SANBORNTON — A standing-room-only crowd at the Sanbornton Public Library on Friday night peppered the two candidates for selectmen and three of the four candidates for the Budget Committee with questions as far ranging as their opinion on privatizing roads to potential time conflicts for serving.
Seeking the one seat available for a three-year term as selectman are Jeffrey Jenkins and Johnny VanTassel. Incumbent Guy Giunta is not seeking re-election.
Seeking seats on the Budget Committee are incumbent Judy Burlingame Rich (who wasn't there), incumbent Roger Grey, Ralph Rathjen and Mitch Lewis. Rathjen serves on the Transportation Privatization Committee and Lewis serves on the Capital Improvement Committee.
Some of Friday's debate centered on whether or not Jenkins (who vacations in Florida in winter) and VanTassel (who manages the Northfield Public Works Department) would be available when townspeople need them.
The topic arose when retired Town Finance Director Curt McGee mentioned that of the nine meetings that the Privatization Committee has had, VanTassel has only made the first two.
"How's he going to make a 4:30 p.m. selectmen's meeting?" McGee asked.
VanTassel responded by saying he was never meant to stay on that committee and had only agreed to advise it until a director or interim director was named, which the town has done.
"I could be able to make 4:30 p.m. meetings," VanTassel said, adding he believed that many people would like to go to Sanbornton's selectmen's meetings but are working. "I would think a little later would be better."
He also noted that if it was the middle of a snowstorm and he was plowing, then there was a good chance the town offices would be closed and there would likely be no meeting.
Gail Morrison, who is a candidate for Trustee of the Trust Fund, posed the same question to Jenkins, who vacations in Florida during the winter.
"Over the past few years this has kept me from stepping up," Jenkins said. He said state laws have changed regarding electronic communications and his cell phone is available to all. "Obama takes a vacation. I plan on taking a vacation."
Jenkins said there may be times when he appeared by computer (Skype), but guaranteed his attendance would be better than that of some selectmen who has served the town in the past.
As to privatizing the road responsibilities of the town, Jenkins said he is serving on the committee and said any decision is about a year away at the earliest. He said his research has shown that the 10 New England towns that had been identified as having private highway departments was misleading because those 10 towns had never had highway departments.
He also said the committee has never found a town that once it had a town-operated highway department returned to a private one.
Jenkins said he didn't yet have enough information about it and was uncommitted about what he would recommend.
VanTassel, who was the Sanbornton highway superintendent before leaving for Northfield, said that while the study being done is a good study, he really doesn't see Sanbornton's entire operation going private.
"I think (the study) will make for a better highway department," he said, noting that many of the things done by many municipal highway department are already private.
VanTassel also noted internal control can often make for a better product. Responding to an earlier observation from an audience member who complained that last summer's mowing was not very good, VanTassel said that in 2012 the department did it in such a way that certain brush would die back during the next year and make it easier and cheaper in 2013.
When the town instead subcontracted the work in 2013, he said it may have saved a little money but the quality of the work was not as good as when the town crews had done the moving the year before.
Rathjen said he realizes the entire DPW budget is $1.5-million (it includes the transfer station as well ) and that at most the town would only be able to privatized between $550,000 to $750,000 of the work anyway.
He said it was "premature" for townspeople to expect a $400,000 annual savings — a number that was thrown out by current Budget committee member Earl Leighton when he asked the candidates about it.
"We could come up with a situation where it could cost more," he said.
The other major point of discussion was the 2½ percent raise that was accepted by the Board of Selectmen but eliminated by the Budget Committee.
VanTassel said he feels employees are "extremely important" and would like to see them get a raise, but knows the town's taxpayers can only afford so much.
"We should cover the cost of inflation (1.3 percent according to the Consumer Price Index provided by the government) because keeping employees is a bonus," he said.
Jenkins, who is on the Budget Committee said he would definitely not support any 2½ percent raises this year. He noted that every employee got 2½ percent in 2013-2014 and the police got between 6-and 10-percent raises.
"We asked for departments to give us a flat salary budget. We thought it was a reasonable thing to do," Jenkins said.
Lewis said he works in the private sector and just saw many in his company take 40 percent pay cuts. "We gave 2½ percent last year and most towns didn't give more than 2 percent," he said.
"It's not easy," he said. "While 2½ percent seems fair, the inflation rate is 1.3 percent."
Rathjen described it as a valid difference between what the selectmen do and the Budget Committee does. He noted there is a $67,000 difference between the selectmen's and the Budget Committee's budget, $50,000 of it is raises.
Grey said he won't support 2½ percent raises this year and said he voted to keep salaries level. He said Sanbornton was a small rural community with 60 percent of its land in current use and 1,800 parcels that pay taxes.
He said that if people at annual town meeting vote to support the raises or to add the difference between the library request and the Budget Committee's recommendation that was fine, "but don't complain when the tax rate goes up."
"We have to start saying no at some point," Grey said.
Elections are May 13 and will be held at the Old Town Hall. Sanbornton's Town Meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Sanbornton Central School. Full sample ballots and the list of the warrant articles are available on the Sanbornton Town Website.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 02:25
GILFORD — The parent of a Gilford High School student who raised objections to what he called a pornographic passage in a book, "Nineteen Minutes" which was assigned to his daughter's ninth grade honors English class was arrested last night for failing to leave the meeting when ordered to by Gilford Police Lt. James Leach.
William Baer, who moved here recently from New Jersey, said he was "outraged" when he found out about the passage and said that it was beyond comprehension that the board would allow a book with that kind of passage to be read by high schoolers.
He challenged Superintendent Kent Hemingway to read a copy of the controversial passage aloud at the public input session of last night's meeting. But Sue Allen, School Board chairman, who had earlier set a limit of two minutes on public input on the issue and ruled that no one could speak a second time, said no one from the board or administration would be reading any material submitted at the meeting aloud.
Baer's arrest came after he was asked to leave the meeting after interrupting a statement made by a Joe Wernig, a parent who supported having the book on the school's reading list and suggested that if Baer and other critics had their way ''these people will be dictating what we can and cannot read.''
That prompted Baer to interrupt and say ''that's absurd'' and defend the criticism as justified. When Lt. Leach asked him to leave, Baer asked as Leach approached him ''am I under arrest?'' He was escorted into the hall outside the meeting room and handcuffed before being led outside to a police cruiser.
Hemingway, Allen and Gilford High School Principal Peter Sawyer last Friday issued an informational statement to local media in which they said that students in English classes at the high school were assigned "Nineteen Minutes" on Monday, April 28. The statement said that the book, written by New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult, has been a selection open to high school staff since 2007, the year it was published.
The statement described the book as of "thematic importance," noting that it contains scenes of physical and sexual violence.
The statement reminds parents of the school district's policies, which refer to the procedures bearing on controversial material.
The officials said that when "Nineteen Minutes" was assigned in past years, parents were notified for their approval and conceded this procedure was not followed last week. A statement was sent to parents yesterday notifying them of the book and its content and acknowledging the oversight.
Following last night's meeting, the board issued a statement apologizing for the discomfort of those impacted and for the failure of the School District to send home prior notice of assignment of the novel.
The board said the district will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material rather than opt out and that the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material.
Other parents supported Baer's stance. Sarah Carrignan said that she was ''utterly appalled that this was acceptable. My son should never have had the book in his hand'' and said that the waiver sent home which would allow their children to read the book was ''garbage.''
Baer's wife, Barbara, said that when she found the passage in the book that was being read by her 14-year-old daughter she was shocked. ''I'm speechless, I really am that this was allowed.'' she said.
But when Joe Wernig defended discussion of the book and said that his daughters had read it and that he had even met Picoult when she was in Gilford before the book was published. He said the book had provoked meaningful discussion which he thought was valuable with his daughters.
''It made my daughters feel uncomfortable and they wanted to have a discussion with me,'' said Wernig, who took a shot at critics of the book by saying they were trying to dictate what could be read in the schools.
Doug Lambert later read the offending page, which described a sex act between teenagers, and later in the meeting, when a second public input session was held, read a passage from the Bible which said that those who sinned against the innocent be cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck.
''That's what's coming for all of you. You're all going to pay for this,'' said Lambert, who said he was glad he no longer had children in the Gilford school system.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 02:34
MOULTONBOROUGH — When Jeff Hayes, executive director of Lakes Region Planning Commission, met with the selectmen last month the board used the occasion to challenge how the annual dues of the 30 member municipalities are assessed, an issue that has rankled the town for several years.
Paul Punturieri noted that the state statute establishing the regional planning commissions requires them to "determine on a reasonable and equitable basis the proportion of its costs to be borne respectively by each municipality." He said that although Moultonborough's population is approximately 4,000, because of its relatively greater portion of the total property value of the member municipalities, it bears a disproportionate share of the costs. The town, he said. pays approximately $10,000 a year, which is comparable to the contribution of Laconia, a much larger community. Stressing that he had no qualms about the services the commission provides, Punturieri said, "Just on principle we should stop paying other people's bills."
"It's been one of my pet peeves for a long time," echoed Selectman Russ Wakefield who told Hayes, "We've got the pockets and everybody's got their hands in them. The planning commission is no different. To use our equalized value is unfair."
Hayes explained yesterday that the member municipalities fund 15-percent of the commission's annual budget of more than $800,000 while federal funds represent 68 percent, state funds 1 percent and miscellaneous grants another 1 percent . Proceeds from contracted services for member municipalities also account for about 15 percent of the budget.
The cost is apportioned among the members by what Hayes called "a straight-forward formula," consisting of two equally weighted factors — each municipality's percentage of the total valuation and population. The results are indexed annually to the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
Hayes said that told the board that since the commission provided services bearing on land use and natural resources, evaluation and population, which are closely related to both, represent reasonable and equitable criteria for apportioning the cost of those services. He noted that while the resident population of Moultonborough, as counted by the U.S. Census, is about 4,000, its summer population may swell to four times that. Moreover, he reminded the selectmen that since safeguarding water quality is a high priority for the commission, the length of shoreline, which is reflected in the value of waterfront properties, should not be overlooked when considering the apportionment.
Several selectmen suggested levying user fees to apportion costs among municipalities. Hayes replied, "there are a lot of intangibles," explaining, "resources and values do not respect town boundaries. That's why user fees don't work."
Nevertheless, he assured the board that "we're willing to look at other reasonable parameters." Repeating that property, population and shoreline seem appropriate, he said, "We're open to looking other factors."
The LRPC consists of 30 cities and towns in Belknap, Carroll, Grafton and Merrimack counties, including Laconia and all 10 towns of Belknap County.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 02:23
MEREDITH — Robert Franks, speaking for those who volunteered their services for the Inter-Lakes Senior Center, told the Board of Selectmen yesterday that he was appalled by the recent decision of the Community Action Program of Belknap —Merrimack Counties, Inc. (CAP) to close the center and pressed the board to support its revival.
Since 2006, CAP has rented space and use of the kitchen at the Community Center between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, when activities are offered to seniors, including a congregate meal.
In a prepared statement, issued last week, the agency explained that it was "faced with making this very difficult decision due to rising costs and funding reductions." Later Pam Jolivett, director of elder services, said that as pressures on its funding have mounted the agency reviews the costs and utilization of all its cost centers, including its 10 senior centers. She said that the agency "deeply regretted its decision and offered its "sincere appreciation" to the volunteers, civic groups, businesses and town officials whose contributions ensured the success of the center for so many years.
When the board met yesterday, Selectman Peter Brothers said that the issue was first first broached last September as the board began the 2014 budget process. CAP approached the board with a request to lower the annual rent for the Community Center from $14,400 to $8,000. He said that after much deliberation, the board agreed to reduce the rent to $12,000.
"We regret that CAP made the decision they felt they had to make," Brothers said. "It wasn't a decision that we made. We tried to do our level best."
Franks said that volunteers were told by officials from Concord "we can't afford this anymore" and that senior citizens from Meredith were welcome to share a congregate luncheon at the Laconia Senior Center. "Why should the people of Meredith have to go to Laconia?" he asked. "What happens to the seniors of Meredith who want to get together?"
Franks proposed arranging for meals to be prepared and served at the Community Center by local volunteers, noting that they would be able to offer a luncheon superior to the "institutional food" provided by CAP, which was prepared in Concord and warmed up in Meredith. He stressed that the program would be operated by Meredith volunteers for Meredith seniors.
Brothers said that he was "disappointed" and interested in considering a proposal. He explained that the town provides financial support to a number of non-profit agencies, about half of which serve seniors in different ways. He suggested that Franks and his group frame a formal proposal with a business model and "go through the same process as other outside agencies. I'm willing to listen," he continued, but I also want you to understand that we didn't shut down the program."
"Is the board willing to step up to the plate to do the things that need to be done?" Franks asked.
Jim Hughes, a former selectman who championed the construction of the Community Center, asked "if it is a Meredith program for Meredith residents, what would be the rent?"
Carla Horne, who chairs the board, replied "that's another discussion" and encouraged Franks and his group to prepare a proposal and return to the board. "I'm sure we can work something out," she said.
"To be continued," remarked Selectman Nate Torr.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 01:27
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- Meredith Code Enforcement Officer Bill Edney dies suddenly at age 65
- Graphic description of teen sex in assigned reading sends Gilford High School parent through the roof
- Gilmanton selectmen step back from association with Y-R Library
- State moves to confiscate $1,500 taken from alleged pot dealer's car in Belmont