Gilford voters restore cuts to nonunion staff, teachers at annual meeting

Few attend deliberative session of School District Meeting, most were staffers or related to Gilford School District

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Not only did voters at deliberation session of the Gilford School District Meeting on Tuesday return all of the money cut from the proposed school district budget by the Budget Committee, they added an additional $70,000 for an elementary school language arts teacher.

The moves, which were passed overwhelming by hand votes, means a $25,852,759 operating budget will appear on the town warrant for voters to make an yea or nay decision on March 8. The default budget is $25,688,824, which is lower by $163,935, and would go into effect if the proposed budget is voted down.

In reviewing the proposed school district budget, the public body added $115,508 for the other 1.5 percent of a proposed 3 percent merit raise for the nonunion members of the school district staff that had been cut by the Budget Committee. In addition, they added $15,000 longevity pay for administrators, $8,000 for professional development and training and $12,900 for maintenance. An additional $3,363 was returned to the budget for a variety of smaller miscellaneous items. All of these had been cut by the Budget Committee during its four-month review process.

Those attending the deliberative session also added an additional $70,000 for a language arts teacher for the elementary school. Chairman Karen Thurston said yesterday that language arts in the elementary school has been a recurring topic of discussion at the board and she said it would be up to the superintendent and elementary school administration to decide on a course of action.

Following the deliberative session, the Budget Committee convened and voted 9 to 1 not to recommend passage of the budget as revised by the people, with School Board representative Karen Thurston voting against.

Chairman Kevin Leandro said Wednesday that "it is a shame an organized body could add that much money," indicating that most of the people who came to the meeting were employees of the school district and their supporters. He also bemoaned the other people in the community who told members of the Budget Committee their taxes were too high but who didn't attend the deliberative session.

"This is why all people need to participate," Leandro said, adding that there were about 50 people total in attendance.

He said the Budget Committee was expecting the voters to return the money it cut for the nonunion staff raises and said he was personally ready to support that move.
He encouraged voters, "despite the fact that we know the default budget is artificially inflated and fraudulently prepared," to vote no on the town budget and let the default budget become next year's budget because it is about $200,000 lower.

"It's time to bring fiscal sanity back to the Gilford School District," he said.

Thurston said yesterday that she feels comfortable with the budget and said what the board was really hoping for was the reinstatement of the nonunion pay cuts.

"In my opinion, I was very disappointed with all of the name-calling and accusations," said Thurston. "We are not liars and we don't pad out budgets."

She said the argumentative and bully by certain members of the Budget Committee are not the kinds of examples the elected members of the community should be setting for the students. "I feel that Scott [Isabelle] and Kent [Hemingway] are owed an apology," she said.

"I feel the Budget Committee has an important role but we should be working together for the benefit of the school," Thurston said. "Our town wants to see us working together."

Following the deliberative session, the School Board voted 5 to 0 to recommend the final School District budget.

Voters will have their say when the budget and other warrant articles are presented on Election Day, March 8, at the Gilford Community Center.

Gilmanton Year-Round Library changes request for funding to a two-year plan in warrant article

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — The newest version of the Year-Round Library petitioned warrant article is for $47,500 for two years.

The change came because there was no public hearing held on the original petitioned article that called for spending $50,000 a year for three years. Without that public hearing, said Selectman Don Guarino, the warrant article would have been invalid if it passed.

Guarino and Budget Committee member Stan Bean both said they attended a meeting held just before the annual Deliberative Session of Town Meeting with town attorney Laura Spector-Morgan, who advised them to reduce the amount to under $100,000, which would waive the requirement of the public hearing.

Both Guarino and Bean said they all agreed this was the best way to approach it and there was no contention about the solution. Both said there was some discussion about changing it to $33,000 a year, but the library representatives said that isn't enough to operate.

Gilmanton Year-Round Library Board Chairman Chris Schlegel made the motion to change the warrant article on the floor where it was seconded and passed by a voice vote.

Guarino said because the proposed agreement lasts two years, it will still need a three-fifths vote to pass at the ballot on March 8.

Davis Place land sale on hold as planners object

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The Planning Board will urge the City Council not to take steps to sell property on Davis Place owned by the city to abutting private landowners.

In response to offers to purchase portions of two lots, the council will hold a public hearing during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, to determine whether to declare to declare any or all of the property "surplus," which would represent the first step in the divestiture process.

When the Planning Board met this week it board voted 8 to 1 to authorize Warren Hutchins, the chairman, to advise the council against declaring the lots surplus. City Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), the council's liaison to the board, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Harry Bean seeks to purchase portions of 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook, which adjoins the 0.13-acre house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. Bean also seeks to acquire a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot, which he would attach to the larger parcel.

Bean told the councilors he is rehabilitating the house at 32 Davis Place, where he expects his granddaughter to live. The land next door, he said, has been neglected and become a dumping ground strewn with televisions, shopping carts, mattresses and a place where people loiter. He stressed that he has no intention of developing the property, but wants only to clean it up and "just make it look nice."

Meanwhile, Lloyd Wylie, who owns the 1-acre lot at the far end of Davis Place that houses an apartment building, has made two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67-acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. One offer would include the portion of the lot abutting his lot to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook. Alternatively, he has offered to acquire the entire lot, except for the portion Bean has requested and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street.

Both Bean and Wylie have agreed to pay the costs of surveying and conveying the property. the property, Like Bean, Wylie said that he wished only to maintain "a clean and safe environment for the community" by landscaping and policing the property as well as address a drainage problem without developing the lot.

City Manager Scott Myers said that Wylie indicated that if he acquired the property, he would be unwilling to grant the city an easement to extend the riverwalk along the Winnipesaukee River. Nor would he add significantly to the tax base by developing the property.

Hutchins became concerned when he read the legal notice of the public hearing, which indicated the council would consider declaring "all or a portion" of both lots as surplus property. When the board met this week, he asked for authority to speak in opposition to declaring the lots as surplus at the public hearing. He read a letter drafted to the City Council saying it would be "premature to divest a major piece of real estate in the downtown area" while the Master Plan was in the process of being updated. Moreover, he suggested several public uses for the land, including an extension of the riverwalk, a city park, a parking lot or a park and ride facility and closed by urging the council against declaring the lots surplus.

Bownes, whose ward includes the property in question, objected.

"What are you doing this for?" he asked. "This really sort of mucks up the works."

He said that the council had "multiple offers" for portions of both lots, but would not proceed without an appraisal of the market value of the properties involved.

"It's just premature," he insisted. "There's not going to be a wholesale sell-off of Davis Place."

When Hamilton McLean of the Planning Board suggested advising the council to delay a decision until the Master Plan is adopted, Bownes replied that "there is not a whole lot of warm and fuzzy feelings about the Master Plan at this point on the City Council." Asking for delay, he continued, "is not going to get you any traction with the City Council."

Hutchins insisted that for the Planning Board to offer its opinion would be "a very responsible thing to do." He said yesterday that "until there is an understanding of what to do with the whole property, don't cut it up."