Town Meetings 2021
Canaan School District & Town Keep Budgets Level
By Karen Ladd
Canaan voters gathered via Zoom for their annual town and school district meetings on Monday evening, March 1, and voted on warning articles by Australian ballot during regular polling hours the next day.
The district meeting took place first, with voters approving a $4,028,181 proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22 that is just $65,620 higher than the current year's budget. "We tried extremely hard to bring forward a level budget to the community," said ENSU superintendent Karen Conroy. "We understand these have been difficult times for everyone."
She said at one point a draft budget called for a 50-cent increase to the tax rate, which they got "down to 26 cents, then down to 16 cents, and we're now looking at a 1.66-percent increase." She noted that the expenditures total is actually lower, but the increase is due to the first $71,332 payment on the $1 million bond approved last year for renovations.
Mrs. Conroy's presentation highlighted some key items that affected the budget, such as salaries under a new three-year agreement with the teachers' union that includes a 2.78-percent average increase in the first year. Statewide health care bargaining resulted in an estimated increase of nine percent, and a new retirement benefit option for para-professionals at $9,912 and a 10-percent increase for life and disability benefits.
Regarding student services, which are up by $29,125, she said, "We really have a different caseload now, and recognize there will be an increase and a shift, from special education to non-special education services."
Increased enrollment in the CTE program has resulted in more transportation costs, which is "a good thing," Mrs. Conroy observed. "This is reimbursable up to 40 percent."
Revenue projections are up by $65,620, and Mrs. Conroy pointed out that the $4,028,181 total includes $1.835 million in grants. "The staff has written grants, along with the ones we typically receive," she said. "They've really gone above and beyond."
Other items of note are the planned relocation this summer of the ENSU offices to the community learning center just across Route 102 from the school. "This is to allow us to get all our staff to a place where we're not down in the basement as we are in the town office right now," Mrs. Conroy said. "The town will have more space and we will as well. It's going to be very convenient."
She and school board chairman Dan Wade also briefly recapped the cracked toilet fitting that caused a leak and flooded the elementary wing last summer. "The problem has been fixed, and I think all the fittings on all the toilets have been replaced," Mr. Wade said. "It was a Saturday and into a Sunday, it happened in an elementary bathroom, hit six classrooms and went down into the CTE area on the lower level.
Insurance covered the replacement of all equipment and the asbestos flooring was replaced. "While the asbestos people were there, it was cheaper to go ahead and do the multi-purpose room at that time since it was already sealed off, all the equipment was there," Mr. Wade said. "The cost effectiveness of doing it last summer was great, so we went ahead and took care of it."
Mrs. Conroy ran down some of the projects to be covered by the $1 million bond, some of which have been completed. Efficiency Vermont provided a $35,000 grant to conduct an air quality study, "and the same firm will look at electrical upgrades relating to air quality and what future upgrades we might need," she said. "We're currently working with them on our lighting and how to improve efficiency."
There are new doors at the main, north and gym entrances that are accessible to the handicapped, and there's a secure area at the high school entrance to allow for screening of those entering. "We have done some Covid-related changes," Mrs. Conroy said. "We have an isolation room and have done some reconstruction around the nurse's area." The kitchen's range, steam table and dishwasher have been upgraded, and the science and art labs have been moved from the basement to the main floor.
"We've been working with Garland Mill to design our new science lab, which will take two classrooms," she said. "We're also looking at designs for the new locker rooms, which will be right off the gymnasium. We still have to take care of the family and consumer science area as well. Theresa Bolton has done a wonderful job securing funds to make our library a 21st Century STEAM lab and media center."
There was some discussion about the roof, which further investigation revealed does not require replacement, according to Mr. Wade. Only one section sags where braces called strong backs were not installed, and the district spent $16,000 to have an engineer confirm that it can be fixed. Mr. Wade said retired building trades teacher Eugene Reid has agreed to oversee the work, which can be done by in-house custodial staff.
"We're taking a repair and monitor approach," Mr. Reid said. "The engineer designed a technique to structurally repair what was damaged, and we're going to put in strong backs that the original company left out."
Following an update on from interstate school district committee chairman Kyle Daley, Mr. Wade concluded the meeting by recognizing outgoing 40-year school board member Dan Lepine, who received a round of applause. "His guidance and wonderful way of asking questions will be sorely missed by all," he said. "We appreciate all you have done--thank you."
The town meeting lasted just under an hour, with selectboard chairman Frank Sawicki running through the highlights of the warning and budget. The police cruiser purchased in 2013 had to be replaced this past year at $35,396, and there was some discussion about the town's new garage policy. The town purchased a tent garage for storage at the part-time officer's home, and he uses it for call-outs only.
The transfer station budget is up by $44,464, for a few different reasons. Selectman Haven Haynes pointed out that with more people staying home over the past year, they undertook home projects and cleaned out junk, so there was more garbage to be hauled.
Mr. Sawicki added that the state has mandated the purchase of a food composter. "We're trying to assess how much food is coming down there, and working on a grant to purchase an agitator," he said. "No plastics, no plastic bags in the compost, please."
Odette Crawford gave the board kudos for saving $7,000 on street lighting by upgrading to LED lights, which Mr. Sawicki pointed out was board member Greg Noyes' initiative. Mrs. Crawford also noted the tax increase of four cents translates to just five percent. "The selectmen did a good job of keeping that fairly level," she said.
The next day at the polls, Canaan voters approved all town warning articles, agreeing to apply any surplus from the current year to reduce taxes in the next; deposit $2,000 into the building fund; raise $13,004 for service agencies; and to provide Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital with $4,000.
Voters also authorized library fund expenditures of $86,500; operating expenses of $482,153.36, with $383,068.30 to come from taxes; and a highway budget of $359,273.02, of which $279,503.02 was to be raised by taxes. All three articles on the school district warning were likewise approved.
Canaan Election Results
Town Moderator, 1 year: Ann Morgan Wade*, 109. School District Moderator, 1 year: Ann Morgan Wade*, 108. Selectboard, 3 years: Alfred Buckley, 63; Melody Houle, 10; Christiane Rancourt, 43. Lister, 3 years: Richard J. Dennis Jr.*, 111. School Director, 3 years: Linda Harris*, 105. School Director, 3 years: Renee Marchesseault, 108. Auditor, 3 years: Renee Marchesseault, 107. Delinquent Tax Collector, 3 years: Dencie Cunningham*, 112. Trustee of Public Funds, 3 years: Dencie Cunningham*, 113. Sexton, 1 year: Michael Ladd*, 111. No candidates for: Library Trustee, 3 years.
Colebrook Voters Agree to New Water Wells Project, Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade
About 55 citizens turned out for Colebrook's annual town meeting at the school gym on Tuesday night, seated at safe distances and with preparations in place for overflow seating in other rooms if needed. In just under two hours, they approved all 24 warrant articles and appropriations that will increase the amount coming from property taxes this year by $220,159.
Selectmen Sue Collins and Greg Placy opened the meeting by recognizing some outgoing and retiring elected officials and employees, and those who stepped into these positions. They also named several other organizations and individuals who went above and beyond in their work or volunteerism during the past year's pandemic.
Mr. Placy also made note of the work by SAU 7 and school staff and others--including John Shatney, who donated time and equipment for the sound system--to make the meeting possible. "The tech guys have been here since 9 a.m. this morning," he said. "They went from here to set up Stewartstown, then set up Pittsburg, then came back here to set this up." Mr. Placy apologized if anyone was missed, and added, "Colebrook is Colebrook because of you."
Selectmen Sue Collins and Ray Gorman then presented the Citizen of the Year awards to Jessica Falconer and David Collins. Ms. Falconer has achieved Silver and Bronze Awards in the Girl Scouts and is currently working toward Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts organization. She led the effort to connect the Ski-Bees' snowmobile trail system to the school property for student use, and volunteers with the Key Club, Kiwanis Club and at the Colebrook Public Library.
Mr. Collins resides in Webster but his heart is in Colebrook, where serves as the president of the historical society and led the five-year planning and organizing for Colebrook's 250th Anniversary Celebration in 2020. With major events cancelled due to the pandemic, he and the committee still rallied to present banners on Main Street and posters on historical downtown buildings, and on Labor Day weekend guided tours, a re-creation of the Bicentennial pageant and a fireworks display.
Before reviewing the $2,563,975 general government budget, Ms. Collins pointed out some key items and changes, including a 2.5-percent cost of living adjustment that will take effect on April 3. "We changed our health insurance benefit, realizing $55,000 in savings to the town along with savings to employees who have two-person or family plans," she said. "The New Hampshire Retirement System rates are taking a huge jump on July 1st, going from 11.17 percent of pay to 14.06 percent for Group 1 employees, and from 28.43 percent of pay to 33.88 percent for Group II employees."
The budget also reflects training time for town clerk Tracey McKinnon's replacement, the transfer of some funds from the welfare budget to the general office line, a new copier and two new computers. The police department budget is up by $36,470, totaling $627,900, mostly due to Chief Steve Cass' retirement and hiring of Paul Rella as the new chief.
"We had an overlap of two chiefs in February to assure a smooth transition and at retirement, we paid Chief Cass his accrued vacation time," Ms. Collins explained. "As I mentioned earlier, effective July 1st there is a big jump in Group II retirement assessments."
David Hodge noted that when this year's proposed police department budget figure is compared to actual spending in 2020, the increase is $83,374. "Why so much?" he said. "The reason I ask is if you look at the budget [$548,100] for the highway department, where they do plowing, sanding, have all that equipment, there's almost a $100,000 difference when compared to the police department, where we have two vehicles and no buildings. It seems like that budget is getting extremely high for a town like this."
Ms. Collins pointed out that the police budget includes 24-7 coverage. "That was approved decades ago," she said. "So even though they have only a few more people, the number of hours worked is higher." Mr. Hodge said he would just like to see that budget kept under more control. "It's the highest budget with the least number of people and vehicles."
The only other major increase is under the transfer station budget. "The cost of the tipping fees at Mt. Carberry are increasing from $57 per ton to $62.50 per ton, and we are shipping more," she said. "We shipped a lot more in 2020 than 2019." She concluded by noting that the general government budget is up by $36,202 this year, or 1.5 percent.
Among other items approved were $282,500 in capital reserve fund contributions, and $120,650 for continued landfill closure expenses, with $50,000 coming from reserve funds. Other reserve fund withdrawals will pay for $61,000 in paving on sections of Piper Hill and South Hill roads; $16,700 to repair the town hall sewer line; and $9,200 for a new container at the transfer station.
Regarding the $75,000 placed in the bridge fund, Mr. Placy explained that the town has two bridge projects coming up, one on the east branch of the Mohawk and the other a culvert on Harvey Swell Road. "The costs are a little higher than anticipated, so our match goes up." The sections to be paved are from the big culvert on Piper Hill Road, and from Beaver Brook on South Hill Road, "the steep section, because that's were we have to do a lot of maintenance all the time," he said.
Regarding the sewer line at the town hall, Mr. Placy explained that during the water and sewer project, "we increased the slope a bit on Bridge Street, and now it's too flat coming out of the town hall."
Ms. Collins reviewed changes in the water and sewer budgets, which are funded by user fees, citing two major factors in the $70,250 decrease. "We traditionally charged payroll and benefits for three department employees 50 percent water and 50 percent sewer," she said. "It has been very evident in the past few years that more manpower is devoted to the sewer department than the water department. Superintendent Brian Sullivan over a period of time estimated that it would be fairer to charge 40 percent to water and 60 percent to sewer."
The other major reduction is $40,000 in legal fees, now that the town has settled its lawsuit over the new water wells. Attorney Jon Frizzell presented a brief rundown of the case, which his firm has been working on for five years. "Overall I think it was a good outcome," he said of the $550,000 settlement, and with passage of a later article, voters approved dedicating the funds to work on a new water well project.
The last few articles involve grant funds and will not have an impact on this year's property taxes, two of them involving the expansion at the American Performance Polymers plant on Bridge Street:
-- A $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for upgrades to the water system at the Colebrook Homeowners Cooperative mobile home park on Couture Street. "In 2020 we sponsored a feasibility study," Ms. Collins explained, and that study is the basis for this grant application. "This appropriation will be funded only if the $500,000 application is approved, and we should hear yes of no later this spring."
-- A $30,000 grant from USDA Rural Development to evaluate the town's water and wastewater needs relating to the APP expansion. "This grant is needed to take a look at our systems and determine what the needs are," Mr. Placy said. "Any additional costs for engineering are being paid by APP--they agreed to do that. They also have two engineering firms working on their side of things."
-- A $3 million upgrade to the waste water treatment facility, which Mr. Placy has not been done since 2000 and is still being studied in coordination with APP. "There's a lot of engineering going on, a lot of chemical engineering going on," he said. "We have no idea yet what improvements are needed or what they will cost. We're working with APP on a continuous basis."
At the conclusion of discussion on the funded warrant articles, Ms. Collins pointed out a budget summary included in a meeting handout. "We expected that if all articles were approved, the amount to be raised by taxes will decrease 1.18 percent."
Under the "other business" article, Pam Frizzell suggested remembering longtime selectman, town manager and cemetery commissioner Sally Wentzell, who died last February; longtime town clerk Solange Hebert, who passed away in October; and former school board member, selectman, state senator and representative Fred King, who died just last month. After everyone observed a moment of silence, the meeting adjourned at 8:42 p.m.
Colebrook Election Results
Selectman, 3 years: Suzanne Collins*, 76. Trustee of Trust Funds, 3 years: Albert Ferns Jr.*, 85. Library Trustee (2), 3 years: Catherine Drucker, 83. Planning Board (2), 3 years: Ronald Patterson*, 87. Cemetery Trustee, 3 years: Daniel R. Lyons*, 84. School Board, 3 years (2) : Deborah Greene*, 73; Tracey McKinnon*, 82. School District Treasurer: Gaetane Boire*, 87.
No candidates for: Town Moderator, 1 year; Planning Board, 3 years; School District Moderator, 1 year: School District Clerk, 1 year.
Police Cruiser Purchase, Highway Garage Project Debated in Pittsburg
By Jake Mardin
It took Pittsburg voters around two hours to consider all articles during a town meeting that was sometimes contentious, and was held in the school gym on Tuesday night.
The majority of the conversation centered on trading in for a new police vehicle, whether to discontinue certain roads, and the funding of the new highway garage that was approved last year. Around 60 voters were seated at safe distances throughout the gym, and overflow seating had been set up in case it was needed.
The first item to generate discussion was Article 3, which asked voters to trade in the 2017 police cruiser and raise $32,535 for a new Tahoe, while taking $30,000 from the cruiser capital reserve fund and raising the remaining $2,535 through taxes. Officer Rick Dube moved to amend the article by raising an additional $7,000 to add the Z71 package to the new Tahoe. He said the Z71 package's higher ground clearance is more suitable to Pittsburg's roads, and that in the past he has had issues making it to homes on private, non-town-maintained roads. He suggested funds for his proposed amendment could come from the drug forfeiture fund.
After several minutes of discussion concerning procedures on voting for amendments and amended articles, and whether the selectmen can expend money from the drug forfeiture fund for the cruiser (they determined they could), voters approved the $39,535 new cruiser purchase, with $30,000 coming from reserve and $9,535 coming through taxes and/or the drug forfeiture fund.
The next series of articles raised funds for various reserve funds: $5,000 for Happy Corner Bridge, $25,000 for the fire truck fund, $5,000 for fire equipment, $15,000 for revaluation and $50,000 for highway heavy equipment.
Townspeople discussed and ultimately rejected Articles 8-12, which proposed discontinuing WD Dorman Road, Mountain Valley Road, Spruce Lane, Harry's Lane and Covill Road as open highway. Selectman Richard Judd said the town was not asking to give up the right of way on these roads, just the right to maintain what he categorized as driveways that are difficult for the town crew to maintain.
Article 13 contained the $1,868,970 general budget, which included the first annual payment for the new highway garage that will be built on Back Lake Road near the transfer station, on land donated to the town by the Washburn family.
Arnold Gray asked if the board could clarify expenses related to the project. He pointed out a section in the town report for construction fund expenses that showed $15,956 going to Michael Blanchard Construction and Concrete for frost walls, and in the highway budget, there were expenses related to the new garage totaling roughly $63,000. He argued that expenses for the new garage should come only from the $700,000 fund that was approved at last year's town meeting. Mr. Gray said he wasn't accusing the board of doing anything illegal, but didn't like how things were done.
Selectman Richard Lapoint said that with the increased costs of construction materials, the board wanted to use money from the highway budget rather than take it from the garage construction fund as a way to offset potential additional costs. Mr. Judd said the board has moved money between departments in the past, citing as an example using a transfer station surplus to cover a shortage in the water and sewer department.
Brian Dorman asked why the property the garage is being built on is not included on the list of town-owned properties. Mr. Lapoint said the land was a gift by the Washburn family and the deed is currently in probate court because a family member passed away, adding that the board has been assured that the land is a gift and the probate court is a formality.
Mr. Dorman also asked what expenses in the highway department budget went toward work at the new garage, and Mr. Lapoint said they included septic design by Beaver Brook Planning & Design, blasting by GM Drilling and Blasting, frost walls by Michael Blanchard Construction and site work by Welog. Mr. Lapoint said in exchange for the land donation, Welog would do the site work and the board figured the $36,485 cost would be less expensive than local options.
Mr. Dorman also asked if the building itself would go out to bid; the selectmen said yes, and they are working on it. Mr. Lapoint observed that the board had held a public hearing on the project that no one attended.
Bob Ormsbee suggested that to avoid confusion in future meetings, the project should be set up as a separate account in the town report, and expenses should come out of that figure. Voters ultimately passed the budget.
At the end of the meeting, the board recognized Helen Lord, who is ending a 30-year run as supervisor of the checklist, and outgoing selectman Curt Shaw, with both receiving a standing ovation.
School District Meeting: At Thursday's annual school district meeting, voters approved all seven warrant articles set before them, including the $3,297,644 school budget, $10,000 for the facility maintenance fund, $20,000 for the school bus fund and $5,000 for the technology trust fund.
Pittsburg Election Results
Selectman, 3 years: Michael G. Koehler, 17; Patrick W. Hamilton, 106. Road Agent, 3 years: Rick Clogston*, 139. Town Treasurer, 3 years: Catherine E. McComiskey*, 140. Supervisor of the Checklist, 1 year: Marlene Tardif, 43; Heidi McGuigan, 72. Library Trustee, 3 years: Dorothy Stebbins*, 138. Trustee of Trust Funds, 3 years: David Covill*, 129. Fire Wards (3) : Peter J. Kenney*, 125; Gary M. Jobes, 58; David Parker*, 110. School board, 3 years: Michael G. Koehler, 43; Willard Ormsbee*, 91; Reginald Parker*, 119. School District Moderator, 3 years: Richard Judd*, 119. School District Clerk, 3 years: Beth A. Bissonnette*, 140.
No candidates for: Overseer of Welfare, 1 year; School District Treasurer, 3 years.
Quick and Quiet Meetings in Stewartstown
By Jake Mardin
Stewartstown's town meeting on Tuesday evening was a brisk affair, with voters passing the $975,903 budget and going through all three warrant articles in 13 minutes. Other than a couple of questions on the increased dispatch budget due to the number of calls, there was not much other discussion.
Stewartstown's school district meeting was held on Monday night, with six articles taken up by the voting public. The $2,724,869 budget was approved and a new Technology Capital Reserve Fund was established with a $5,000 appropriation. Voters also agreed to add $20,000 to the school bus fund.
Stewartstown Election Results
Selectman, 3 years: Dwayne Covell*, 49. Town Treasurer, 1 year: Christina Brochu, 9; Lucina Dubois, 32. Town Moderator, 2 years: Kyle Daley*, 47. Auditors (2), 1 year: Jeannine Burns*, 45; Brenda Carney*, 47. Welfare Officer, 1 year: Lisa Young*, 47. East Side Road Agent, 1 year: Aaron Joos*, 48. West Side Road Agent, 2 years: Aaron Joos*, 48. Trustee of Trust Funds, 3 years: Mark Towle*, 44. Budget Committee, 3 years: Nelson Boire*, 44. School Board, 3 years: Jamie Boire*, 36; Lainie Castine, 9.
No candidates for: Trustee of Trust Funds, 2 years; Planning Board (2), 3 years; Planning Board, 2 years; Planning Board, 1 year.
(Editor's Note: Time ran out to write up the Clarksville and Columbia meetings for today, but they will be reported on in next week's paper. Neither had a contested race and their warrant articles were approved expeditiously.)
(March 10, 2021)