Residents along remote Meredith roadway want to form village district

MEREDITH — Eight of the 10 property owners on Maple Ridge Road, a steep, winding graveled track about a half-mile long that comes to a dead-end 750 feet above the western shore of Lake Winnisquam, have petitioned the Board of Selectmen to establish an official village district that would improve and maintain the road.

Village districts in New Hampshire have taxing authority and are managed by an elected board of commissioners.

At a workshop this week, Marshall Hubbard, who moved to Maple Ridge Road in 1978, six years after the town approved the subdivision, told the selectmen that he tried to form a residents' association, but wound up maintaining the road himself for 20 years. Since the Maple Ridge Association was formed two years ago it has budgeted for the upkeep of the road.

David Desmarais said that by forming a village district, with the sole purpose of maintaining the road and authority to raise and appropriate funds, would ensure sufficient resources "year in and year out" to plow, sand, grade, gravel and ditch the road. "We want to take responsibility ourselves," he said, adding that the residents understood that an improved road would enhance the value of their properties as well as benefit the town by providing safe access for emergency vehicles.

Mike Poirier, who spent 30 with years with the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management, pointed out that N.H. village districts qualify for federal disaster assistance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although Maple Ridge Road has suffered several washouts, he said that so far it has been spared a catastrophic event, but warned that "sooner or later it's going to happen."

"I drove Maple Ridge Road," said Selectman Lou Kahn. "I didn't drive all the way because I was frightened. I would not want a fire truck or an ambulance on that road." He said that the residents are "doing the town a favor."

Selectman Peter Brothers questioned what administrative costs the town would incur by billing, collecting and distributing the property taxes raised by the village district as well as placing liens and tax deeds on delinquent property owners. Town attorney Laura Spector-Morgan said that the town would recover any enforcement costs when properties were conveyed.

Town Manager Phil Warren asked Spector-Morgan if the village district would impose administrative burdens on the town. "Not if the district is working properly," she replied.

"And if it isn't?" he asked. "It can become a mess," she said.

Spector-Morgan explained that the selectmen, having received a petition, must delineate the boundaries of the district and convene a meeting of the voters, at which they will vote to form the district and elect its officers.