BRISTOL — Work at the Old Town Hall is progressing but the building will not be ready in time for November elections, selectmen said at the board's Sept. 25 meeting.
Town Administrator Michael Capone said the roof work is done, chimney repairs have been completed, and the sills and duct work also were completed within the $49,350 bid. Next to be done is the drywall work, for which the town had a bid of $850.
Capone said that, even allowing $200 as a contingency on the drywall work, the town has nearly $6,000 left in its budget for work on the building and he suggested accepting Richard Batchelder's $2,750 bid for exterior work that involves wood trim and clapboard on the southeast corner where the old jail cell is. For another $2,000, he said they could have the clapboard extended all the way to chimney. In separate motions, the selectmen agreed to both.
With the traditional voting place still not ready for occupancy, voting will continue to take place at Marion Hall on West Shore Road. Holding elections there means officials have to move in the voting booths and ballot machines and cover the floors, then remove all of the equipment. The advantage is that there is more parking and easier access than at the Old Town Hall.
Residents are divided on which polling place is better with some complaining of the distance to Marion Hall and the preference for tradition while others welcome the change and hope they will be able to continue casting their votes there.
In other business, selectmen approved the paving of the municipal parking lot next to Union Lodge, with Highway Supervisor Mark Bucklin noting that the Masons' lot was the last paving project on his list.
With that $8,900 expenditure, Town Administrator Michael Capone said $61,000 remained in the paving budget. While that was too little to take on another road project, he said the town could address problems with the parking area at the municipal building where ice buildup was a constant problem during the winter.
Bucklin suggested that the town might get a good price on town office project by combining it with the Masons' lot and he agreed to speak with the contractor about it.
Selectmen granted the town administrator authority to sign an agreement not to exceed $10,000 for paving the town office lot.
The board approved the purchase of new street signs to direct traffic on North Main Street, now a one-way street, back to the main routes. One would be at the corner of North Main and Mayhew streets, directing traffic to Route 104 east; another at the intersection of North Main and Union streets for those going to Route 3-A; and a third at the intersection of Union and Lake streets, showing Route 3-A North and South and directing them to Route 104. The cost is $650 — $700, Capone said.
In discussing the Harriet Drive road project, Bucklin said the development has upgraded the road so it will meet town requirements. All is in place except for surfacing the road as required by the town, Bucklin said.
Chair Rick Alpers questioned whether the town should hold the development accountable to a standard that was not in place when the road project began. After some discussion, the selectmen agreed to put acceptance of the road on the agenda for a future meeting.
Bucklin provided updates on other projects and discussed the bids for winter sand, due Friday, Oct. 3. He also reported on the arrival of a new sidewalk tractor; progress on the installation of new doors and windows at the highway garage, and progress on a road service management program.
Turning to the newly established economic development task force, selectmen agreed to extend the deadline for people to apply for positions on panel. While five people have formally applied to serve on the task force, others have said they just learned of it.
Selectmen awarded a fuel bid to Dead River Company, with Capone noting that he had worked with School Administrative Unit 4 Business Manager Michael Limanni in securing bids for both town and school purchases. While Fred Fuller had submitted a comparable bid, concerns about the company's future led them to shy away from that oil company.
Selectmen agreed to have Capone notify Integrys Energy Services that it will be switching to Public Service of New Hampshire for its electricy. Capone said that October marks the end of the fixed energy price contract and, after that, Integrys' rates could rise to market levels.
The board postponed a decision on whether to accept Norwood Energy's offer of $58 per REC for every renewable energy certificate the Minot-Sleeper Library earns with the solar array on its roof. Capone said the New Jersey-based power company comes highly recommended and, while the town could try to market its RECs itself, it would not be worth it with the 20 credits per year that the library is able to earn. Should the town eventually power all of its municipal buildings with solar energy, the revenues might justify that, he said.
The library intends to use the revenues it receives from its REC sales for maintenance.
On a related note, Capone noted that the town has filed its grant application for a solar array at the wastewater treatment plant. The $1.25 million PUC grant would require a $150,000 match from the water and sewer department.
Bristol had good news from Melanson Heath & Company of Manchester which delivered a positive audit report to the town for the budget year ending Dec. 31, 2013. The accountants gave special recognition to the municipal departments for pulling together all the documentation the accounting firm needed for its review.
While the town's governmental activities balance sheet showed a negative net position, the auditors explained that it was because of the impact of the Central Square project that reconfigured the downtown area while replacing water, sewer, and electric lines beneath the roads.
Revenues above the budgeted amount allowed the town to end the year with a positive fund balance even though the town had used last year's unassigned fund balance to reduce taxation rather than using it for town expenses. Combined with the unexpended funds turned back in by the various departments, the town was able to put back into its fund balance almost all of the money returned to the taxpayers last year.
The auditors also gave the water and sewer department, which operates as an independent entity, good marks, noting that the fluctuations from last year are not significant.
Overall, the accountants liked the progress they were seeing in addressing deficiencies, the most notable of which is the assignment of values to capital assets such as buildings and streets. All communities are going through this change in accounting practice to better reflect their actual value and Bristol is making good progress, the report said.
Another concern is the segregation of duties but the accountants acknowledged the problem of working with a small staff. New accounting software for the town will eliminate the issue, they said.
The firm is researching deficit fund balances over the past 10 years, reconciling them with invoices to make sure everything is properly recorded.
Another recommendation is for the town to do more internal audit functions for better departmental budget oversight. The accountants acknowledged that is not easy to do on top of regular duties, but Bristol is making progress there, too.
An audit of the Central Square project is nearing completion and the accountants said they will be coming back with a "clean opinion" on that, as well.
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