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Sanbornton cuts $40,000 from town budget, then adds $586,000

SANBORNTON — More than 300 voters filled gymnasium at Sanbornton Central School to overflowing and spent five-and-half hours trimming $40,000 from the operating budget and wading through 14 warrant articles, five of which together added $586,518 in spending to the $3.8 million budget at Town Meeting this week.
After agreeing to return the town planner to a 32-hour work week, Roger Grey proposed amending the budget to scuttle a cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) for town employees, freeze the salary of the Fire Chief and level fund the library budget. Grey requested his amendment be put to a secret ballot, slowing the pace of the meeting.
The count stalled when the ballot box was found to be locked and the key gone astray. But Moderator Tim Lang shuffled the warrant, bringing to the fore proposals to fund construction of a Parks and Recreation building and hire two full-time firefighters, which both failed, the second by another time consuming secret ballot. As the bewitching hour came and and went, voters adopted another half-dozen warrant articles, including spending $500,000 for road improvements, while discarding proposals to charge fees for pickings from the metal pile at the transfer station and regulate "unreasonable noise" in public places throughout the town.
Nina Gardner told the meeting that by being limited to 20 hours a week, the planner had no time to apply to economic development. She said the issue is a matter of "pay me now or pay me later," explaining that expanding the tax base, especially the share of commercial property, would be "a smart investment." She was echoed by Evelyn Auger, who chairs the Planning Board, who said that the $7,500 increase in the budget would prove "a money maker in the long run." By a margin of 142 to 134, the voters agreed.
"We've got to start making some tough decisions in this town," Grey, a member of the Budget Committee, began. "We can't go on as we are or we'll only be a community for the rich." He proposed eliminating the 2 percent COLA, denying the fire chief a $4,000 raise and striking the increase in the library budget, all of which would amount to $40,000, or 1 percent of the operating budget.
Craig Davis, Grey's colleague on the Budget Committee, reminded the meeting that the committee did not share Grey's opinion and pointed out while the salaries and wages of other state, county and municipal employees have risen significantly, the 1.5 percent COLA awarded to town employees last year was their only increase in eight years. The 2 percent COLA, he said, would add seven cents to the tax rate. Likewise, he said that the fire chief was hired at low end of the scale and also deserved a modest raise.
Grey's amendment carried by a margin of 163 votes in favor to 143 votes against.
By the time the result was announced, voters had withheld $98,000 to replace the building that housed the Parks and Recreation Department, which was demolished after being condemned by the town's insurance carrier. Tracy Wood of the Parks and Recreation Commission told the meeting that the $98,000 represented a one-time increase of 22 cents to the tax rate. "We have no home," she said, explaining that the department operated 12 programs, hosted six activities and staged special events for some 400 children and 50 adults. A half dozen parents spoke of the benefits the department provided for their children while others peppered Wood with questions about the annual operating costs of the facility. Ultimately, the proposal failed by a dozen votes, 147 to 135, on a division vote.
Fire Chief Paul Dexter spoke in support of his request to add two firefighters at a cost of $135,200, which was rejected the year before by just four votes. He explained that with only call and per diem firefighters the department frequently faces "a huge gap in coverage between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.," when it fields half its calls for service, most of which are for medical emergencies. The additional personnel would enable the department to staff a 12-hour daytime shift from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week, with one full-time firefighter/EMT and one part-time per diem firefighter/EMT, he said.
Dave Nickerson, the outgoing chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who voted not to recommend the article, told voters that the Tilton-Northfield Fire & EMS Department is building a new station and referred to a specific site for the facility. "There is an opportunity here," he said, suggesting that Sanbornton could join in a regional department. "The door is open to talk to Tilton-Northfield before jumping into hiring two firefighters," he said.
When Selectman Johnny Van Tassel discounted the prospects of a regional department, Dave DeVoy, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, countered that "regionalization can happen as fast as the selectmen want it to happen."
By a second secret ballot voters soundly rejected the article, 191 to 95.
With that, the firefighters moved to reconsider the budget to grant the chief his pay raise. They were told the budget could only be reconsidered at a special town meeting. Stepping to the microphone, Dexter said he appreciated the gesture, but he could not support spending $5,000 to hold a special town meeting to give him a $4,000 raise.

Not just day care - $1.5 million in school cuts being debated

LACONIA — A dozen city residents, including three Huot Center Child Development Center employees who could lose their jobs, came to the School Board Budget and Personnel Committee Thursday to object to the proposed closure of the child care center, as well as more than $1.5 million in cuts being considered for the 2016-2017 proposed budget.
The latest board proposal is to convert the existing child center space to a preschool classroom that will hold two half-day sessions with certified teachers. The program will be eligible for federal Title I funding.
Business Administrator Ed Emond said the $82,000 projected shortfall in the current program could never have been covered by a federal Perkins grant.
With the elimination of the Child Development Center and its two-and-a-half employees, plus 14 other School District teachers, an administrator at the Middle School, the elimination of the hospitality program at the Huot Center, and some administrative secretaries, the first-level cuts being looked at total $1,513,339.
Second-level cuts could bring the total to $1,696,995. They would include reductions in some after-school programs, including athletics, band, drama and similar activities.
Committee Chairman Scott Vachon said a third level of cuts has been considered but they would prevent the School District from meeting its educational mission.
Administrators said they must eliminate a minimum of $1.19 million from the budget for next school year to meet the restrictions of the city's property tax cap, which limits the growth in taxes that may be collected to a factor of inflation.
It is required by the city charter for their proposed budget to be at or under the cap.
Many of the parents at the meeting blamed the tax cap for the budget problems now facing the School District.
Sean Valovanie asked the members of the Budget and Personnel Committee if they had talked to the City Council.
"The problem is the tax cap," he said. "It has to come from the City Council."
He said half-day preschool programs like the one proposed don't work for middle-income families as only the poor and the wealthy can send their children to half-day programs because of work constraints.
When Chad Vaillancourt asked if the city can override the tax cap, it was explained to him that it is possible but when it comes to building a budget for the 2017-18 school year, the district will be back in the same place because an override is good for one-year only. Any additional budgets will be based on the cap before the override.
Members of the committee said they don't foresee the Consumer Price Index - Urban, which is a federal number that measures inflation and is used in part to calculate the permitted increase in property taxes, rising much more in 2016, leaving the School District in the same place it is now come the next budget. The CPI-U for 2015 was near zero.
Superintendent Phil McCormack said he has met with City Manager Scott Meyers and believes that the city will come under similar constraints for its part of the overall budget as the School District.
As for the Child Development Center, head instructor Colleen Bownes said they had the capacity to take in about twice the number of children and charge more for the program. She and others noted that it is not simply a daycare but works to prepare children for school.
Emond explained that the educational model for students who want to go into teaching that used to focus on the Child Development Center is no longer supported by the state Department of Education. He said the new education model for high school students who hope to teach is based on interactions with students at all levels of school, including the two proposed pre-kindergarten classes.
The committee went into a nonpublic session to further discuss the specific cuts and how individual employees could be affected. The next School Board meeting is on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the SAU Offices on Harvard Street.

Gilford to go forward with replacing Varney Point sewer pumps


GILFORD — With the two Varney Point sewer pumps failing, selectmen gave permission to Public Works Director Peter Nourse and Underwood Engineers to create a design and bid specifications for their replacement.

According to UE President Keith Pratt the two pumps are 30 years old and at the end of their useful lifespan. He said each was designed to pump 125 gallons per minute; however, a recent test showed the "left" one pumping at 34 gallons per minute and the "right" one pumping at 100 gallons per minute.

He said the town was able to get the left one back to 100 gallons per minute by replacing the impellers.

The two pumps and houses are part of the system that prevents raw sewage from getting into Lake Winnipesaukee. The dual stations pump the sewage into the Winnipesaukee Sewage Basin, which is transmitted to the wastewater treatment plant in Franklin.

Key deficiencies include no separation of the wet well from the manholes to stop gasses from getting in the pump house. The alarms don't work and when the generators work, gas gets into the pump house.

Pratt said overhangs on the "right" pump make it difficult to clean the wet well, and the pumps needs a 3-phase electrical system, one of which recently failed.

Pratt gave selectmen three options for repairing the houses and replacing the well.

The first, which was recommended by Nourse and Underwood, is to rehabilitate the "guts" of the pump system and do little with the house. He said they would fix the overhang on the "right" side pump and shift the house on the "left" pump house so it is not sitting on top of one of the manholes. This option would cost the sewer district $775,000.

The second option is to scrap the stations and replace the wet wells. A cost of $1.1 million eliminated this from consideration.

The third option is to put in a new station with submersible wells and put the piping values in separate stations. Selectmen did not like the idea of submersible wells and this option was eliminated. This option would have cost $825,000.

Town administrator Scott Dunn said there is $321,000 in the capital reserve and $561,000 in the sewer fund itself. He also said there is the possibility that there could be a state grant that would pay for the generators.

"I think we can do this without raising rates or going to the taxpayers," Dunn said.