GILMANTON — Selectman Don Guarino, who chairs the board, and Michael Jean found themselves at loggerheads after questioning the three candidates — Rachel Hatch, Brian Forst and Brett Currier — seeking to fill the third seat on Board of Selectmen emptied by the resignation of Steve McCormack.
Guarino favored Currier. Jean preferred either of the other two. And when neither budged they tabled the appointment until their next meeting, both indicating they would not change their tune.
McCormack resigned earlier this month in response to criticism that he had revealed that police Chief Joe Collins would be retiring at the end of the year after the subject was discussed at a non-public meeting of the Selectboard. Currier's son Matthew, currently a sergeant with the Police Department, has already been named to succeed Collins on January 1.
Guarino began by describing all three candidates as qualified for the position, though he quipped that Hatch, the administrative assistant at the Gilmanton School District, "would be perfect for the selectmen's administrative assistant, but the job's not open."
Forst, who chairs the Budget Committee and served one term as selectman in the past, said that if he was appointed he would relinquish the chairmanship of the Budget Committee and not seek re-election to the Board of Selectmen.
Likewise, Hatch, also a former selectman, said that she intended only to complete the unexpired term of seven months.
Currier, completed a term as selectman last March and, after failing to file for re-election, polled 278 write-in votes to finish second to Jean for the lone seat on the ballot.
Guarino held that by tradition the runner-up at the March election should be appointed, noting that Hatch, who finished behind David Clairmont in 2007, was was named to complete his term after his death. Jean countered that his 463 votes, together with the 160 votes polled by Scott Dunn, represented 623 cast against Currier, which must not be ignored.
"If the town wanted him, he' be sitting here and I wouldn't be going through this mess," Jean said.
Jean asked each of the candidates half a dozen questions. All agreed that little could be done to reduce the burden of property taxes in light of the dearth of commercial property in town. Hatch recalled that efforts to trim costs have met with concern from the public about depleted services. "There's no simple solution," she said, adding "we're trying to get a healthier tax base."
Forst noted that the town tax rate has been stable and remarked, "I don't see the belt being loose on the town side or on the school side." He cautioned that promising to lower the tax burden would be "kicking the stone down the street."
While Currier also doubted the tax burden could be lightened significantly, he stressed that it need not increase. "I can't see anything in this town we're lacking," Currier said, adding that municipal departments are large enough for towns with twice the population of Gilmanton. "Employees are well rewarded and their equipment is adequate," he said, "but we don't need more and more. Slow it down."
While both Hatch and Forst were open to the establishment and use of capital reserve funds in certain circumstances, particularly if they were established and funded by warrant articles subject to the approval of voters. Currier disagreed. He described capital reserve funds as "taking money out of taxpayers' accounts and putting it in the town's saving account" and said that the money would be spent on projects and equipment with life spans longer than those who paid for them, who "will never enjoy their use".
All three expressed concern at the dissension aroused by the Gilmanton Year-Round Library, particularly the prospect of providing funding for the library in the town's operating budget. Hatch observed that the library has become something of a "community center" and warrant articles to fund it have carried by rising margins during the past seven years. She expected the selectmen will ultimately have to address the issue.
Forst said only that he would "like to see the town stop being divided over such a simple situation."
Currier flatly oppose funding the library in the operating budget, but said "I'm not against the library." Noting that the success of warrant articles to fund the library, he remarked "the petitioned article will sell itself. You don't need to sell the library itself."
All three agreed that zoning ordinances and building codes should be enforced, but cautioned against officials aggressively seeking problems to address. "I don't want the building inspector acting as a constable," Forst remarked. Asked if they would disband the Historic District Commission, the three said that any such initiative should not come from the Board of Selectmen. And no one expressed enthusiasm for expanding the Selectboard from three to five. "It's challenging enough to have three well-rounded selectmen," Forst said while Currier said he would not propose it and the question should be left to the people.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Selectmen is Tuesday, August 11.
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