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In Sanbornton, Ober calls out Nickerson for serial resignations she says he then takes back

SANBORNTON — Selectmen Karen Ober has called out Selectman Dave Nickerson for resigning during a non-public meeting on September 25 that she was unable to attend.

As of yesterday, Nickerson had recanted his resignation and is still a selectman.

According to minutes of the meeting, Nickerson apparently sent a RSA 91-A Right To Know request to Chair Guy Giunta — the contents of which led to a non-public session called under RSA 91-A (c) — the portion of the Right-to-Know law that allows for a non-public session if the discussion could effect the reputation of someone who does not sit on that board.

During the non-public meeting, Nickerson and Giunta apparently disagreed on the topic leading to Nickerson's resignation. Minutes made public only indicate the meeting was held to weigh a matter that was discussed on September 4. There were two non-public meeting held on Sept. 4 and minutes of both indicate the board discussed each of two finalists for the position of town finance director. Minutes say the meeting ended without a quorum and without a vote.

Upon Ober's return, she said she heard "through the grapevine" about the meeting and Nickerson's resignation so she listened to the tape of the entire meeting so she could better understand what happened.

In a statement read aloud by Ober of October 2 and entered into the record verbatim, she chastised Nickerson for resigning, saying that she "wanted to point out that this is the sixth time you have resigned and then changed your mind."

She said his frequent resignations appear to occur when he disagrees with either herself or Giunta or both.

"It seems like this is happening way more frequently, this behavior," she continued.

Ober said Nickerson's behavior has affected many board decisions and she was almost happy she was not there on September 25 so the argument couldn't be blamed on her.

She said she was concerned with the way town employees are being treated and, in her opinion, the role of all the selectmen is to help town employees and department heads become better at what they do.

She said she has witnessed over the past two-and one-half years an increasingly hostile attitude by some elected officials to town employees and that it's wrong. She said Nickerson had told her that the problem was with the department heads so she attended workshop sessions with the Local Government Center and Primex to better understand where the problems were.

"Dave, you said I was wrong, that it was only for department heads. That's not true," she said, adding treating employees with respect and dignity begins at the top, with selectmen, and they are the ones who must set the example.

"Our situation here every Wednesday gets increasingly more volatile... with obviously orchestrated complaints by a lot of 'wannabe DPW Directors.'" She said she and her husband (former selectman Steve Ober) get phone calls on their private cells from people who didn't get their private numbers from her and e-mails at their private e-mail accounts again from people to whom she didn't give her e-mail address, saying someone is putting out information including her family's private contacts.

"This is being done intentionally and it's deliberate, it's a set up, and it needs to stop," she said.

Ober went on to say that at this point the selectmen needs to figure out a way "around this insanity" and said she was in favor of having some kind of outside assessment done because she doesn't think anybody in the town has the skills to (stop the infighting in Sanbornton.)

Sanbornton has a town administrator form of government as opposed to a town or city manager type. In the former, all department heads answer to the governing body, in the latter, department heads answer to a town manager who answers to selectmen.

"We need to become more effective as a board and we need to conduct town business and we need to work for the best of the town," Ober said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 03:51

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Council will study plan to borrow $1.55 million for downtown improvements

LACONIA — The City Council last night referred a recommendation of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Advisory Board to borrow $1.55 million to its Finance and Public Works committees for further review. A series of projects would be financed by the borrowing.

Speaking for the committee, Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, told the council that "a lot of thought has gone into these (project) priorities," adding that "all will help the economic development of downtown as a whole.

The committee recommends investing $275,000 to improve the gateway to downtown at the Main Street Bridge, $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk at the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the Walgreen's property, $200,000 to create a pocket park where Water Street joins Pleasant Street and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station up to the Church Street bridge.

Dunleavy said that the committee recommends borrowing $1,550,000 against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of 4.249 percent over 20 years to fund the projects. He said that the TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. When the debt is retired, assuming no further borrowing, the TIF fund would be left with a balance of $2,080,123.

City Manager Scott Myers told the councilor that the revenue coming in to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.

"I'd like to leave a little time to digest this," said Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the Finance Committee, calling for "more dialogue about priorities." He said the council should consider "what might be some other things attract new businesses to the downtown. We want to make sure," he continued, "we've thought about things that might come up."

Dunleavy said that while he understood and encouraged dialogue "we want to get the ball rolling and complete the projects and reap the benefits."

Lipman replied that he was not seeking to delay the projects, but only to weigh the priorities.

However, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) wondered why the pocket park where Water Street joins Pleasant Street was included when, she recalled, the council rejected the project at an earlier meeting. Lipman appeared to share her memory. Baer also questioned spending $400,000 on a section of the WOW Trail, which prompted Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) to remind her that phase one of the trail was built largely with private funds and the volunteer fundraising efforts continue. "We're helping those who help themselves," he said.

The Finance and Public Works committees, together with the Downtown TIF Advisory Board, will review the recommendations and report to the City Council.

Tax increment financing allows municipalities to delineate TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by new construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to finance public improvements by either paying cash or servicing borrowings, within that district. There are two TIF districts in the city, one downtown and another in Lakeport, and a third under consideration at The Weirs.

The boundaries of the downtown TIF district enclose an area roughly ringed by Fair Street, New Salem Street, Church Street, Union Avenue and Court Street. The district included 287 properties spread over 145 acres, which together represented a total assessed value of more than $70-million when the district was established in 2004.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 03:43

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Council gives schools OK to proceed with $1.8M borrowing

LACONIA — With one dissenter, the City Council last night gave the School District a green light to pursue a $1,828,000 loan bearing no interest to fund improvements and renovations at what School Superintendent Terri Forsten called "our beloved Laconia High School."
Laconia was the only school district in the state to express interest in the Qualified Zone Academy Bond, or QZAB, which is awarded by the federal government and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education. To qualify more than 35-percent of the students enrolled in the district must be eligible for free or reduced lunch, a threshold Laconia, at 53 percent, easily exceeds. In addition, funding requires a local match of 10 percent, creation of a so-called "zone academy" and collaboration with community partners, all criteria the School District can satisfy.
Forsten said that the highest priority for the funds is to address health and safety issues by installing a sprinkler system and air handlers as well as removing asbestos and radon gas. If there are sufficient funds remaining the electrical systems in most classrooms would be upgraded, the bleachers in the gymnasium brought up to code, emergency lighting replaced with LED units and the main entrance secured.
Forsten said that for 23 years the annual debt service of $78,261, would be drawn from the School District's operating budget and therefore, would have no impact on the municipal tax cap.
Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) reminded Forsten that the School District has been aware of the life-safety issues for some years, but chose not to include them in the renovation of the high school, expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center and construction of new playing fields completed this year at a cost of $16.8 million. "Some of that $3-million spent on the football field could have been spent on these repairs," she said.
Baer also cautioned that the city will find itself faced bearing the costs of higher retirement contributions, a new county jail and improvements by the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program and suggested that the School District has had its fair share of investment in recent years.
But, Baer was the lone councilor to question the borrowing.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) said that the loan offers the most efficient way of protecting the investment the city has made in the high school. Since the debt would be repaid from the School District's operating budget, the borrowing "would not diminish any other (city) project."
Lipman was echoed by Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who reminded his colleagues that the Fire Department expressed concern that parts of the building remain without sprinklers. "We've got to sprinkle the rest of the building," he insisted.
Forsten said the application for the QZAB was submitted on October 1 and the City Council must host a public hearing and officially approve the borrowing before the year is out. If the loan is approved, she expects the work would be bid in March, begun in June and completed by September 2014.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 03:06

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Sanbornton will take long look at privatizing public works

SANBORNTON — At the request of one selectman and two members of the municipal Budget Committee, the Selectboard has created a committee to see if the town should privatize the highway portion of Department of Public Works.

The committee, whose tentative members are scheduled to meet with selectmen today, is tasked with exploring other towns that have privatized or subcontracted their road work to private contractors and to see if the town could realize any savings.

"It looks like Sanbornton could save between $500,000 and $700,000," said selectman Dave Nickerson. "That's an awful lot of money."

Budget Committee Chair Earl Leighton said he is in full support of examining the possibilities.

Leighton said the Department of Public Works operating budget is around $1 million, plus $400,000 in capital expenses for road paving and reconstruction. He said the department has six full-time employees including the director.

"I'm critical of the entire system," Leighton said, not referring specifically to Sanbornton but to the idea of municipalities having town-operated departments of public works when there are private contractors who would want the work and bid competitively to get it.

Leighton also said the system is inefficient and gave the town's need to replace a 10-year-old dump truck as an example. "I'm driving a 1987 dump truck and it works just fine," he said.

"The director becomes a maestro," he said, meaning that in his vision of Sanbornton's future the town would continue to have a DPW director but he or she would act to coordinate private contractors to get the needed work done.

Nickerson said yesterday that, according to data provided by the N.H. Local Government Center and researched by the town administrator, 12 or 13  of the state's 200 plus communities — including Salsbury, Webster, and Newbury — have subcontracted out their highway maintenance to private companies.

He said community's on that list range in size from 1,000 to 5,000 residents. Sanbornton has about 2,800.

In the past 10 or so years since Gene Auger retired as the elected road agent, Sanbornton has had a revolving door of DPW directors  — from Ralph Carter who succeeded Auger to Lenny Boudrias who was hired to replace Carter and lasted only a few months to John Hubbard, John Thayer and now Johnny VanTassel, who took over about a year and a half ago. The director is now appointed by selectmen and not elected by voters — a decision made by voters at an annual town meeting at least seven years ago.

Over the same amount of time there has been a constant undercurrent of criticism of the work done by the highway department and its employees, some of which has lead to a high turnover rate and some of which can be attributed to employees and directors being able to earn more money in larger municipalities — a problem that also exists for the Police Department.

In that same time span, the town has built a $1-million Department of Public Works building — something Nickerson said could be used as a new fire station, giving the Police Department more room.

According to minutes of a meeting held this past summer, three of six employees including the foreman have resigned this year — two citing the ability to earn more elsewhere and one citing problems with management. As of three weeks ago, the town was seeking to replace a laborer's position.

Selectmen offered a list of seven people they felt should serve on a DPW privatization committee — Jeff Jenkins of the Budget Committee, Bill Whalen, Fire Chief Paul Dexter, Andy Sanborn, retired Finance Director Curt McGee, DPW Director Johnny VanTassel, Mark Thurston, and Ralph Rathjen.

Any decision to privatize the DPW must be approved by annual town meeting in May said Leighton and Nickerson, who added the earliest he could foresee anything going to the voters is the town meeting in 2015.

Town Administrator Bob Veloski said yesterday he has contacted all of proposed committee members, with the exception of Sanborn and all of the chosen have been invited to attend tonight's selectman's meeting that begins a 4:30 p.m.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 02:44

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