Four candidates for one selectman spot in Belmont (945)

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT — With the late entry of write-in candidate Kevin Sturgeon, the race for one open three-year term as selectman has expanded to four candidates – all of whom were on hand for a candidates night held earlier this week.

The names voters will see on the March 8 ballot are Jim Spiller, a retired Navy veteran with quality control experience in the private section, George Condodemetraky, a retired engineer who founded two businesses he has since passed on to his three sons who are also engineers, and incumbent Jon Pike, a local business owner who was born and raised in Belmont and who has served for six years as selectman and on many others on various town boards including the Planning Board. Pike was also involved in the development and planning of the automotive program at the Huot Technical School in Laconia.

While most of the candidates tried to tell the 35 voters who came to the forum why they wanted to be elected for a term that begins after the election, Condodemetracky, who in recent years has run every year for the office but has been defeated, kept bringing the conversation back to the aquifer, regardless of what was asked of him. In the past, Condodemetraky has served two separate terms as selectman, served on the conservation commission, and was an engineer with the state during the planning and construction of the Winnipesaukee Basin Project. He has also served on the School Board and the Sewer Commission.

As for the aquifer, neither Sturgeon, Pike or Spiller support eliminating the expansion of industrial uses over the aquifer, as does Condodemetraky.

Sturgeon and Pike are avid supporters of pressuring the department of transportation to widen and resurface Route 140 from the Northfield line through to Route 106 because they believe the greatest threat to the aquifer comes from trucks going off the road and spilling their cargo and or diesel fuel.

Sturgeon, who owns undeveloped industrial property along Route 140, said that if Article 2 passes it will prevent further development along that strip and the first thing he will do is apply to the town for a rebate of his property taxes and a reassessment going forward.

Pike said that passing the aquifer ordinance has the potential to cost the town a lot of money in tax rebates initially and will severely hamper the ability of the economic viability of the town moving forward.

Spiller said that his primary reason for running is to bring a new set of eyes to the selectboard. He noted that Pike suggested he run a few years ago but didn't realize he would be running against him.

He said he didn't agree with much of what Condodemetraky said while noting he lives in Solar Village, which was designed by him. But, like Condodemetraky, he also said he doesn't think the role of selectman should be a "semi-permanent position."

"Resentments build and personalities clash," Spiller said, promising that if elected he would serve one term and be done.

Spiller said that the Belmont Mill is a "very historical building" and he wants to find a creative solution for rehabbing and using it. As to the former Northway Bank Building, he said the town needs to find a use for it like the mill because the longer they sit, the more they decay.

Last year, Pike was one of three selectmen who presented a $3.3 million renovation package that would have repaired the floor on the fourth floor and converted the mill into 17,000 square feet of office space for the town's use. Condodemetraky opposed the measure.
The warrant article failed by about a 3-to-1 vote.

Aside from pushing the state Department of Transportation to widen and pave Route 140, Sturgeon said one of his goals if elected selectman is to try to get more young people involved in the community by running for board positions and serving on public committees in town.

He feels that passing the petitioned Warrant Article 2 on the this year's ballot would change the entire economic structure of Belmont.

Pike said he is running for a third term because under the direction of the current board, the town has cultivated some very good committees and employees.

He spoke extensively about the Tri-Town Aquifer agreement between Belmont, Northfield and Tilton and that at the most recent meeting, the most informed person in the room was the Belmont town planner.

He noted that Casella Waste Systems recently upgraded its existing facility and sent out 28 abutter notices but nobody showed at the hearing. He said if Article 2 passes, it would have a "tremendous impact" on Belmont, noting that the Belmont industrial zone is near to the interstate and that's where many companies want to be for trucking and efficiency purposes.

"We have had some businesses come in and we need to generate a tax base," he said. "Spill contamination is far scarier that business."

He noted that Tilton complains but since they have already built up their portion of Route 3 near the interstate now is when they want "to cry wolf." He also said that Northfield just put a sewer company next the the wellheads they use for potable water for their community.

He said the EPA and the DES both carefully monitor all of the industrial businesses along that section of road and the town has agreed to increase the level of inspection along the corridor to its highest possible inspection rate.

Pike also said the first three years as a selectman is a learning curve because there is so much procedure to learn. He said he agrees that people should hold on to officer for ever but said some level on continuity on a board is wise.

Moderator Sisti rails against SB2 at Gilmanton candidates night

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — Although running without opposition for his 13th term as moderator of both the town and school district, Mark Sisti delivered the fieriest speech when voters filled the gym at the Gilmanton School to hear from candidates this week.

Not for the first time, Sisti sought to rally support for a petitioned warrant article to rescind official ballot voting, better known as SB2, and restore the traditional Town Meeting form of government where votes are taken at the meeting rather than on the town election day. Gilmanton adopted SB2 in 2012 after three previous efforts in 2003, 2004 and 2005 failed.

Branding SB2 "a nightmare" and "abject failure," Sisti said that "We're just not going in the right direction."

He said that earlier this year only 25 voters, less than 1 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of School District Meeting, while 122, less than 5 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of Town Meeting.

"I don't even known why we called these meetings," Sisti said, noting the meetings took just 20 minutes. "It's ridiculous."

Sisti said that voters cast ballots without knowing what they are voting for or against. A year ago, he remarked, voters rejected a warrant articles authorizing the town to accept a $350,000 federal grant for the purchase of a fire truck should the grant be awarded. "It didn't cost a penny, but they voted no without even knowing what they were voting for." Likewise, voters scuttled the budget only to find that the default budget that replaced it spent more. "Most people don't know that our budget can go up by voting no," Sisti said.

At a traditional Town Meeting, Sisti said, town officials, including members of boards and commissions, can explain warrant articles and answer voters' questions. With SB2, he warned, "When you read articles you have no idea about, don't come to me. When you step into the booth and close the curtain, you're on your own."

Sisti urged voters to question candidates on SB2, which he called "a farce, a proven farce in this town" and "a disaster waiting to happen," then said if they favor it, "I'll be voting against them" to thunderous applause.

Sisti faces long odds. Last year, in an effort to undo SB2, which requires a supermajority of three-fifths to pass, 561 voted against and 402 voted in favor. Since 1995, when SB2 was enacted, there have been more than 70 attempts to rescind it, but only three — in Dorchester, Orange and Enfield — have succeeded and none in the last 15 years.

Veterans & Rookies Square Off in Gilmanton

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — The contest for two of the three seats on Board of Selectmen pits two old hands — Don Guarino and Brett Currier — against two newcomers — Stephen McWhinnie and Marshall Bishop— and that is the least of their differences.

Guarino is seeking his fourth three-year term on the selectboard while Currier, who has served on the Budget Committee and said he has "attended several hundred meetings" in town, is seeking to return for a second term as a selectman. Both describe themselves as fiscal conservatives for whom sparing property taxpayers are high priorities. Neither favors funding the operations of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library with property taxes without the blessing of a vote of Town Meeting.

Guarino, who for the past six months found himself in the minority on the board, said that he was troubled by the decisions of his colleagues, Rachel Hatch and Michael Jean, to raise the salaries of town employees and grant a three-year contract to the town administrator.

"I'm more conservative," he said. "We're running on a budget. "

Guarino and Currier are troubled by the sharp increase in the town portion of the 2015 property tax rate, which arose when revenues from sources other than property taxes were underestimated by some $300,000. They favor drawing from the undesignated fund balance when the 2016 tax rate is set in the autumn to offset the increase. Guarino said he is hopeful that at least $1 per $1,000 of assessed value can be returned to property taxpayers this year.

Guarino also believes that the volume of recycling can be increased and the cost of waste disposal reduced by introducing single-stream recycling, perhaps along with a "pay-as-you-throw" program, which could turn the solid waste operation into a self-funded service.

Of the two, Currier, whose son Matt is the Gilmanton police chief, is the more controversial candidate. There is even a petitioned article on the warrant that would bar him from serving on either the Board of Selectmen or the Budget Committee so long as a member of his family or household is a head of department employed by the town. Currier said that no one should be disqualified from holding office. Recalling that he recused himself from votes bearing on his son when he was a sergeant, he said "I've proven myself and I still would recuse myself now that he is chief."

In 2006, Bishop, who served as a combat photographer in the United States Marine Corps and worked at the Department of Public Works in Gilford, moved into the former home of Grace Metalious, where he has his wife Sunny tend a vineyard, raise alpacas and operate the Gilmanton Winery and Restaurant. "I don't even like politics," he said of his decision to make his first run for office, "but you can't piss and moan unless you do something about it."

"It's about time for a change," Bishop said. "There is a group that think they are the town, " he continued. "I want to give the town back to the people." He said that "Don (Guarino) and Brett (Currier) do a good job," then added "but they can't do everything."

Bishop said that while he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility, he also appreciates the services the town offers. "I like the library and I don't even read," he said, "and I don't mind paying taxes." He said that the interests of the residents and employees of the town will be uppermost among his priorities.

"I'm going to do my best to listen to the people," he insisted. "It's their town."

"I've taken from the town for 50 years," said McWhinnie, who, like Bishop, served as a Marine before operating his own business, "and it's time for me to give back."

Troubled by the division and dissension in the community, he stressed that "I'm totally about transparency and accountability." Airing meetings of the Board of Selectmen, Budget Committee and Planning Board on the town website along with opening a Facebook page for the Board of Selectmen are among his top priorities. He said that instead of quibbling over the minutes and relying on hearsay, residents will be able to see for themselves how town government is working.

An opponent of SB-2, McWhinnie said that greater transparency would encourage more participation.

"That's what we need," he said. "We have so many knowledgeable people in town and we should be welcoming everybody's input."

Like Guarino, he supports efforts to increase the volume of recycling.

"By not recycling, we're just throwing money away," he said, "and paying to do it, too."

He said that he is a strong supporter of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library and believes the town should fund its operations, but said the decision should rest with the voters.

"I'm excited about doing this," McWhinnie said. "It's time to do something different. Time to bring about the unification of the town, to get people to trust."

 

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