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Zoning wasn't intended to restrict farms from being able to function

To The Daily Sun,

As farmers and folks who have gone through the town process of opening our farm to the public for additional revenue through agricultural tourism, we are quite dismayed to read Norman Silbers' hostile letter of March 2.

We all attended (including Mr. Silbers) a Senate hearing on a bill addressing agritourism. Many senators spent a lot of time explaining why the things that Mr. Silbers is claiming just could not happen due to local oversight.

Farming is and always has been a "commercial activity." By passing the article Mr. Silbers refers to, it sounds as though Gilford would be banning farming. How does no farms add to the "rural character" of towns? In many cases farms have existed in their current location before zoning was adopted by towns.

Zoning was intended to combat sprawl development, preserve open space and concentrate most commerce in downtowns, not to restrict farms from being able to function as businesses. And it needs to be noted that agritourism is not new. People have been leaving the city to visit farms for recreation since the early 1800s.

Farming has always been a fickle enterprise, with constantly changing consumer demands, weather extremes, pests, changing fuel costs and low profit margins are some of the many challenges faced by a farm. Trying to find ways to offset these challenges has forced farms to continue to diversify the ways they can generate income from their land.

The "conservation easement tax avoidance schemes" Mr. Silbers refers to are designed to help preserve rural character for all residents to enjoy. Farmers should be thanked for adding thousands of acres to conservation easements.

Those who are out of touch with the difficulties and realities of earning a living from the land may see conservation easements as such. They are misguided in their choice of classification. Conservation easements are a way for those who love forest and open space to make sure their land will always be protected from commercial development. Since development of these types is restricted the land is valued less and is taxed at a reduced rate. As a result owners of property adjacent to land that has been conserved will see an increase in the value of their property.

We do not live in Gilford, but we have gone through a similar process, and would like to say that a balance can be achieved, we would urge the voters to not feel bullied into voting in such restrictive articles as 7 and 8. The rights of property owners should be taken into consideration, as should those of farms, businesses that predate most neighbors by several generations, businesses that have preserved and enhanced the quality of life and picturesque landscape we all treasure, and so that current and future generations will have access to food and will have the opportunity to know a working farm. Restricting a farms ability to access ways to generate income puts all of these important values in great jeopardy.

Ruth & Dan Holmes
Bryn Dumas & Carrie Holmes Dumas
Four Winds Farm

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How can so many departmetns be up & total budget be down?

To The Daily Sun,

At first glance the proposed Sanbornton town operating budget for FY 2017 looks impressive. Total expenditures are expected to be down $170,825. But look closer and something does not add up because almost every department has a cost increase: i.e.: Highway, 9 percent; Recreation, 5 percent; Fire, 4 percent; General Government, 3 percent, etc.

How can so many department expenses be up and total expenditures be down from last year? One reason lies in the debt service account. The Y-Project highway bonds were paid off in 2015, saving Sanbornton $142,316 in principal and interest. Rather than setting the savings aside for the upcoming Lower Bay Road rebuilding project, the money was used to fund department increases. So the true cost of the FY 2017 budget will not become obvious until Sanbornton has to float a larger bond issue along with a tax increase when the Lower Bay construction begins.

To be sure there are justifiable increases. A 9 percent increase in the chronically underfunded Highway Department seems warranted to me. But with Sanbornton's sluggish growth and a low inflation rate other increases do not. This year's 2 percent employee wage increase in addition to last year's 1.5 percent  seems excessive, as does a 7 percent raise for the fire chief, a 5 percent raise in library expenses, and a $900 raise for the tax collector after last year's 12.5 percent increase.

Disagree? Make your voice heard at the Town Meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9, in the Sanbornton Central School.

Roger Grey

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