Colebrook Honors Students, Holds Quiet Meeting
By Alan Farnsworth
Despite Tuesday night's blizzard, a small group of citizens made their way to the school gym for Colebrook's annual town meeting. With no controversial items on the warrant, the meeting was over in a couple of hours.
The selectmen presented a $3,720.577 budget proposal, which reflects an increase of $72,187 over last year's $3,305,362.85 request. The most significant increases constitute funds to update computer technology for town offices and the Colebrook Dispatch Center budget.
As planned, the town passed over an article proposing the establishment of a Municipal Transportation reserve fund by collecting a $5 fee per vehicle registration. This fund would assist with funding the repairs and improvement of three red-listed bridges on Harvey Swell Road, Bear Rock Road and Pleasant Street. While the overall cost of replairs for an all three bridges is $1.4 million, the town's 20-percent share would be $281,000. As the town is presently $90,000 short of this goal, it was hoped that the new fee would reach that amount by raising $30,000 a year over the next three years. However, hearing last month was not posted early enough and town officials decided to put the measure off for this year.
Townspeople were asked to approve $12,000 to clear the Colby Street Ditch near the Colebrook Airport, with $5,000 coming from a reserve fund and the remaining $7,000 from taxation. Under the stewardship of former road agent Sheldon Gray the ditch had been well maintained, but since then several large trees have grown up and must be removed by a logging company. When questioned why the town employees could not do the work, town officials said they lack the necessary equipment for that particular job.
Voters approved a three-year lease with option to purchase for a new trash compactor for recycling, valued at $28,495, and recently purchased because the piston on the old compactor was inoperable.
When asked to approve $182,500 for reserve funds, Donald Dickson observed that some of that should be spent to improve the town hall, which "is a disgrace" with poor steps and in need of a paint job. Selectmen said painters have been contracted and will begin work as soon as weather conditions permit.
The majority voted to discontinue maintenance of the 2.54 miles of Golf Links Road from the gate at the junction of Diamond Pond Road, and Golf Links Road to the paved state highway.
The town voted to raise $182,277 for support of the Colebrook Public Library and another $5,000 toward building repair and replacement. They also approved $89,130 for operation and maintenance of the Colebrook cemeteries, with $86,130 coming from taxation and the remainder from other revenues.
The All Veteran's Tax Credit was discussed and approved, incorporating veterans from recent military service with the same exemption offered veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Korea.
Columbia Rejects Further Federal Land Purchases
By Rob Maxwell
Twenty-six citizens took little notice of the night's weather and made their way to the Columbia Town Hall on Tuesday evening, March 14 to conduct school district and town business in brisk fashion. All articles on both warrants were passed with a minimum of fuss and bother, which allowed those in attendance to make their ways home before 9 p.m.
District moderator Eric Stohl guided voters through the warrant in 16 minutes, including the approval of $1,612,775 for the support of schools and passage of an article asking for the creation of an SAU 7 technology service position for the 2018-19 year.
Superintendent Bruce Beasley spoke to the asked-for IT position, stating, "This will help us maintain our equipment and improve technology education for both our staffs and our students." Mr. Beasley explained that if three of the five SAU 7 districts approved the measure, it would be adopted. Columbia voters gave the measure unanimous approval, joining Colebrook and Clarksville, while voters in Stewartstown and Pittsburg nixed the measure.
Longtime teacher and Columbia resident Kristen Brooks, who is set to retire this June, was given a warm round of applause for her 34 years in education.
Voters were in cooperative mood at this year's town meeting, passing all 30 articles on the warrant by unanimous vote with almost no discussion. Approved without comment were $110,000 in town charges, $120,000 for summer road maintenance and $94,000 for winter road maintenance.
Selectman Eric Stohl spent a few minutes explaining that Article 29 sought voter approval to oppose plans by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain up to 10 percent of the town's taxable acreage for expansion of the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge. "We will lose a lot of our tax base if this happens," said Mr. Stohl, "so we're asking you to join us in opposing this."
In the loudest voice vote of the evening, townspeople did indeed comply with his request by unanimous vote.
In Marathon Session, Pittsburg Supports Fire Dept. Self-Governance, Questions Highway Operations
By Jake Mardin
Tuesday's storm did nothing to dissuade Pittsburg voters from attending their annual town meeting, and they picked their way through 13 warrant articles over six and a half hours, starting at 7 p.m. and ending at 1:32 a.m. on Wednesday.
Four of the articles went to secret ballot due to submitted petitions, which added considerable time to the session. Residents also spoke their minds on several issues, with the most prominent being their view of the highway department.
Voters approved the purchase of a new 2017 police cruiser by trading in the 2015 cruiser, withdrawing $20,000 from the reserve fund and raising the remaining $4,355 through taxation. The measure passed with a 107-70 ballot vote.
A proposal to purchase a 2017 Ford F550 XLT by trading in the Chevy one-ton and withdrawing $70,694 from the heavy equipment fund failed by ballot, 167-13. During discussion of this article, voters brought forward a number of concerns about the highway department, including how much money was put into repairs of the current equipment in the fleet, money being spent on hired trucks and drivers, damage to highway equipment and a contract between road agent Vinny Scarnici and Meredith Plumbing and Heating.
Mr. Scarnici confirmed that there was a contract signed, and selectman Brendon McKeage said the board was unaware of the contract until a couple of weeks ago. He said the board checked with its lawyer, who told them it was in a "gray area" and may not be illegal, but suggested they avoid it in the future.
He said the board knew Mr. Scarnici rented the truck for $45 an hour and didn't have a problem with it because the town's trucks were down and the roads had to be plowed. Mr. McKeage said the board asked Mr. Scarnici to come up with an ending contract and said it is in the process of being drawn up. Mr. Scarnici also refuted some of the costs brought up by voters, and spoke to the difficulty the department had in finding plow trucks that were available for rental.
After the article was defeated, voters likewise rejected a proposal to raise $25,000 for the highway heavy equipment capital reserve fund. Voters did agree to raise $35,000 for the fire truck reserve fund, with $10,000 of that amount going to fire rescue equipment, and to raise $20,000 for the revaluation fund. The town is due for a full revaluation in 2018, and it is estimated to cost $80,000.
In a secret ballot vote, the town raised $40,000 for the Happy Corner Bridge reserve fund. The town also voted to adopt the provisions of the All Veterans' Tax Credit.
The other big discussion of the night was on Article 10, brought by petition to repeal an article passed at the 1966 town meeting. The measure would organize the Pittsburg Fire Department under several requirements, which included the operating budget, fire wards, and election of officers. Arnold Gray spoke in favor of the article, saying it wasn't a lot different from the 1966 article, but gave more authority for the townspeople to vote in wards rather than the selectmen, and would clarify issues not addressed in the 1966 article.
Brenda Kenney, whose husband Pete served on the department for 35 years, said the article sets boundaries between all involved parties and talked about the conflicts over the last two years, mainly relating to the governance of the department.
Bev Lord read a letter posted to the Pittsburg Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club's Facebook page from Chip Jones, a retired fire chief who came across the snowmobile accident in the Carr Ridge area on Sunday, March 12. He praised the PFD's actions in treating the injured rider, who he said "is here today in large part due to their abilities and professionalism."
The article went to a ballot vote and passed 155-8, after which Bev Lord nominated Peter Keyser, David Parker and Peter Kenney to serve as fire wards for one-year terms, and her motion passed with a voice vote. Voters also approved a petitioned article that delegated the authority, scheduling and management of the fire department building, meeting room, fire trucks, equipment, apparatus and contents of the station to the fire wards and fire chiefs.
Voters decided to go through the operating budget line item by line item, and they again brought up concerns with the highway department, among other items. The $1,497,980 budget was passed without any changes, and the meeting was adjourned at 1:32 a.m.
Stewartstown Voters Authorize Board to Dispose of Old Town Hall, Approve All Warrant Articles
By Karen Harrigan
Aside from two negative votes on one article, all items on Stewartstown's annual town meeting warrant were approved unanimously Tuesday night, including the $900,526 town budget with nary a peep. After reviewing an engineer's assessment of the old town hall building, voters authorized the selectmen to find a way to dispose of it to the best benefit of the town.
In addition to the budget, the 22 voters present approved six articles totaling $3,452 to fund various organizations: $150 to the North Country Chamber of Commerce; $470 to Coos Service Link; $250 to the Tyler Blain Homeless Shelter; $1,000 to Helping Hands North; $500 for the Colebrook Area Food Pantry; and $1,082 to the North Country Community Recreation Center.
Selectman Hasen Burns explained that the funding requests for both Service Link and the Tyler Blain shelter--which is in Lancaster--came from Tri-County Community Action Program. When presented from time to time with someone needing assistance, he said, "It's much cheaper for our welfare officer to put them up in these places, otherwise we have to find a motel or apartment. This $250 is really a bargain to have these rooms available."
The only significant discussion on funding, and the only two "no" votes, concerned the Rec Center request, which selectman Allen Coats explained is based on the last census of Stewartstown's population, at 1,082. Mr. Burns noted that at the time the pool was built, "the towns were assured they'd never ask us for money."
However, he read the center's request letter explaining that its main benefactor, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, is now asking the NCCRC to solicit funding from its area towns. After some discussion about the Rec Center's fee structure and its uses, the request was approved.
Upon arrival at the meeting, voters were presented with a 21-page report from engineer Aaron Joos, detailing the condition of the old town hall in Stewartstown Hollow. Mr. Burns called the report "phenomenal," and said Mr. Joos completed the study "for a tenth or less than if we'd hired a big firm. We're very, very fortunate to have him living in this town."
He observed that the building "is in remarkably good shape, but we don't have a use for it," and opened discussion by asking the voters to recommend discontinuing its maintenance. Mr. Coats agreed, saying that to bring the building up to usable condition would require over $400,000 and that its materials--the underlying granite blocks, windows and timers--do have some value.
The board agrees the building should be sold and by law it will have to go to bid, but Mr. Burns pointed out there are some things to consider when doing so. "We could find the right person who wants to salvage the materials," he said. "We need to find the way we can get the most out of it."
Renald Mathieu agreed, saying, "Why hang onto something that's just going to rot?" Lanny Placey asked whether the selectmen were thinking of demolition, but Mr. Burns clarified that "no, we do not mean to tear it down ourselves." Rather, he hopes the right buyer can be found, and that may be someone who wants the materials rather than use of the building.
"It's an old landmark, and it could remain standing under private ownership," Mr. Coats said. After a few more questions, which revealed that the building is valued at $63,000. In what amounted to a non-binding suggestion, voters authorized the selectmen to dispose of the property as best benefits the town.
Mr. Burns tried to adjourn the meeting, but Moderator Rick Samson rejected his motion, instead calling for a round of applause for Hasen's 18 years of service on the board. He got a standing ovation, only after which Mr. Samson agreed to adjourn the 7 p.m. meeting at 7:52.
Stratford Approves Pavilion, Conservation Commision
By Rob Maxwell
Voters in Stratford made short work of their annual school district meeting on Monday evening, March 13, and spent just under two hours tending to the town's affairs at the annual town meeting on Tuesday morning.
School District Meeting
A handful of citizens spent 15 minutes approving all five warrant articles and engaging in a brief discussion on declining state revenue for education at Monday's district meeting, held at the school gymnasium. School board members Wayne Hall, Mike Lynch and Bruce Blodgett fielded a few questions before voters approved a one-year extension of the tuition agreement with Northumberland and passed a $2,286,644 budget for the upcoming school year. SAU 58 superintendent Mike Kelly answered some questions about the state revenue shortfall in the "other business" portion of the meeting before moderator Clayton Macdonald adjourned the session at 6:15 p.m.
Around 45 citizens gathered in Fuller Town Hall at 10 a.m. Tuesday and approved all 15 articles on this year's town warrant, two after amendments. Moderator Jamie Sayen and selectmen James Davis, James Macdonald and Larry Ladd adroitly dealt with all the town's business on a snowy morning.
The proposed operating budget of $740,413 was unanimously approved after two proposed amendments to reduce the bottom line were put aside. The two motions came from Benji Blodgett and Tim Brooks, who asked that the total be reduced by $38,475 (in Mr. Blodgett's case) and by $19,237 (proposed by Mr. Brooks) to reflect the fact that the town no longer operates a police department.
Former police chief Wayne Hall advocated for keeping money in the budget in case it is needed for police-related business. "We shouldn't short-change ourselves on this," he stated, "and the budget should stay the way it was proposed." The voters agreed and the original amount was eventually approved.
Article 9 sought $40,000 for construction of a pavilion on the town common, with $36,000 coming from grants and donations and the balance from the unassigned fund. "We now have $20,318 in guaranteed funding from grants and donations," said Mr. Macdonald, "and the USDA is expected to give us a $24,590 grant within the next 45 days."
He recognized that this exceeded the asked-for $40,000--not including the $4,000 of town money--and Mr. Brooks proposed amending the article to remove the $40,000 figure and replace it with the phrase, "all grant monies and donation... with no more than $4,000 to come from the unassigned fund balance." The amendment was approved, as was the amended article.
An article proposing formation of a town conservation commission was approved by voice vote, although some in attendance voiced their disapproval of the notion. "I'm not in favor of this," said Scott McMann, "particularly because it could hold up possible development and could interfere with private property."
An article seeking $8,000 to remove four large white pine trees from Burnside and Baldwin Cemeteries was approved and Article 14, requesting small amounts for a number of North Country agencies was approved after being amended to increase the amount given to the backpack program from $100 to $945.
After a round of applause to the selectmen for their work on the Town's Christmas Tree, Mr. Sayen declared the meeting adjourned at 11:56 a.m.
(March 15, 2017)