Snowstorm brings down trees and wires, but not town workers

By Ray Carbone

The recent area snowstorm resulted in scores of downed wires and tress, power outages, road closures, cancelled school days and a marathon work session for some town employees in the Kearsarge/Sunapee region.

“It was a lot of snow,” said Dennis Pavlieck, Newbury’s town administrator, “but we’re used to a lot of snow. We’re New Hampshire folks!”

Snowfall totals ranged between 18 inches in Springfield to 4-to-5 inches in parts of Sutton and Warner. The snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and tree limbs and dropping power lines, which caused electrical outages all over the area.

‘My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community.’

– Dan Ruggles, chief of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire dept.

Eversource, the company that services most of the local area, reported close to 100,000 outages around the state between Monday evening (Nov. 22) when the storm began and early Wednesday evening (Nov. 24); more than 60 percent of those were north and west of Concord, an area that includes many Kearsarge/Sunapee towns, explained William Hinkle, a spokesman for the power company. By Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), no local outages were reported.

Officials with the Kearsarge Regional School District said that the towns hardest hit by the storm were in the district’s northernmost communities of Wilmot, Springfield and New London. All district schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to poor road conditions and power outages. On Wednesday, electric power was out at the district’s elementary school in Bradford.

During the height of the storm, reports indicated that virtually all of New London and a major section of Wilmot were without electricity.

The storm generally dumped more snow than was predicted, making for long day for public works and safety staffs in local towns.

“Our shift started on Monday night at 9 p.m., and went right through to 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” said Bob Harrington, public works director for New London.

Officials in Newbury and other local towns reported similar long hours for their road crews.

“The town of Sunapee received about 12 inches of snow that was mixed with rain,” said David Cahill, that town’s police chief. “We had at one point eight roads closed due to wires and trees.”

Jim Bingham, Warner’s town administrator, said four roads in his town were inaccessible for several hours and Pixie Hill, the town clerk/tax collector in Springfield, reported a section of Rte. 114, the town’s main thoroughfare, was closed until late Wednesday morning.

Cal Prussman, Newbury’s highway administrator, said that Stoney Brook Road was closed for most of Tuesday, and that Bowles Road was closed to through traffic for several days. In addition, the 50-plus homes on Bay Point Road, a dead end off the Sunapee State Beach access road, were temporarily cut off from the rest of the town on Tuesday until storm damage could be cleared.

Harrington echoed the thoughts of several town public work managers throughout the area, commending the work of his staff while thanking local police and fire departments for their assistance in the emergency.

Dan Ruggles, Sunapee’s fire chief, said his volunteer department responded to 29 calls of wires down, trees on wires, blown transformers, car accidents and providing support for the town’s highway department clearing damage across roads between Monday night and Tuesday evening.

“My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community,” he added.

Ruggles and Cahill reported that Sunapee opened its safety service building as a warming station during the storm. “As a result, we did see a couple of residents take advantage of the safety service building,” Cahill said.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, police officers did welfare checks on elderly folks and others who could be vulnerable during the outages, the police chief said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

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Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Selectman fires back at former town employee

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The chairman of the town’s board of selectman is disputing recent remarks made by a former town clerk who claimed that an inhospitable work environment exists among town employees.

Kimberley Brown Edelmann, who became chairman of the three-person board at the beginning of the year, made her remarks at the board’s Oct. 24 meeting in the town hall. She said that critical remarks made by Judy Newman-Rogers, the long-time clerk who resigned several weeks ago, were related to an employee-related issue that dated back to 2015. “Apparently the select boards (past and current) did not take the action the town clerk wanted,” the chairman said.

Brown Edelmann also addressed management-related issues, noting that ‘documentation is critical’ whenever a manager has a ‘problem employee.’

Brown Edelmann directly refuted Newman-Rogers’s charge that town hall has developed a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” for employees in recent years.

“In my experience (working at two temporary town positions), I can honestly say that I found everyone in the town hall staff, without exception, to be welcoming, helpful, and always aiming to do a good job serving the Town of Warner and its citizens,” she said. “I enjoyed the work experiences so much, I recommended the Warner Town Hall as a potential place of employment to two of my friends. I would never have done that if I thought it was an unpleasant work environment.”

In early October, Newman-Rogers announced her resignation at a board meeting. In a letter addressed to the selectmen and read aloud, she said that “requests for resolution to (problem) situations made known to the town administrator (i.e., Jim Bingham) and the board of selectmen have gone unaddressed.

“Previous administrative traits of transparency, trust, honesty, lawfulness, communication, integrity, accountability and equal application of policy and procedure have been supplanted with deflection, delay, denial, disrespect, dismissals, discrimination and blatant division of personnel,” according to Newman-Roger.

She later told the InterTown Record that she believed that “the town administrator (Bingham) is the problem.”

At the Oct. 24 meeting, Brown Edelmann said that shortly after she took office in 2017, Newman-Rogers handed her an envelope, stating that the contents contained information about a situation dating back to 2015 and that “previous select boards had failed to address… She said she hoped I would look into and take appropriate action,” the chairman recounted.

“As a new selectman, I was given access to the full set of documents regarding the issue,” Brown Edelmann continued. “ I learned that an investigation was done. I learned what legal advice was given. I read what action was taken. And, from what I could see, the issue was closed.

“I will say no more on that subject,” she said.

Brown Edelmann then addressed management-related issues, noting that “documentation is critical” whenever a manager has a “problem employee.”

“Our town administrator (Bingham) was hired in 2013,” the chairman said. “He has not had any performance reviews. He has received verbal feedback, both complimentary and in the form of constructive criticism. But no formal appraisals. He has received wage increases and his contract has been renewed.”

Brown Edelmann then offered her personal thanks to Bingham. “I see the work you do,” she told him. “I’m impressed at the sheer volume and variety of issues and problems you address in your daily work. I appreciate your integrity and your calm management style. And of course, I’m thankful that you keep the select board focused on the work we should be doing.”

Neither Clyde Carson nor John Dabuliewicz, the other selectmen, made any remarks related to their chairman’s statement or to Newman-Rogers’ resignation.

Late last week, Newman-Rogers responded to Brown Edelmann’s statement. She said that the chairman may not have seen any hostility when she was working in town hall because, as a selectman, she’s unwittingly supporting it.

The former employee also said that the current and past boards have taken actions that are inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal. “The selectmen are ignorant and so is town administrator (Bingham), who is supposed to be guiding them,” she charged.

“What’s going on there, it has to stop,” Newman-Rogers concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on November 6, 2018.

Town clerk quits, cites bad work environment

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s long-time town clerk, Judy Newman-Rogers, has resigned her position, charging that town leaders have allowed a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” to develop at town hall.

In a 337-word letter addressed to the board of selectmen and dated Oct. 1, the departing clerk is critical of both the three-member elected board and Jim Bingham, the town administrator, for not addressing ongoing problems.

“Unfortunately, requests for resolution to situations made known to the town administrator and the board of selectmen have gone unaddressed,” it reads. “Previous administrative traits of transparency, trust, honesty, lawfulness, communication, integrity, accountability and equal application of policy and procedure have been supplanted with deflection, delay, denial, disrespect, dismissals, discrimination and blatant division of personnel.”

‘The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.’

 – Judy Newman-Rogers, Warner (NH) Town Clerk

In phone and text communications on Sunday, Newman-Rogers said the selectmen have failed to properly manage Bingham, which has resulted in problems with town employees, communications and procedural issues.

“It’s financial – that would cover quite a bit of it, the finances of the town,” she said. “But it’s also that the board of selectmen have to make sure that the laws are followed and our privacy is kept (protected). There’s security for different things. Employee dissatisfaction, low morale and the biases… The favoritism is huge.

“It’s been a long time now that the select board has been ignoring what’s going on in the (town) office with employee situations, and things that are going on that shouldn’t be,” Newman-Rogers said. “The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.”

The departing clerk specifically pointed the finger at Bingham, saying that “the town administrator is the problem.”

(Jim Bingham, the town administrator, did not respond to requests for an interview during the weekend.)

“I don’t want to go to a selectmen’s meeting and hear that the selectmen are surprised by an issue I’m dealing with,” Newman-Rogers said. “I don’t want the town administrator to say, we’ll bring this to the selectmen’s meeting and then it doesn’t happen.

“We need transparency, and when information is public it should be provided without question, and when it’s supposed to be,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any roadblocks and stops put up when people request information. I think that’s not good for our town.

“I think communications with the public is very important,” the departing clerk said. “That needs to be improved. And when people are trying to improve that, they shouldn’t be given a hard time about it.”

On Saturday, Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the board of selectmen, and Clyde Carson, another board member, said that they’ve been aware of tensions among some town employees for awhile now but they were caught off-guard when Newman-Rogers read her resignation letter aloud during the public input session of last week’s meeting. “We did not see this coming,” the chairman said. “I even said that at the meeting: ‘I didn’t see that coming.’”

Brown Edelmann said she doesn’t know what specific situations the town clerk was referencing in her letter because the information was “not specific enough.”

“The board still has to sort this out,” said Carson. “I think the board is going to hear more about that (i.e., the situations).”

Neither of the selectmen would comment on any situations that Newman-Rogers referenced in her letter, saying that they are legally restrained from discussing personnel issues in public.

Newman-Rogers concluded her letter with regrets about any problems that her departure may cause the town.

“It has been an honor and privilege to have served the residents of Warner as deputy town clerk and then as town clerk for the past 24 years,” she wrote. “I am truly grateful for the trust, support and confidence they have had in me.”

Brown Edelmann said the selectmen were grateful for the departing clerk’s years of service to Warner. “I certainly hope that she finds a situation that makes her feel less stressed, and whatever else she’s looking for,” she added.

Newman-Rogers will officially leave her position at the end of this week on Friday, Oct. 13; town hall is closed Fridays so her actual last day on the job is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.

Warner voters will discuss land and rail trail at town meeting

This photograph of the town-owned land at 136 E. Main Street, taken by Tim Blagden, president of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail this past winter. Blagden said it indicates how much of the property  can sometimes be flooded. (Courtesy.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the future of a 3.13-acre town-owned lot, now that the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail have expressed an interest in it.

The town originally purchased the property at 136 East Main Street in 2016 for $75,000 as a potential site for a new fire department stationhouse. The site was later rejected for several reasons, including the fact that it’s vulnerable to seasonal flooding, said Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator. “It borders on the Warner River and a significant amount of that land is within the flood plain. That area’s been flooded more than once, and some of that has been recently.”

‘Do we drop the (land) price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

Selectman Kinberley Edelmann

 

At the annual town meeting the following year, residents gave the selectboard clear directions about the property, according to Kimberley Edelmann, the board’s chair. “The instructions were, get our money back,” she recalled.

Now two years later, the vacant lot remains unsold and local realtors estimate that its value has decreased significantly from the original $75,000 asking price, Bingham said. (The annual town report lists the property’s value at $68,070.)

Meanwhile, proponents of the rail trail and others interested in local conservation and recreation have come to town leaders with proposals about a variety of ideas including the development a dog park, a new car-top/carry-in boat launch, and developing space for bocce and croquet players.

“So the question is, do we renew the listing, given the fact that it’s likely to go for a much lower price,” Bingham asked rhetorically. “Or, maybe it’s of more value to the town down the road for potential recreational uses and possibly furthering the economy.”

The Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail is a nonprofit organization based in Warner that hopes to develop a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly project would connect the towns of Newbury (at the southern tip of Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the state capital. Supporters say that facilities like the rail trail can improve both a community’s overall health and its economic vitality.

Tim Blagden, president of the organization’s board, said that one of the project’s biggest challenges is acquiring the needed land and/or property easements to construct the trail. Unlike what’s occurred in other areas of New Hampshire, the state never purchased the Concord-Claremont railroad bed so Blagden and his supporters must move through the proposed trail section by section, talking to private landowners, state agencies and local municipalities, to secure easements or purchase property. (About half of the proposed new trail project would include already developed trails like Warner’s rail trail, and the recently approved three-quarters trail between the Appleseed Restaurant and the Pizza Chef plaza in Bradford.)

The town-owned lot is an important link for completing the local trail, Blagden said, because it would eventually help connect the old rail bed from one side of Interstate 89 to the other.

“The railroad grade is on the front of that lot, on the street side – close to Route 103,” he explained. “It’s maybe 40-to-50 feet off the street pavement… We usually ask for a 30-foot wide path and the trail is about 14-feet wide. The extra space is for maybe a bench or a sign or just to trim the brush back… That would cover about 21,450 square feet. That’s just under half-an-acre, or just under 16-percent of the total lot space.”

The selectboard considered the question at its July 3 meeting, Edelmann reported.

“What the selectmen don’t know is how the citizens of Warner feel about the rail trail,” she said. “And what I want to know as chairman is, how much support does the town want the board of selectmen to give to the rail trail project.”

The answer to that will impact what the town does with the Main Street land, she noted. “Do we drop the price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or, do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

The level of support could also help town leaders understand issues related to development in the areas around I-89’s exit 9, and in the Waterloo section of town, Edelmann explained.

On July 3, the selectmen decided to not relist the East Main Street land for the moment and to bring the issue to the annual town meeting in March.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 24, 2018.

Water use limited in Warner village area

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The state’s current drought conditions have led the Warner Village Water District to institute a temporary ban on outdoor water usage, including watering lawns and washing cars.

On June 25, the water commissioners voted to take the precautionary measure, asking customers to restrict their outdoor usage during daytime hours until further notice (likely at the end of summer).

We have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing. We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day… A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,000 or more pretty quick.’

Ray Martin, admin. asst. for WVWD

“July and August are typically our worst months,” said Ray Martin, administrative assistant for the district.

The commission imposed a $25 fine for first-time violations and $50 for each subsequent violation but, based on past occurrences, Martin doesn’t foresee any enforcement problems. “Compliance will be very high, probably 99-percent,” he predicted.

The district, which is a separate legal municipality from the town, supplies water and sewer services to approximately 185 residences and 30 commercial enterprises. Its service area covers a radius of about a one-half to one-mile from the village center. The three-person elected commission manages is the district.

The commission’s recent decision to restrict water use is based on two factors, according to the website notice.

One is the state’s prolonged drought conditions, which have impacted the productivity of the district’s two wells that draw on the Warner River aquifer. (Officially, central New Hampshire is listed as being under moderate drought conditions.)

The second is that the district’s older well is experiencing a drop in productivity, Martin explained.

The commissioners’ statement says the board is looking at long-term solutions to the problems, including siting a new back-up well and installing more sophisticated well management controls, but the current budget can’t fund such improvements.

Martin said the new restrictions should allow the district to manage this summer, but the commission is prepared if the drought worsens. “Right now, if we have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing,” he explained. “We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day so just add that up. A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,00 or more pretty quick… Years ago, we had to truck in water.”

At around the same time that the Warner commissioners announced their decision, the Portsmouth Water Division asked its city’s residents to voluntarily cut back on their outdoor water use.

Martin said he’s aware of at least one other community that has already or is considering similar measures.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 10.

NOTE: Shortly after this story was published, the New London-Springfield Water System Precinct announced that, effective immediately, there is a mandatory water ban on all residential outside irrigation between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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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