.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on April 24, 2018.

 

State board won’t stop Wild Goose termination process

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The state’s wetlands council reversed an earlier decision and ruled that several sportsmen organizations that want to build a public boat launch facility on Wild Goose do not have a legal right to halt recent council actions that effectively terminate the proposed project.

At the same time, the lawyer representing the sportsmen groups says the ruling last week could provide support for a similar request the groups filed in Sullivan County Superior Court. That action, like the one made to the wetlands council, would have forced the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to move forward with its initial plans to extend a wetland permit and build the launch facility at Wild Goose.

Conley’s decision states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be directly affected by the termination of the wetland permit.

 

“I just think that if my clients don’t have standing with the DES (appeal process), then their action in the superior court is not foreclosed,” and can therefore move forward, said W. Howard Dunn of Claremont. Dunn is representing the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as various other individuals and organizations.

The state is required to provide public water access to Sunapee and other major waterways, and purchased the Wild Goose land more than 25 years ago with the aim of providing a deep-water launch site for Sunapee on the property. But local opposition delayed the process and last year, the state legislature removed all funding for the project. Not long afterwards, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state would no longer consider the local land and officials should begin looking at other access options.

The ruling handed down on Tuesday, Apr. 17 by David F. Conley, an attorney who serves as a hearing officer for the wetlands council, affirms a decision made by the group last summer. At the time the 14-member council, which advises the DES about wetlands issues, denied a request from the fish and game department for a five-year extension of the wetland permit that would have allowed the Wild Goose project to move forward.

The council had originally voted to allow the sportsmen’s organization to appeal the decision because the individual boaters and fishermen were aggrieved by the ruling.

Conley’s decision reverses that action and states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be “directly affected” by the termination of the wetland permit.

“A general interest in a problem is not a basis” for a legal complaint in this case, Conley wrote.

“Allegations of adverse consequences to boating, fishing and swimming activities suffered by the members of the (sportsmen) organizations if the permit is allowed to lapse and the Wild Goose site is not constructed is the type of generalized harm to the public (that) our court has found insufficient to establish standing,” he noted.

Dunn said that his clients are considering whether to appeal the council’s ruling to the NH Supreme Court.

At the same time, they await the decision of the Sullivan Superior Court. “It involves the court making a judgment as to the authority of the DES,” Dunn noted.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 23, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Lake Sunapee access commission chairman blames NH Fish & Game for Wild Goose snafu

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The chairman of the recently disbanded Lake Sunapee Access Commission blames the NH Fish and Game Department for prolonging any hope that a state-owned public access boating facility can be built on the former Wild Goose campground property in town.

“Fish and game commissioners continue to fight for this site although it’s clearly not going to get built,” Neil Levesque of Concord said last week. “The state legislature decided not to endorse it, the senate didn’t, and the executive council didn’t. The area has some pretty strong safety concerns as well as a big price tag. And the fish and game commissioners are apparently not concerned about that.

“I absolutely believe, not only that the commissioners got it wrong (by recommending a launch be built) on Wild Goose, but after 27 years, why fight for something that’s not going to go anywhere? The fish and game department cannot move on,” he added.

‘It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point.’

– Neil Levesque, commission chairman

 

Don Clarke of Claremont, a former director of the fish and game department, disputed Levesque’s viewpoint. “The only thing that the fish and game department and commissioners has been stuck on is furnishing the public with access to Lake Sunapee. And that’s what the law says fish and game is charged with doing,” Clarke said.

Levesque also complained that fish and game officials are so committed to their Wild Goose plan that they won’t even consider any other properties that may be available for a launch. “There are locations that can be used but the commissioners won’t go and look at them,” he said. “It’s ‘Wild Goose or burn the whole thing down.’ I found it to be very bureaucratic and sad.”

Clarke disagreed with that as well.

“We did look at plenty of other site for 27 years,” he said. “There was none as good as Wild Goose. The public does not have access that meets the criteria set forth in the legislation, which is that it be open 24 hours with no charge, and that either the state or federal government has to own the property.”

When Gov. Chris Sununu first appointed the access commission late last year, it did not even appear that Wild Goose property be reconsidered as an access site.

Sununu charged the 15-member group with finding other ways for boaters to access the lake and to make recommendations about other recreational uses for the Wild Goose land.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state try to expand free boat trailer parking at existing launch sites in the area while working to find a permanent deep-water launch site. It also recommended that further recreational development at Wild Goose be spearheaded by the state’s division of parks.

The bulk of the commission’s report, as well as most of the time at the group’s six public meetings, focused either on complaints against Sununu’s initiative to abandon Wild Goose or support for his viewpoint.

Levesque said that he was surprised at the strength of the opposing positions. “It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point,” he said.

“What I found was that there was elements out there, mainly propelled by lawyers and lobbyists, who were pushing and are still wishing for Wild Goose,” he added. “The lawyers are making a lot of money off these sporting groups. They’ve the only ones who have won. In the end, the public still doesn’t have great access to Lake Sunapee. That’s the tragic situation.”

Levesque did not identify any legal entities working in support of the Wild Goose proposal. At this time the only lawyer publically associated with the efforts is W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Mountain View Gun Club, and several other nonprofit organizations and individuals. The group has made a formal request to the state’s Wetlands Council to overturn a recent NH Department of Environmental Affairs decision that would effectively terminate any possibility of building a deep-water launch on the Wild Goose land.

Clarke said that Dunn is donating his legal services and the attorney refused to comment, saying only that he has “120 human beings as clients.”

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on April 17, 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.

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.)

 

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.

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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