Town Meetings 2023
Colebrook Approves New Plow Truck Purchase, Solar Array on Highway Garage
By Karen Harrigan
In a little over two hours, Colebrook voters approved a $5,582,250 budget at their annual town meeting Tuesday night, along with five amendments to the town zoning ordinance adopted by ballot during daytime polling hours.
An estimated $2,877,818 in revenues and a $300,000 fund balance will offset the expenditures, leaving $2,404,432 to come from taxpayers and resulting in a 4.1-percent, 48-cent increase to the tax rate.
Some of the big-ticket items on the warrant are covered by reserve fund withdrawals and grants, including a $47,000 upgrade to the town hall's heating system, $150,000 to pave Corliss Lane and High Street, and $245,000 for a new plow truck.
The latter involves replacing the 2011 International--which was down four times over the past year--with a new Freightliner that could take a while to obtain. "Unfortunately even if we order it now, they'll start making it in October and we'll probably get it sometime in 2024," said selectman Greg Placy.
The heating system upgrade will replace a 30-year-old furnace and include heat for the third floor, which houses the Colebrook Area Historical Society museum. Voters also agreed to pay $1,550 toward a $6,200 energy audit, with the remaining $4,650 coming from a Community Development Finance Authority grant. Selectman Sue Collins explained that the audit will be done prior to the heating upgrade, and could result in some funding from Eversource as well.
The $612,800 water and sewer budget will be offset entirely by user fees, as will a $26,000 GIS Data Collection Mapping System project currently in progress. "They went around last year and mapped all the culverts and drains, and this year they're doing the water system," said selectman Ray Gorman. "It's year two of the contract."
When presenting the water and sewer budget, Ms. Collins noted that the biggest portion of this year's $38,380 increase is due to electricity to run the pumps, and $7,000 in lab upgrades. When asked about alternatives to Eversource for power, Ms. Collins said up until three years ago the town had shopped around, and that it's "definitely advisable to do." Without a town manager, however, the board is spread pretty thin at present.
The selectmen also provided an update on the effort to establish a new well, relating that five sites have been explored with four submitted to the N.H. Department of Environmental Services for review. "They usually only allow one well site to consider, but since they know our wells are bad, they're reviewing four," Mr. Placy said. "We hope to drill an eight-inch test well this summer, depending on how quickly they get back to us and how negotiations go with the landowner."
David Hodge asked about how much it will cost to obtain the land or lease it, and Mr. Placy said it's too soon to know. "But all the landowners are very willing to work with us," he said. "I would not expect a high expense for using those wells."
Ms. Collins noted that the exploration is being paid for with funds from the $550,000 settlement with Hydrosource for the defunct wells north of town, and that the town is still paying on the bond for those wells. Ten more annual payments of $60,160 are due, and the town's attempts for loan forgiveness so far haven't been successful.
When discussing the Northern Borders Dispatch Center budget, toward which Colebrook will pay $192,354 this year, Deb Greene said she sees a lot of false-alarm calls to businesses in the police log, and asked whether they pay for those responses. "No, but it's problematic, and something we need to work on," Mr. Gorman said. Mr. Placy concurred, as did townspeople with applause when he said, "That's on top of our radar. I would imagine we will start charging for those calls."
Voters agreed to contribute $31,400 toward a $125,000 project to install solar panels on the highway garage, with the remaining $94,000 (75 percent) to come from a USDA grant. Mr. Placy said the array will produce 30 kilowatts a year, which will more than cover the building's use, and any excess will be net-metered to other town buildings. "Any electricity we put back into the grid, we can use anywhere for the Town of Colebrook," he said.
In response to questions, Mr. Placy said it will take five and a half years for the array to pay for itself, and that there's a 25-year warranty on the panels. Mr. Hodge asked about the feasibility of panels for all town buildings, but Mr. Placy said, "We want to walk before we run," adding that the board is also considering a solar array at the northern well site.
At the recommendation of DES, the town is pursuing American Rescue Plan Act grant funds for a $100,000 wastewater treatment plant upgrade, "coming as the result of a lot of back-and-forth with American Performance Polymers," Ms. Collins said. The funds will be used to study the effects of the glove manufacturing factory on the wastewater treatment plant.
"With the current curtailment of APP operations, we should get a really clear picture of the effects on our wastewater system," she said. "We argued with APP that our lagoons were suffering because of what they were discharging." She also said the town wants APP at the table, and that company representatives will participate in a meeting next month to start working together on the study.
Voters authorized a $63,300 housing opportunity planning project and $50,000 for planning and coordination for the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse. The study will gather housing data for the town's master plan, and review ordinances, zoning and planning board regulations, using interviews with Colebrook employers, low- and middle-income earners and town officials to get a picture of the town's housing situation.
A total eclipse will not be visible in the North Country for another 375 years, Ms. Collins said, and these events draw a huge following, as town officials learned at a gathering in December hosted by the Coos Economic Development Corporation and the North Country Chamber of Commerce. "If we have 10,000 people show up here, we're going to need traffic control, places to stay, places to eat--we've got to start planning now," she said.
David Brooks petitioned Article 26 onto the warrant, asking that the selectmen be required to video-record and live-stream all regular and special meetings. "This would allow the elderly and disabled to see the meetings," he said. "Some of these meetings are at 1 p.m. when people work."
Julie Moran asked how many people are interested enough to attend the selectboard meetings. "I'm concerned about the cost, if people aren't going to meetings anyway," she said. Mr. Hodge said, "Every time I ask someone on the board a question, I get a straight answer. I trust you guys, and I don't think it's worth the money." Mr. Gorman pointed out that the board takes good minutes of its meetings and that the members make themselves accessible, but said, "If you folks want us to do it, we'll do it."
Pam Frizzell moved to amend the article to request that the board look into the cost and bring the question back next year. Mr. Hodge seconded and the motion passed, as did the article as amended.
Under the "other business" article, Dr. John Fothergill revisited a question he'd brought up during discussion on the police department budget, asserting that officers should carry Narcan on their person rather than in the cruisers. "What we heard tonight is that police have been first responders and have given CPR when they should have given Narcan," he said. "It certainly is the state of the art in medicine and in law enforcement, and I don't see why our police department doesn't carry it instead of having it in the cruisers."
Department prosecutor Tim Stevens questioned the legality of Dr. Fothergill's motion, and said it's not a good idea for a town to start establishing police procedures in annual meeting votes. After some discussion about liability and the practicalities of carrying the Narcan, the motion ultimately failed.
As a last piece of business Mr. Brooks asked for a straw poll to gauge interest in having town meeting on the first Saturday after voting day, which seemed to result in a 50/50 split. Carrie Rancourt said to the selectmen, "Please bear in mind that a lot of people who might want a Saturday meeting aren't here, and can't be because of child care or work."
Pittsburg Requires Town Votes for Reserve Fund Expenditures, Rejects Fireworks Ordinance
Pittsburg voters dealt with 16 warrant articles during the course of Tuesday's three-hour town meeting.
The topic that generated the most discussion was regarding the use of capital reserve funds, and Article 2 proposed requiring a warrant article for any and all purchases from reserve funds or to act on anything relative thereto. The article was submitted by petition and not recommended by the board.
Arnold Gray noted that during last year's town meeting, the public voiced concerns about withdrawing from reserve. After the board did so to purchase a one-ton truck for the highway department, he said, townspeople were told it was a one-time thing but the board purchased another truck nine months later. "The bottom line is, it should have been brought to the town to let the town decide," he said.
Carol Marsh said because the town appointed the selectboard as agents, she felt the board is allowed to expend funds from the accounts, and said it could go up against state RSAs.
Road agent Ricky Clogston said he asked the board to buy the trucks, and said that they were discussed at selectmen's meetings that no one attended. He said more than one truck is needed when dirt roads are graded and treated with chloride, and that the town received no complaints when two trucks were being used.
Outgoing selectman Richard Judd confirmed that Mr. Clogston asked the board for a one-ton truck and that there was money in the reserve fund, and as agents of the fund, they were able to spend money from it. Mr. Gray said nobody was questioning whether Mr. Clogston was doing a good job or if a truck was needed, but the concern was with the practice.
"We did exactly what was legal," Mr. Judd said. "We did everything we could possibly do to support our department head." Mr. Clogston said this year was different because the old one-ton truck could not take an inspection sticker, and another truck has been sitting in Manchester for three weeks waiting for parts.
A petition for a secret ballot was presented to moderator Terry Swain, and after the votes were cast and tallied, the motion passed 59-52. A recount confirmed those results.
Voters approved Articles 3-8, adding $15,000 to the police cruiser capital reserve fund, $5,000 to the Happy Corner Bridge fund, $25,000 to the fire truck fund, $5,000 to the fire equipment fund, $20,000 to the revaluation fund and $60,000 to the highway heavy equipment fund.
Article 9 sought to readopt the provisions of RSA 72:28, II, previously adopted, for an optional Veterans' Tax Credit at $100 per year and passed.
Article 10 proposed establishing a police equipment capital reserve fund for the purchase or repair of police equipment with up to $20,000 from the sale of the 2001 Ford F450 police truck. Because of the talk and vote on Article 2, this question generated a good amount of discussion and amendments. When all was said and done, the phrase authorizing the selectmen "to expend from said fund" was removed and replaced with, "but withdrawal of funds will come before the town by vote." The amended article passed 57-34.
Townspeople approved Article 11, establishing a cemetery expendable trust fund, allowing all future proceeds from cemetery lot sales to go toward maintenance, and to name the selectmen as agents to expend from the fund. They also approved Article 12, raising $53,400 toward repaving the transfer station driveway and parking lot.
The selectboard and police chief Rick Dube said complaints about fireworks at late hours brought about Article 13, which proposed an ordinance to prohibit the possession and sale of fireworks except on New Year's Eve, 4th of July and Old Home Day. After a failed amendment that would have instituted a curfew rather than specific dates was defeated, the original article was defeated as written.
Voters passed Article 14, which authorizes the selectmen to approve voluntary lot mergers or rescissions for the purpose of updating the town's tax records, and Article 15, which contained the $2,207,500 operating budget, the latter without discussion.
Under the "other business" article, Mr. Judd recognized administrator Beth Drew, who is leaving after five years on the job. Ann Gray thanked Mr. Judd for his years of service on the board, and Richard Lapoint recognized Alan Dorman for supervising construction of the new highway garage. Mr. Judd gave the town an update on the new garage, and said that it is about 75-percent complete.
Stewartstown Annual Meetings Brief
By Jake Mardin
Stewartstown's voters conducted business at the annual school district and town meetings without much fanfare and finished both in under 25 minutes.
At Monday's school district meeting, voters approved the $2,894,322 budget and raised $20,000 for the school bus capital reserve fund, $5,000 for the technology trust fund and $6,500 to complete necessary repairs, with the funds coming from the building expendable trust fund.
Article 7 was placed on the ballot by petition, and asked that townspeople "vote to NOT tuition Stewartstown students to Colebrook Academy if the new school expansion is approved by the Colebrook school district voters, because of the increased tuition rate that will result." Because the expansion did not pass, the article was tabled.
Chairman Philip Pariseau thanked the community for its support of the school, and the meeting was adjourned after 11 minutes.
Tuesday night's town meeting ended after ten minutes, with all articles passing. Voters approved the $1,033,677 budget and an article to adopt the All Veterans Tax Credit.
(March 15, 2023)