BY MICHAEL KITCH LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — Seeking a fourth consecutive term on the Board of Selectman, Dave Nickerson squared off against his challenger, John Olmstead, the chairman of the Budget Committee, when the two fielded questions from some 40 voters at the library Monday night.
After serving as a drill instructor in the United States Army, Nickerson spent 42 years with what is now Verizon, half of them as as a contract work inspector and since retiring has managed a yacht club in Moultonborough. Referring to his colleagues on the selectboard, he was running because "We've got quite a team going right now," and several challenges, including economic development and road improvements, on the agenda.
Olmstead, whose great uncle Frederick Law Olmstead was the dean of landscape architecture, served in the United States Air Force for 21 years, worked in information technology and owned a business before moving to Sanbornton eight years ago. "I've seen some things that don't make me too happy," he said of his decision to enter the race, "and I want to make some changes."
Nickerson quickly found himself defending the selectboard's decision to not recommend reconstruction of the recreation building, which collapsed last year. He said the board asked for plans, but the Recreation Commission replied with a request for $98,000, but no plan.
"We didn't know what they wanted to do for $98,000," he said. "It's not about the building. We need it, but without a set of plans we couldn't approve it."
Then Nickerson was asked why he alone among the selectmen chose not to recommend adding two full-time firefighter/EMTs. "I listened to the chief," he said, "but I don't believe we need it."
Instead, he said that additional personnel was needed at the Department of Public Works.
"Do you want to fund full-time firefighters and have your roads deteriorate more?" he asked. "There's not the money to keep this infrastructure up."
Olmstead said that as chairman of the Budget Committee he faced a dilemma, explaining that on one hand he was inclined to trim the town budget and on the other he was concerned about public safety.
"I'm not 100 percent sure," he said.
Both candidates expressed support for regionalizing municipal services, an issue brought to the fore by the announcement that Laconia and Belmont would share one fire chief.
"I'm all for it," said Olmstead. "Regionalization is the way to go," echoed Nickerson, who said an opportunity was lost when the Winnisquam Fire Station was closed.
Asked to describe his objective in one word, Nickerson spoke about the success of the selectboard then, pressed as his time expired, remarked "continuity."
"Communications," Olmstead answered, explaining that he believed the selectboard could do better job of keeping residents informed as well as providing opportunities for residents to address the board. Nickerson took exception to these remarks, reminding Olmstead that the selectmen provided ample opportunity for residents to speak at their meetings.
One questioner noted that the property tax rate in Sanbornton is the second highest in Belknap County and asked the candidates about their plans to lower it. Nickerson said that the town has convened an economic development committee, which is developing a plan to expand the commercial tax base. At the same time, he noted that many residents wish to preserve the rural character of the town and are opposed to expansive commercial development. He indicated that small family businesses, operating in existing properties placing few if any demands on town services offered the most promising option.
Olmstead said the school budget is the largest component of the tax rate and pointed out that reducing expenditures by $100,000 would lower the tax rate by only 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Without offering specifics, he said that spending could be reduced, but warned against "balancing the budget on the backs of town employees." He also said that it would be self-defeating to waive property taxes in order to attract businesses.
"That idea doesn't work for Sanbornton," he said.
Both Nickerson and Olmstead said they would open to changing the time of meetings of the Board of Selectmen to enable working people to attend them. Nickerson noted that the board has met at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and now meets at 5 p.m. "It's easy for some and harder for others," he said.