Vail to take over New Hampshire resort

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY, N.H. – The public meeting held at the Sunapee Lodge on the Mount Sunapee Resort property last week was much less contentious than a similar one held in the same building last year.

At the earlier gathering, more than 100 people came to the state’s Department of National and Cultural Resources (DNCR) meeting to voice their opposition to the transfer of the resort’s recreational lease to Och-Ziff Real Estate. The multi-national alternative asset management firm had recently paid the federal government $413 million in fines, and supporters of the local resort were concerned that the organization would not manage the local property appropriately.

Things were much different last Wednesday, July 25, when an even larger crowd came together to voice their support to Sarah Stuart, the DNCR’s commissioner, for a proposal to turn Mount Sunapee’s lease and operating agreements over to Vail Resorts, operators of the famous Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado.

‘Candidly, Vail is a dream partner.’

Hessler Gates, Sunapee resident

The deal is part of an $82 million sales agreement that will also add Vermont’s Okemo Mountain resort and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado to the Vail, Colorado company. (Vail Resorts also owns/manages Stowe in Vermont; Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area; Wilmot in Wisconsin; After Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia; and Perisher in Australia.)

Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of the companies that have managed the local resort since 1998, told the crowd that if they could have chosen an organization to take over their enterprises, it would be the Vail group.

“Vail is clearly the leading ski operating company in the country, if not the world,” Tim Muerller said. “I’m glad we’re turning it over to them.”

The audience gave the Muellers an appreciative round of applause.

Speaking for the new managers, Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, said her company is excited about its first business foray into New Hampshire and that it remains “incredibly passionate” about creating memorable resort experiences for visitors.

In addition, the company’s Epic Pass, which allows for unlimited skiing at all of its 14 resorts, will be available at Sunapee. (Vail owns and/or operates resorts throughout North America and Australia.)

Addressing concerns that Vail would push for more development at and around the Sunapee resort, Campbell said that her company has been divesting itself of properties that are primarily real estate and that it has no plans to move forward with either the West Bowl Expansion or any other development project in the area.

“Candidly, Vail is a dream partner,” Hessler Gates of Sunapee said in the public commentary portion of the meeting. “For the decision-makers, this should be an easy decision and I urge you to do it promptly.”

The majority of the speakers were in agreement with Gates, urging Commissioner Stuart and others involved in the transfer to approve it as quickly as possible.

Campbell said she’s hoping the transfer will be completed by Labor Day.

But some did express concerns.

A member of the New Hampshire Sierra Club repeated an earlier call for an independent audit of the resort’s finances, and encouraged the Vail team to maintain the four non-skiing trails on Mount Sunapee.

Another speaker asked how the Vail proposal had come forward so quickly and whether there is an appeal process if the state turns down its proposal.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Vail Resorts could prove its intent to stay focused on recreation, rather than development, by permanently conserving 600 acres of land located in Goshen. The idea was heartily applauded by the audience.

Holly Flanders, a two-time Olympic and three-time World Cup alpine racer who grew up skiing and racing at Sunapee, said that from her current home in Park City, Utah, she’s become familiar with how the Vail company operates.

“Vail is a great ski operator, they invest in improvements,” she told the crowd.

“I tell you want I’ve seen,” she added. “Many local businesses are making more money. Property values are going up. The ski area is more crowded, so the roads are more crowded. And everything is more expensive – the hotels and restaurants.”

 

Photo: Breath -taking view of Lake Sunapee from the Mount Sunapee Resort, by Garrett Evans. Courtesy of Vail Resorts.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

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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.

 

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

Sweet Beet Market ready to sprout again soon

Photo: The old Bradford Inn on West Main Street has been undergoing significant renovations this winter. Now, with a recent approval from the planning board, its primary tenant, the Sweet Beet Market, is planning to reopen in a few weeks. (Ray Carbone)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Fans of the Sweet Beet Market, the community’s local natural foods outlet, will be glad to learn that the town’s planning board recently approved a change-of-use request from the owners of the former Bradford Inn. The official okay allows the nonprofit food organization to continue to operate and expand its services in the 120-year-old building.

According to the unapproved minutes from the planners’ May 22 meeting, the board unanimously approved a proposal that permits the inn’s owners, Unless, LLC, of Bradford, to move forward with renovating the aged three-story structure from a lodging establishment to a combination market-café-kitchen and office space facility.

Throughout the winter, members of the Kearsarge Food Hub, which manages Sweet Beet, have been working alongside Mike Bauer and his team from Bauer Construction of Bradford, as well as Mike James (who co-owns Unless, LLC, with Bauer) on renovations and restoration of the 10,000-square foot wooden structure. The market and a new independent on-site café are hoping to be open for business again around the July Fourth weekend.

Last week Bauer was calmly painting windowsills in the old hotel. His son, Garrett Bauer, a member of Sweet Beet’s board of directors, was frantically overseeing several budding projects: meeting with the new cafe’s managers about tables, talking with a plumber, and connecting with some possible new vendors. (The market has had more than 300 vendors since it opened in 2016; its motto, “30 Producers Within 30 Miles,” reflects its efforts to use virtually all-local suppliers.)

The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses.

The Bauers have lived on the other side of West Main Street from the old Bradford Inn for more than 30 years. Over the years, Mike has often daydreamed about restoring and renovating the historic structure.

Now, it’s finally happening, in ways he may have never imagined.

In 2016, Unless, LLC, bought the building and soon struck up a partnership with the Food Hub, which was then operating Sweet Beet as a seasonal farm stand. The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building, while maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place for people to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses. “Unless feels strongly about sustainability and community wellness,” according to the Food Hub’s website.

Sweet Beet moved into the east side of the building’s first floor in 2016 and became a year-round market.

Last year, the community raised $30,000 to help the Food Hub pay for the creation of a 700-square-foot, shared-used commercial kitchen that will be located on the west side of the building. It will be used for making Sweet Beet’s baked goods as well as items that could be used in the bakery and/or for private enterprises, Garrett Bauer explained. The demise of several popular local bakeries, including German John’s in Hillsboro and Tart Café in Andover, made some excellent bakery equipment available at a reasonable price, he added.

This past winter, the market closed while important renovations in the building moved forward, including updating the heat and septic systems and re-designing the entire first floor, including the new kitchen.

The market will now include new shelving and expanded veggie display areas.

In the middle space, behind the inn’s original front door, two new rooms have been opened up. One will be the site of the new Main Street Café, while the large former dining room towards the front will be used for a variety of community events from meetings to performances to cooking classes.

It’s taken a while, but it looks like the Sweet Beet will soon start growing again – and the old Bradford Inn may soon bloom as well.

Note: Late last week, Sweet Beet announced it would participate in the Bradford Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, June 30. A special all-day program featuring music by Odd Bodkins, Kathy Lowe, the DoBros and more, as well as other artists, local foods, etc. will be at the old Bradford Inn, 11 West Main St., Bradford.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

 

 

Warner group looking at ways town can grow

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

By Ray Carbone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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