Three of Four Towns
Say 'Yes' to Keno
By Jake Mardin
Of the four local towns that posed the Keno question on their annual meeting warrants, three approved the measure during their sessions on Tuesday. Colebrook voters passed the article 31-19; Pittsburg approved it 67-8; and Stewartstown passed it in a floor vote. Stratford voted the article down from the floor by a roughly 2-1 margin, and Errol will address the question at its town meeting this Saturday.
Last year the state legislature passed SB 191, which established Keno as a revenue source to fund full-day kindergarten. After the bill became law, the N.H. Lottery Commission established the Keno 603 game. A town does not have to approve Keno in order to receive full-day kindergarten funding, and the games may be played only at establishments holding a full liquor license.
Deny Petition to Close Porton
of Bear Rock Rd. to ATVs
By Jake Mardin
Monday evening, March 12, and Tuesday's storm didn't keep a sizeable turnout of voters from attending the annual town meeting.
School District Meeting
Every article on the school district warrant passed, as did a non-binding vote on participating in regional discussion on the future of education in the North Country.
During discussion of the non-binding vote, SAU 7 superintendent Bruce Beasley said he anticipates a committee including himself, Essex North Supervisory Union superintendent Karen Conroy and the chairman of each area school board, and from there the group will see whom else to bring in. When asked about citizens being kept in the loop during the process, Mr. Beasley said he expects to have updates posted on the SAU 7 Web site, with hard copies available at the SAU office for those without Internet access and ongoing newspaper coverage. He expressed hope that next year's annual meetings will include presentations and recommendations for all districts. After the discussion was concluded, the vote passed 21-0.
The $2,467,430 budget was approved without discussion, and voters also added $20,000 to the school bus fund and $25,000 to the building fund. The meeting was adjourned at 6:23 p.m.
Most of the discussion Tuesday night centered on a petitioned article that proposed closing a short portion of Bear Rock Road from the junction of Heath Road to the Colebrook town line. The petition states that dust created by ATV traffic "significantly impacts the quality of hay" in adjacent fields, and closure of the trail would have no impact on access to trails or on businesses.
Petitioner Monique Petrofsky said she has lived on this road off and on since 1972. She said she has measured how far dust goes into the hay fields and that it reaches around 100 feet after about ten ATVs go by, and that it has gone out as far as 400 feet. Ms. Petrofsky said the amount of ATV traffic also makes it difficult for haying equipment to navigate the area, and that rerouting that portion of road would still allow riders to reach the trails.
There was some talk about laying down calcium chloride on that portion of road to keep the dust down. Ms. Petrofsky expressed concerns on what impact the chemical would have on the hay quality.
Craig Washburn of the Metallak ATV Club spoke about the importance of that section of road, explaining it is part of Corridor C. He agreed that the large abundance of ATV traffic is "a culture change" and that the club has been looking at different options. He suggested putting some gravel down on the road to limit the dust.
According to moderator Rick Samson, the best estimate is that closing the portion of Bear Rock Road would add five miles to a rider's trip, taking them through Harvey Swell Road, Diamond Pond Road and Heath Road.
Harry Brown made a motion to allow ATVs to continue using that portion of road for no greater than three years, and during that time upgrade the road to eliminate dust, but the motion failed through voice vote.
Others spoke in favor of keeping the trail open. George Hodge said he lives on a dirt road and his fields have not had any adverse effects from dust, and he feels that all roads should be open to ATVs. Selectman Allen Coats reminded the audience that the selectboard has the authority to open or close any road to ATV traffic, but has decided to bring those questions to the townspeople to decide. After the discussion concluded, the article was defeated by ballot vote, 38-22.
Article 2 sought $925,000 for the town's portion of upgrades and improvements to the pump stations on Park and Church streets, to be raised by issuance of bonds. Mr. Coats said the current pump stations are underground and the new ones would be at ground level, which would allow for easier access and less confined space.
He said the town is expecting grants to help pay with the project and the minimum grant funding would cover 45 percent of the total cost, meaning an increase of $6 a month for system users. The town hopes for 65-percent funding, which would result in a $4 monthly increase. Mr. Brown made a motion to amend the article to add that it will be paid for by users of the system, and the amended article passed by ballot vote, 48-1.
The town budget of $946,460 was approved, with the 45th Parallel EMS line item increase of about $20,000 dominating discussion. Mr. Coats said the biggest causes for the increase were the purchase of a new ambulance and the 45th not being reimbursed for making runs. He read a letter from the 45th that also mentioned negative impacts on revenue due to the federal budget, delays on Medicaid payments, refusal to pay and the Affordable Care Act creating a loss in revenue. Mr. Brown said that the service "is great" with the ambulance, but the financial piece is "out of control."
Hasen Burns serves on the 45th board of directors and said the agency isn't alone in this problem; services all across New England are struggling, including CALEX in the Lyndonville, Vt., area. Mr. Burns disagreed, however, with a motion made by Mr. Brown to level the budget. "People are demanding more services all the time and are not willing to pay for it," he said.
Chris Ricker spoke in favor of keeping the budget as it was originally presented, asking what the price on a life is and noting that he said he was saved by the 45th after an accident. "If we can have equipment that is new and good to use, why not spend the money?" Mr. Brown's motion was defeated by voice vote, and Mr. Samson denied his request for a ballot vote because it had already taken place.
The town also raised $67,826 for the 2018 revaluation, with $40,000 of that amount to come from the unassigned fund balance.
Colebrook Approves Vehicle Purchases, Town Hall Work & Dispatch Upgrade
By Karen Harrigan
Colebrook voters approved all 24 articles on their annual town meeting warrant on Tuesday night, with around 70 citizens attending as the snow continued to fall outside.
The $2.2 million general government budget includes a 2.5-percent cost-of-living increase for employees, which selectman Sue Collins explained is based on the Consumer Price Index from the Department of Labor. The town also budgeted for an 11.3-percent increase in health insurance premiums and a two-percent increase for dental.
Colebrook's share of the 45th Parallel EMS budget is $178,545 this year, a 31-percent increase of $42,270 over last year's amount. The highway department budget is down by $26,721 despite having $100,000 tagged for paving parts of Bear Rock Road, Hughes Road and Colby Street, because the town will get $81,271 from the state's SB38 funds.
The town is also budgeting ahead for a total revaluation in 2019, and in August will make its first $70,856 payment on the loan portion of the Main Street project approved at the 2015 town meeting. Two payments a year will be due through 2044, and in 2045 the town will make only a single, final payment.
In separate warrant articles, voters approved $222,500 for eight different capital reserve funds, and three vehicle purchases that will all come from reserve funds with no tax impact. There was no discussion on the $25,000 raised for a new police cruiser, a 2014 vehicle with 120,000 miles on it and which selectman Greg Placy said needs major engine work.
Mr. Placy explained that the $160,000 raised in Article 4 would be used to purchase a new plow truck, wing, plow and stainless steel spreader to replace the existing 2007 Sterling via trade-in. "It has 72,000 plowing miles, which are hard miles," he said. "We've put a chunk of money into it, but this next year it will not pass inspection without major, major work--the truck is tired."
Likewise, Mr. Placy said the highway department's 2008 Chevy pickup will not pass inspection, with 135,926 miles on the odometer. "We've certainly got our money out of it," he said, and Article 5 raised $25,00 to purchase a used replacement with trade-in. Robert Hodge questioned whether the town really needs the truck, especially when Mr. Placy explained that the town has two pickups: one used by the highway department and the other by the water and sewer departments.
"Can't you use one?" Mr. Hodge asked. Mr. Placy replied, "No. The water and sewer guys are always with their truck, and it has their tools and equipment in it. It's also paid for differently--the water and sewer pickup comes from water and sewer funds, and this one is highway."
Article 7 raised $101,550 for landfill closure expenses, with $50,000 coming from reserve funds and the remainder from taxes. Ms. Collins explained that this figure is up this year by $12,750 "due to a substance known as 1,4 dioxane, which is leaching into the ground from the landfill." Last year the employee working in this area went from part-time to full-time, and the town increased the amount coming from the reserve fund for a tax impact that is $7,750 higher than the 2017 amount.
Pam Frizzell asked whether the town's water treatment plan has the right filters for these chemicals, and Greg Marchand of the water and sewer department stated that it does. "The sewer lagoon is the first step, and allows it to settle," he said. "Then the UV system kills pretty much everything. We test on a daily basis and it's always exceeded the limits that the state has set forth."
Wendell Woodard asked whether the town will have to bear this expense for the foreseeable future, and Ms. Collins said it will. However, she noted that town manager Becky Merrow and resident Ron Guerin of Calex Environmental have been working on a system to extract the 1,4 dioxane on site, rather than trucking it to the treatment plant, and a project is planned for this summer that will involve an intern from Dartmouth College.
Article 8 sought $45,000--all coming from reserve and with no tax impact--for siding and related repairs to the town hall. After some discussion, voters approved Ms. Collins' motion to amend this article by adding $55,000 that would come from general taxation, in order to replace the concrete front steps. The steps have been deteriorating and the selectmen had planned to do something next year, but recently the icy conditions and salt application caused some concrete chunks to fall off and make one side unusable.
"It's a major safety issue," Ms. Collins said. "We have an estimate that includes demolition, excavation, frost walls, new concrete and a snow melt system inside the steps. We should get a longer life from these stairs, because we won't have to use salt." The tax rate impact of the amendment, she said, is 30 cents per $1,000.
Mr. Hodge cited a recent decision by the school board to leave Colebrook Academy next year, and the sometimes-mentioned possibility of moving the town offices to that building. "If we're going to put all this money into the town hall, then it should stay the town hall," he said. "The school should be torn down and made into a parking lot, because the parking lot now is on our water and ruining it." Ms. Collins agreed that the current board wishes to keep the town offices where they are, and the article passed as amended.
Noting the center's name change, Ms. Collins also spoke to Article 14, which raised $337,100 for the Northern Borders Dispatch Center--with $135,810 coming from participating towns and $201,290 from taxation--and Article 15, raising $312,000 for equipment upgrades. Of that amount, $60,000 will come from the Unincorporated Places, $100,000 from a federal grant and $152,000 from other grants.
"Most of the items in the dispatch center budget are level-funded, and many are down," Ms. Collins said, noting that Colebrook's share is up by $15,106 this year. Mr. Hodge asked how the costs are divided among towns; she answered that it is based on number of calls, but pointed out that this year a subcommittee plans to come up with a formula that includes other factors such as population and valuation.
The equipment upgrades are vital, she said, "to bring our aging and deteriorating system up to today's standards." The console alone is "holding on by a prayer," she said, and will cost $60,000 to replace.
There was little discussion about two articles raising $56,000 each for predesign and engineering to replace the Bear Rock Road and Harvey Swell Road bridges, with funds all coming from reserve and no tax impact. "We've hired an engineering firm and they're ready to go," Mr. Placy said. "The state funds 80 percent and the engineering firm believes they can find another 15 percent from other agencies and funds."
The last action article was brought by petition with 33 signatures, and sought "the review, possible amendment to, and enforcement of" the town's current snow removal plan. "We, the undersigned, see a valid need for this, as current conditions are unsafe and pose many hardships."
Sandra Riendeau, who does not drive and therefore walks everywhere, said the town highway department has "done better since this petition was started." She noted it was suggested by Bev White because "people couldn't get to her shop, partly because of that stupid lip we have on our sidewalk. We want this work they've been doing to continue."
There was some discussion about the "gray area" between what the N.H. Department of Transportation is required to plow and the town takes care of, such as the parking spaces and the half-step between them and the main sidewalk--the "lip" that Mrs. Riendeau mentioned.
Acknowledging that there have been some falls and that this same gray area exists in many New Hampshire towns, Mr. Placy agreed that "the groups need to do work together better." He said they have been doing a better job on that step and the parking spaces, and will ensure that it continues, but pointed out that after the Main Street work is finished in the next couple of years, "that step will be gone."
Under "other business," David Brooks for people to complete an emergency information form in the town report, Mr. Placy suggested reading the information on page 100 about water leaks. The meeting adjourned at 8:33 p.m. and everyone headed out to the parking lot to clean off their cars. Again.
Columbia Votes to Rename
Lyman Falls Rec Site in Memory
of Bill Schomburg
By Rob Maxwell
Columbia school and town officials along with a hardy group of voters conducted the public's annual business on Tuesday evening, March 13 at the old town hall in spite of some winter weather.
All the articles on both warrants were passed, although there was a lengthy discussion about the cost of 45th Parallel EMS on the town side of things, and voters gave nonbinding approval of plans to pursue school regionalization talks.
School moderator Eric Stohl took about 50 citizens through the school district warrant in brisk fashion, with no questions posed to school board members Chris Brady, Stacey Campbell or Cara Lariviere. Voters gave unanimous approval of a $1,497,249 budget and raised $25,000 for the tuition fund, which brings its balance to $208,731.
SAU 7 superintendent Bruce Beasley gave a presentation concerning the Colebrook district's plan to consolidate its two schools in 2019, explaining that the projected $310,000 to be saved annually by closing Colebrook Academy would help to reduce the tuition rates being charged to Columbia students. Mr. Beasley said the merger of the two Colebrook schools does not include plans for continuation of consumer science classes, which would be offered in Canaan and Pittsburg as part of an ongoing collaboration under which high school students attend classes at other schools.
Mr. Beasley told the gathering that during district meetings in Pittsburg, Clarksville, Stewartstown and Colebrook, he had presented additional plans to continue talks with SAU 7 districts and Canaan toward some kind of eventual regionalization. In all of those sessions, voters gave overwhelming, nonbinding support to form a committee that will explore some form of regionalization. "You're the last ones to hear it," he said, "and I hope you wind up agreeing with everyone else."
Following the superintendent's presentation, Jane McCoy talked about a failed attempt to consolidate North Country schools in the past. "What makes you think things will be any different this time?"
Mr. Beasley observed that although he wasn't here during the previous discussions, "I do get a feeling that as a result of declining enrollments and the state of our local economy, folks seem ready to get together and talk the situation over. We're competing for the same educational dollar right now and I think we can do better."
School board chairman Chris Brady stated, "I can tell you there are some serious talks going on and there's a totally different mind-set from before." Mr. Stohl asked the meeting to participate in a nonbinding straw poll on the question: "Do you support Columbia being part of a regional conversation to discuss the future of education?" Voters gave their approval of this question, 35-0 by a show of hands.
About 35 members of the public stayed after the district meeting to conduct the town meeting. All 31 articles on the warrant were approved, 28 unanimously, with the largest discussion centering on a $54,708 request for 45th Parallel EMS and $8,000 for planning board expenses.
Moderator Nancy Smith and selectmen Norman Cloutier, Mr. Stohl and Don Campbell helped move the meeting along with relative alacrity, and townspeople approved $155,000 for town charges, $120,000 for summer road maintenance, $94,000 to maintain roads in winter, and $48,000 for solid waste disposal and recycling, with the usual questions concerning the necessity for rising costs.
The longest discussion of the evening concerned an increase of more than $20,000 in the 45th Parallel EMS line item, which Dan Lesperance said constitutes a 62-percent increase from the previous year. Mr. Stohl said that compared with other towns in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, "our share is relatively low for a 24/7, 365 days-a-year service that can save your life." Mr. Stohl added that the increase in the expense is due to the 45th garnering only "about 50 or 60 cents on each dollar they charge from insurance companies," the high number of people who refuse transport after an ambulance has been called out, and "low buying power as a result of a low volume of calls."
Further discussion on the issue included question about the difference between EMTs and paramedics and why more than one paramedic in a single ambulance often answer a call. Mike Collins, a town resident and member of the 45th board, explained that when an ambulance is called to a vehicular accident, the ambulance is staffed by more than one paramedic in case there are multiple injuries to deal with.
Mr. Stohl noted that dividing the total expense by the current Columbia population comes to "about $72 per person, and I don't mind paying what can be thought of as a $72 premium for this kind of service." After several minutes of sometimes heated discussion, the article was approved by voice vote.
Voters unanimously agreed to change the name of the Lyman Falls Recreation Site to "The William Schomburg Memorial Recreation Site at Lyman Falls" after Stacey Campbell told the group, "This may very well have been Mr. Scomburg's favorite place in all the world." Shortly thereafter, Ms. Smith declared the meeting adjourned and for the second year in a row, Columbians made their way home through the snow.
Pittsburg Voters Add $50,000 to Budget for Gravel & Approve Truck Purchase
By Jake Mardin
Pittsburg voters passed all 12 articles on their warrant and adjourned the annual town meeting within two hours on Tuesday night.
All articles passed as written except for the general budget, where voters added $50,000 to the highway department line item for gravel and increased the bottom line to $1,555,749.
The town also voted to purchase a 2018 Ford F550 diesel truck, including a three-yard hydraulic sander, plow, nine-foot hydraulic dump body and aluminum toolbox for $85,219, of which $47,000 will come from reserve funds and the remaining $38,219 from taxation.
An article to raise $50,000 for paving town roads was approved, and voters added $65,000 to the highway heavy equipment, police cruiser, Happy Corner Bridge, fire truck and fire equipment capital reserve funds.
The town also approved $21,000 to refurbish the information booth in the town park.
Stratford Seeks Discussion of
Police Coverage, Looks Toward
250th in 2023
By Rob Maxwell
Stratford public officials and about 50 members of the public gathered on Tuesday morning, March 13 at Fuller Town Hall, where they cordially dealt with the town's business. They approved all funded articles while voting to disapprove the operation of Keno games within the town and asking selectmen about the future of police service.
Moderator Jamie Sayen, along with selectboard chairman James Davis and board members Charles Goulet and Clayton Macdonald, answered some questions before voters unanimously approved $751,870 for the town's operating budget and a $25,000 addition to the highway and bridges expendable fund. Tim Brooks made a motion to amend the article asking for $250 for the Cohos Historical Society by raising it to $1,000. After a brief discussion on how the money would be spent, the amended article was passed without dissent.
Voters eventually approved $38,475 for support of police, after several citizens asked the selectmen to consider public meetings to gather input about whether to continue the town's current contract with N.H. State Police--which provides four hours of coverage weekly--or to revive the now-defunct town police department.
Article 13, asking if the town would approve Keno games to be operated in the town, drew the longest and most heated discussion of the day, with voters eventually saying no to the proposal in a close voice vote. Mr. Sayen noted that the article had been brought by petition and he asked for someone to explain the ramifications of allowing the game in Stratford.
Wayne Hall explained that Keno is an electronic gambling game permitted only in bars and restaurants, and that a portion of the proceeds would help fund full-day kindergarten programs. Recent New Hampshire legislation mandates that every municipality in the state operating a full-day kindergarten in its public school will receive a proportional amount of the proceeds, regardless of whether it allows the game within its borders.
Tim Brooks voiced his displeasure with allowing the game in Stratford saying, "I don't support this and I don't support funding kindergarten through the use of gambling." Rachel O'Meara agreed with Mr. Brooks, stating, "I'd like us to send a message to Concord that we do not support this form of gambling."
Following some back-and-forth and a brief recess, during which Mr. Sayen sought additional information from the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office by telephone, the electorate disapproved the article by voice vote.
The "any other business" portion of the meeting included a request from Mr. Davis for volunteers to help with planning the upcoming 250th anniversary of the town in 2023, and Mr. Macdonald informed the public about plans to have the roof of Fuller Town Hall re-shingled in the near future.