To The Daily Sun,
We, the hard-working residents of Belmont, are proud of our history, natural resources and educational opportunities. We are not wealthy, and yet we carry fairly significant tax burdens. Many of us struggle to pay rent or mortgages, rising utility costs, and taxes. Current U.S. Census statistics are revealing: over one-third of residents are retired or unemployed, 23 percent live on annual income and benefits under $35,000 and 35 percent under $50,000. State Department of Education reports over a third of students in the Shaker School District are eligible for help with free or reduced meals. The 2015 town budget requests $223,933 for general assistance, often called welfare.
On Tuesday, March 10, we will be asked to approve Warrant Article 3: "Shall the Town vote to raise and appropriate $3,357,250 for the purpose of renovating the Belmont Mill for use as Town Offices, and to authorize the issuance of not more than $2,957,250 of bonds or notes in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal Finance Act (RSA 33) and to authorize the municipal officials to issue and negotiate such bonds or notes and to determine the rate of interest thereon; the balance of funding for the project ($400,000) to come from the Municipal Facilities Capital Reserve for which the selectmen are agents to expend. A 3/5 ballot vote required."
("The Budget Committee recommends $3,357,250 and the Board of Selectmen support this recommendation.")
This article combines a substantial sum for required renovations to the mill, and its use as town offices. I'm not a lawyer, but I do serve on the House Judiciary Committee in Concord. Words matter, and this warrant as I read it could restrict all future use of the mill — exclusively — for town offices. As we know, the space available in the mill is much greater than needed for staff now working from Main Street and the Corner Meeting House. I am concerned that, given more space our town government might grow to fill the void. Can we afford more government? Looking at our demographics, it is difficult to see the dollars and sense for the project as now proposed.
The situation is not unlike early discussions of the Belknap County jail, and the fine-tuning which has focused that project as costs are more realistically considered. I am not against recycling this building that has served Belmont well as a community center since 1998, and much longer as the economic engine that built the town. Several solid ideas, including Mr. Mark Mooney's suggestions for the mill, former bank building and post office, merit discussion and new choices. Selectmen are urged to reconsider all costs including Main Street demolitions, space needed for fewer than 20 employees, and long-term financial impact when property values shift.
I understand we have been wrestling with the issues surrounding the Mill and town offices for many years. Combining critical Mill repairs, renovations and an addition with its use as town offices clouds the question making Article 3 difficult to support.
Rep. Mike Sylvia
- Category: Letters
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