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

By Ray Carbone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Iconic South Sutton Meetinghouse repairs put on hold

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – The Sutton Historical Society has decided to withdraw its request for a grant that would have helped fund repairs to the classic New England church steeple of the South Sutton Meetinghouse.

Don Davis, vice-president of the society, said last week that the local nonprofit organization had planned to request a grant of about $20,000 from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), but decided recently to hold off for at least one year. (LCHIP is an independent state authority that matches grants to NH communities and nonprofits to conserve and preserve the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. )

Davis and his colleagues became aware of the possibility of structural problems at the meetinghouse last year, he said. “The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs,” he explained.

‘The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs. (The building is) not in bad shape.’

Don Davis of the Sutton Historical Society

The group originally received estimates of about $20,000 for the repair work but they later met with Richard Mecke of Historic Homes, Inc., of Salisbury. “He really specializes in historic buildings,” Davis said. “He pointed out that we may need something done that we couldn’t see, and that he’d look at the building as a whole.”

Getting a complete building evaluation is a one of the requirements for getting an LCHIP grant, the vice-president said. “its not in bad shape,” Davis reported, referring to the 2,000-square-foot structure, “but there are things that we’d like to be aware of,” so the society can develop a long-range maintenance plan.

The old wooden meetinghouse, which sits on a grassy hill overlooking the town green, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Constructed in 1839, it is a prime example of a classic Greek Revival New England Meetinghouse that was once common throughout the region. The local building is especially remarkable because it remains virtually unchanged since it was first built; its only minor alterations occurred after it was struck by lightning in 1898.

Behind the meetinghouse is another historic structure that the society owns and manages: the South Village (District 9) Schoolhouse, a former one-room school building. The nearby Azariah Cressy House, which is also owned and managed by the society, is used as the its headquarters. The local nonprofit also manages the town-owned Old Store Museum, nearby the meetinghouse property.

At a recent meeting with the board of selectmen, Davis discussed the LCHIP grant proposal and received the board’s support for its work. (The society later withdrew the application after learning about the need for a full-structure study.)

In addition, Davis told the selectboard about a recent conversation he’d had Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance. Cushing noted that the town could possibly taking over ownership of the three society buildings, which would mitigate some of the ongoing preservation costs (including insurance) and ensure that the structures would remain part of the town’s heritage even if the society dissolved.

The selectmen suggested that Davis and his fellow society member research the idea more thoroughly and, if they’d like the community to move forward with the plan, they draft a petition warrant article so that voters could consider it at the annual town meeting in March.

The historical society has established a fund to help defray the cost of restoration and repair work on the meetinghouse. The estimated price of doing the complete evaluation should be about $2,000, Davis said and while that’s too low to qualify for a LCHIP grant, the society does have some of the money it needs and other resources may be available.

The society hopes to have the meetinghouse evaluation done later this summer or early fall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The following week, Don Davis of the SHD submitted this letter to the newspaper, which was published on July 3, 2018.

The Sutton Historical Society had submitted an intent to apply for a historic resource grant with LCHIP.

A planning study is required before applying for a historic resource grant if the total project exceeds $50,000. It also requires that work done must meet the standards established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

After submitting our intent to apply we had the meetinghouse looked at by a contractor who is familiar with the standards. It became apparent that while we did not have a proposal for the project or an estimate, the project cost could exceed $50,000. The board of directors decided we should have a resource assessment done and that we would apply for a LCHIP planning study grant instead of the historic resource grant.

While in the process of preparing the application, we received the proposal for the assessment study, which is $2,000. LCHIP has a $5,000 minimum for planning studies to qualify for a grant. We did not meet the minimum and could not apply for a LCHIP grant.

We will still do the study this year and explore other funding options. The results of the study can and will be used for a LCHIP Historic Resource Grant application in 2019. The assessment study will address the immediate needs of the building focusing on the steeple and will provide the SHS with data that will help the society establish a long-range maintenance plan for the building. The SHS will be conducting fundraising campaigns this year for the historic resource project (repair of the steeple).

Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance, during a visit of our buildings, told us it was unusual for a historical society of our size to own so many buildings. In many towns the historic buildings were owed by the town with the local historical society managing them. In most cases the arrangement proved to be an advantage for both the town and historical society. We asked the selectmen if they would object to that arrangement in Sutton. They explained it would be up to the voters of Sutton and that we should research it thoroughly and prepare a petition warrant article if we wanted to go forward

Bradford, NH, residents imagine their future

By Ray Carbone

 

BRADFORD – A crowd of about 50 residents gathered at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last week to discuss what they’d like to see when the planning board updates the town’s master plan later this year.

In a series of discussions, the group talked about their hope for a business revival in the village, local business establishments taking advantage of the steady year-round road traffic on Route 103, and the continuation of the town’s focus on preserving and developing both its historic character and its agricultural economy.

The primary focus of the meeting was to review and discuss issues raised by more than 160 residents who had responded to a survey the planning board published last year. Pam Bruss, chairman of the board, told the meeting that the results generally mirrored trends that have been identified around the state in recent years, including a growing older population and the exodus of younger people from New Hampshire.

The large group then split into four sub-groups where specific areas of concern were addressed. A member of the planning board worked with a professional planner from the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to help identify benefits and challenges that should be considered when plotting Bradford’s future.

‘I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower.’

One issue that came up several times was the need for increased commercial development, particularly in the village area. Several residents noted that there are some lots there where well water is at least partly polluted, while others pointed to some septic problems.

When Matt Monahan, one of the CNHPC planners, suggested that the town might consider some kind of well water and/or wastewater district, the residents reported that previous attempts in that direction had met with property tax-related resistance. “The attitude is, if those people (n the village) want it, let them pay for it,” one man said.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower,” said another citizen, while others laughed in recognition.

Monahan said that poor cell phone and internet services present significant challenges for businesses.

He also suggested that successful business operations could be drawn to town by looking at national trends and reducing them for the town’s population. “For instance, healthcare. What does that mean for Bradford,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not going to a hospital but it could mean a doctor.”

The remark led to a general discussion of desirable businesses for the town, including a CVS-like pharmacy/grocery store, eating establishments and additional agritourism operations, like the Sweet Beet Market. “But not a chain,” said one man, as others in the group nodded. “It should be homegrown, a mom-and-pop operation.”

In another corner of the room, Audrey V. Sylvester spoke with folks concerned about the town’s historic character. She quoted from a report written by Christopher W. Closs, a professional planner from Hopkinton: “As a corridor, West Main Street represents one of the better-preserved surviving 19th century village residential districts in rural New Hampshire.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Claire James, the planning board’s vice-chairman, announced that her group would review the participants’ comments and observations, then begin coordinating them with the survey results and other information. Then, the members would begin drafting the master plan. Portions of the document will be discussed at several public meetings and the final draft will be presented to at least one public hearing before it is offered to voters for their consideration

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, June 12, 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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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