Resident Howard Epstein offers an amendment to reword a petitioned article so that any person who serves in an elected position at the state or federal level can also serve in a town position, during Wednesday's deliberative session of Town Meeting in Gilford. At the dais are Budget Committee Chairman Norman Silber and Town Clerk Denise M. Gonyer. The original article sought to prohibit town office holders like Silber, who is a legislator, from holding any office at the state or federal level. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Deliberative session voters preserve nonprofit requests, rebuff office-holder prohibition petition
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — By a two-vote margin, attendees at the deliberative session of Town Meeting Wednesday cut $65,000 from an article to upgrade the town hall building, allocating $385,000 to the renovations.
In another debate, voters balked at defunding a request for assistance from the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties Inc., a nonprofit organization which works with the town to provide basic aid such as food, shelter or fuel to people in need.
Article 11 sought $450,000 for Phase 2 of the Town Hall Improvements Project, "to include new heating and cooling fixtures, water system upgrades, hallway flooring, sidewalks and ADA compliant entry doors."
Kevin Leandro, vice chairman of the Budget Committee, warned that the town could lose any reasonable chance to fix the building, if voters rebuffed the request.
"We still can't fully justify the cost," Leandro said. "There's absolutely no doubt that this work has to be done at that town hall. You walk in the front door and tiles are falling apart, the HVAC system is a mess, every room in the town hall is a different temperature, they can't regulate it. It has to be done, and it has to be done now."
Article 11 initially sought $525,000 but was brought back to the Budget Committee with updated estimates.
On the heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades, Selectman Richard Grenier said an estimate of $165,000 came in at the last minute, but the quote did not include several parts of the needed work, so a total estimate of $250,000 was developed to make up the difference. The water system accounted for another $25,000; flooring, $50,000; sidewalks and landscaping, $65,000; Americans with Disabilities Act compliant entry doors, $10,000; vault improvements, $27,000; and the police impound yard, $23,000.
Skip Murphy pointed out that the warrant article did not mention vault improvements and an improved police impound yard to furnish security to vehicles seized as evidence, even though those jobs had been added back into the project.
"You're asking for funds for one thing and you're going to spend it on another," he said.
Norman Silber, chairman of the Budget Committee, said, "When this matter first came before the Budget Committee, the number was different, and we had estimates for the replacement of the heating, ventilating and cooling system that was several years old and was for a system that the town administrator had indicated that the town didn't want to utilize."
Town officials "went back to the drawing board," he said.
"The Budget Committee is always concerned when we undertake a project of substantial expense before we have received actual working drawings, before we have received any types of firm bids," Silber said.
A police station renovation project that ran over budget was a cautionary tale, he said.
Silber said, based on feedback from a businessman, a higher figure might create a "negative incentive" for contractors to boost their price. But local contractor Paul Blandford said, "Contractors do not look at the number, I believe, and say, 'I want that number.'" Rather, the specifications will dictate what bidders propose, he said. Blandford said even $450,000 "might be a difficult number to hit" based on the competitive market.
But Leandro, as he offered an amendment to fund the renovations at $385,000, urged a compromise. The higher number, he warned, could scuttle the whole project.
"If this fails, you cannot spend one dollar to improve the town hall without going to a special town meeting, petitioning a judge," he said.
His amendment passed 29-27.
Voters at the deliberative session also forwarded a string of articles funding nonprofit groups involved in support services and aid to the needy.
An effort to defund the first article, Article 19, for Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties Inc., failed overwhelmingly, despite selectmen and Budget Committee voting not to recommend the article. Grenier said the "not recommended" vote by selectmen was more a "no position" stance in deference to voters. Silber said the organization should fund-raise in the community rather than ask for $9,000 town money. Silber amended the CAP article to fund the request at $1.
Judy Scothorne, community services director of the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties Inc., said Article 19 would allow the local nonprofit to help people in need. The agency provided more than $332,507 to Gilford residents in 2016, she said. "I think the $9,000 investment more than pays for itself," Scothorne said.
Silber said, "We're already paying for that. We have a part-time welfare director who has a whole schedule of things to evaluate the needs of people in Gilford who apply for assistance."
Scothorne said, "Yes, the town of Gilford does have a welfare budget, we work closely with the welfare director. These $300,000 plus that we have provided, if we're not funded, and we're not able to do this, that will be added to the welfare director's budget because those services we provide are required by state law."
Silber said, "I question whether tax money should go to support the mission of any of these organizations that some people in the town may agree with the missions, and some may not."
Resident Meg Jenkins said a similar article, Article 20, seeking $21,000 for Genesis Behavioral Health for emergency mental health services, should appear on the warrant.
Jenkins said the demand for services is "compounded by the opioid crisis which is everywhere, and it's here in Gilford as well."
"It may not be your own personal philosophy that a town needs to take care of its residents, but I think the residents speak to that every single year," Jenkins said.
Articles 18-20 — $9,000 for CAP; $3,000 for Child and Family Services; and $21,000 for Genesis Behavioral Health — all will appear on the warrant.
Also at deliberative session, voters amended a petitioned article that sought to prohibit state or federal office holders from serving in elected position in the town. Murphy said the article was an attempt at "personal retribution," targeting Silber, who serves on the Budget Committee and also is a legislator from District 2, Gilford.
Leandro said the original article was "unenforceable," and Silber himself deemed the article illegal, since a local ordinance cannot supersede state or federal law. But attendees differed on whether to amend the article or leave it and let voters strike it down. Resident Howard Epstein offered an amendment to reword the article so that any person who serves in an elected position at the state or federal level can also serve in a town position, giving the article its opposite intent. The amendment passed 25-15.
Gilford's voting day is Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gilford Youth Center.