Gilford trims request for town hall upgrades at Town Meeting

02 10 gilford town delib

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


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.

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Shaker Regional voters forward $22.5 million school budget


BELMONT — Voters will be asked to approve $226,256 in first-year costs from a teacher contract as well as an operating budget of $22,475,634 in Shaker Regional School District for Belmont and Canterbury, following Wednesday's deliberative session of School District Meeting.
No amendments were passed, leaving the warrant intact for the Tuesday, March 14, voting day, reported Sean Embree, chairman of the Shaker School Board.
A motion from the floor to cut $1 million from the proposed budget failed on a voice vote, Embree reported.
Article 2 calls for approval of a collective bargaining agreement with teachers, including increases in salaries and benefits at current staffing of $226,256 in 2017-2018; $356,313 in 2018-2019; and $359,483 in 2019-2020, and to raise $226,256 for the first year.
Article 4 calls for an operating budget of $22,475,634, with a default budget of $22,526,566. The proposed operating budget, according to the district, is up $287,085 or 1.4 percent. Benefits are up $205,287 to $3,033,706. Support services, purchases services for contracted behavioral and vision specialists, rose by $178,000, the district reported.
Article 8 asks voters to rescind SB2, the form of Town Meeting which involves a deliberative session and a separate voting day. Official voting would take place on the second Tuesday of March under this proposal.
Voting day is Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Belmont High School.

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Tilton may downsize its Board of Selectmen to just three

By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun

TILTON — Townspeople will be asked to vote on whether the Board of Selectmen should be reduced in size from five members to three.

As a result of a petitioned warrant article signed by more than double the required 25 registered voters, the issue will be on the ballot when local residents go to the polls during the municipal elections on Tuesday, March 14.

As state law mandates that any petition to change the size of the Board of Selectmen must be on the ballot for a yes or no vote, there will be no opportunity for Town Meeting discussion. A public hearing to allow people to become fully informed of the pros and cons of the petition before they head to the voting booth has been scheduled for next week.

That hearing will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m., on the second floor of Town Hall, 275 Main St., immediately following a municipal budget hearing.

Tilton residents supported a petitioned warrant article in 1998, by a vote of 206 to 176, to increase the size of the board from three members to five. The change went into effect in March 1999, when two new members were elected to staggered terms. Town Administrator Joyce Fulweiler said it's not clear what the original impetus was for enlarging the board or who petitioned to get the question on the ballot. The law allowing residents to adjust the size of their board by ballot vote has been on the books since 1967.

If townspeople vote to reduce the size of the board, candidates for all three seats would be elected anew in March 2018, to staggered terms – one for one year, one for two years and one for three years.

Scott Davis, who drafted the petition, said he supports making the switch back to three members. The petition attracted the signatures of some 60 residents, including former selectmen Bob Brown and Joe Plessner, who was among the first to serve on the five-member board.

"My main purpose is to address the micromanaging going on by some members of the board," said Davis.

He believes the selectmen's job is to discuss policy, set it and then vote it in. Town department heads are then tasked with following established policy. Davis claims some members of the current board direct staff in all departments.

"It has to be handcuffing to town employees," Davis said, maintaining it is not uncommon to see at least two selectmen in Town Hall at the same time, on a near daily basis.

"The staff is very capable but you can't do your job when each selectman is telling you something different," Davis said.

Making the switch would halt the micromanagement, according to Davis, as two members of a three-member board in town hall at the same time creates a quorum which constitutes a "meeting" under the Right to Know

He also eyes the switch as improving efficiency. The current board meets weekly, and their sessions are often lengthy, while in past years, selectmen have met bi-monthly. A three-member board with staggered terms, Davis said, might also encourage new candidates to run, because of the shortened commitment.

Patricia Consentino who now chairs the Board of Selectmen opposes the measure.

"I strongly suggest people vote no. I don't think it's in the best interest of the town of Tilton."

When she served on a three-member board in the Town of Atkinson years ago, Consentino said, it proved to be very contentious. Split votes were common and progress was slow. Five members, she said, bring additional perspectives and opinions to issues.

"I can't stress enough we have a phenomenal board that has come to some very difficult decisions. We don't always agree, but we always come to resolve," she said.

The larger board allows the work load to be divided, with various members assigned as the selectmen's representative on various boards and commissions. Because three members of the board are retired, a selectman is also available during the day to meet with a resident if needed, or attend meetings on behalf of the town that occur during business hours.

Reducing the size of the board, Consentino said, will stifle volunteerism and heap even more work on the town administrator, who she said is already overburdened.

Fellow Selectman Jonathan Scanlon supports the status quo and believes a five-member board gives citizens better access to their elected officials.

Many townspeople are unaware of the behind-the-scenes work done by the board that saves taxes dollars, Scanlon said, noting that during the search for a new Public Works director, two selectmen volunteered their time to provide day to day oversight of the highway crew.

To save on staff overtime, Scanlon said, selectmen take turns raising and lowering the flag to half-staff on weekends when the state issues a flag status alert. The board also rotate doing before and after inspections at Island Park and Riverfront Park when the facilities are reserved for private use.

A bigger board also allows for broader participation on the numerous town committees and commissions as well as other regional agencies and organizations that require a selectmen representative.

In the Lakes Region, three-member boards are in the majority. The towns of Alton, Ashland, Bristol, Holderness, Meredith, Moultonborough, Plymouth and Wolfeboro have five-member boards.

Don Jutton of Municipal Resources Inc., said it has been his experience in working with some 600 municipalities throughout New England that the size of the board doesn't matter, but personalities do.

"There really isn't an advantage in either having a three-member board or five. It is personality driven," said Jutton, who served as Meredith town manager before founding MRI.

"Some five member boards do great work and some three-member boards perform horribly, and vice versa," he continued.

Jetton believes three-member boards are more common, but said over the past 15 to 20 years the number of five-member boards is increasing in large part due to what is perceived as an expanded work load.

Municipalities that don't have a town manager and rely on a part-time administrative assistant are most apt to have larger boards, Jutton said.

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