To the Editor:
On Feb. 16, the Moultonborough Board of Selectmen announced that it had received an Opinion of Counsel indicating that they may be compelled to terminate plowing of so-called private roads.
The statement from the board chair, only found in the board's minutes of that meeting, states, "Having consulted with our town attorney, it is our understanding that the law does not allow for the use of public funds to pay for plowing private roadways. This is also the opinion of the attorney for Laconia, which is also investigating the issue. The board is actively exploring current statutory options that may be available, and, in cooperation with the City of Laconia's attorney, the legal staff at the NHMA and others, the possibility of seeking the creation of new legislation that may permit the use of funds for such a purpose under certain circumstances."
Due to the likelihood that the town would terminate snow plowing on town-identified private roads after this winter, I sent a letter on Feb. 2 that asked 11 questions. In the interest of full public disclosure, I am reproducing below the questions and troubling answers provided by the vice chairman of the board:
1. I hereby request the full opinion of counsel pursuant to RSA 91-A:4 1-a IV as the Chair has read the substance of the opinion and thus waived any attorney/client privilege.
A: On the advice of counsel, the opinion letter will not be released.
2. When did the BoS receive this opinion?
A: Jan. 23, 2017
3. Please advise who created and maintained the Index of Roads found on or about Jan. 15, 2017; when it first was created and who developed it (List of Private and Town roads)?
A: Date created is not noted and therefore unknown, we believe former DPW Agent Scott Kinmond organized it in its current form.
4. Please advise if the dimensions (feet and miles) in the Index of Roads reflects linear length or lane mileage length (in other words are wider roads shown as double length)?
A: Not sure, appears to be in linear length.
5. Is it the intention of the town to plow roads during the winter of 2017-2018?
A: Unknown at this time.
6. Why if the town and its counsel believe state legislation is required to continue plowing so-called private roads, did counsel and the town not release the opinion and seek legislation for the 2016-2017 legislative session, instead of waiting until February 16 to disclose the opinion of counsel? As the board should know, the deadline for introducing proposed legislation for the current session of the legislature has passed.
A: The deadline had passed before the opinion was received.
7. What relationship to counsel's opinion on plowing private roads was the BoS's proposal to amend BoS Policy 2 (enhanced recommended minimums for private roads)?
8. Why does the town label certain roads as "private" on road signs, yet on others not indicate such even though they are listed as "private" in the Index of Roads?
A: Don't know. What signs are you asking about?
9. Please provide the cost of plowing so-called "private" roads for the winter of 2015-2016?
A: $95,280. This does not include the cost of highway department plowing, sanding, salting and winging back labor and materials.
10. If the town is legally precluded from plowing so-called "private roads, will the town still provide, fire, police and ambulance service to residents and property owners on such roads?
A: Yes, whenever conditions allow.
11. Why won't the town consider providing plowing services to all Class 6 and "private ways" pursuant to RSA 231:59a as a solution to this problem (repair of "class VI roads and "ways")?
A: The board is considering all options as solutions to this problem.
As the sparse and unsatisfactory answers to these questions will impact all residents and property owners, it should be noted that if the town ceases to provide "private road" plowing services, the ability of residents and property owners on such roads to obtain mortgage financing and insurance would be significantly impacted. If emergency services are curtailed or eliminated to more than half the roads in Moultonborough (see answer to Question 10), there will be substantial reductions in the tax assessment value of the vast majority of highly assessed waterfront properties on private roads that funds a substantial portion of the town's tax base.
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