Fire chief talk dominates year in New Durham

by Tim Croes
Staff Writer - The Baysider
January 07, 2014
NEW DURHAM — The hot topic of 2013 in New Durham was the fire chief. The selectmen interviewed candidates, but they never finalized the proposed decision to replace Pete Varney as the town's fire chief.

In February, the selectmen voted to advertise for a part-time position at the transfer station. The selectmen also discussed the upcoming warrant articles. David Bickford suggested having a warrant article for the library and the motion was approved. The board approved using money from the surplus to reduce the tax rate.

During the March election, David Swenson was elected to a three-year position. He replaced Bickford, who chose not to run for re-election.

During Town Meeting in March, Barbara Hunter was recognized as Citizen of the Year and Clayton Randall and Charlie Morgan were recognized as Volunteers of the Year. A town budget of $2,963,910 was approved during the meeting, and an article to reduce the tax rate by using $175,000 from the fund balanced was defeated during the meeting. All of the articles were approved including the support of many capital reserve funds that had previously set up.

Bickford thanked the community for supporting him for his time spent as a selectmen and a moment of silence was held for passing of his mother Eloise Bickford, who contributed a lot to the town.

The selectmen discussed the posting of the fire chief position in late March, but didn't make a decision on when to post the position until later. Jeremy Bourgeios, the town administrator, said that the Fire Chief Peter Varney had been serving at the pleasure of the selectmen since his appointment expired in 2012.

In April, the New Durham Parks and Recreation Department held a fundraiser to help raise money for former Fire Chief Brad Meyerriecks, who was battling cancer.

In late April, the police department introduced Scott Mitchell as its newest officer. Mitchell is a veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan and received the Purple Heart.

In May, the police department held a spaghetti dinner to help raise money for the purchase of safety equipment.

In early June, a father and son were arrested on felony charges dealing with manufacturing a controlled substance. David Alan Thurston and Tyler Thurston were arrested on June 4.

In late June, the selectmen met and discussed forming a panel that would help hire a new fire chief. The board agreed on forming a panel made up of one selectman, members of the fire department, the town administrator and former firefighters on the board and that it would be advisory only.

In early July, the selectmen discussed bringing on a K-9 to the police department. They later approved applying for a grant from the Working Dog Foundation and welcomed a dog into the department. The board also discussed increasing fees for newspaper notices and increasing the fee for copies made at the town hall. The issue was discussed at a later meeting.

On July 27, the Fun, Game and Giving 5K Road Race was held. The race was held in part to support the local food pantry. The annual Celebrate New Durham Day was held on the same day with a "Wild West Style" theme. During the celebration the library's movie "We Are Here" was shown, detailing the history of the town. A dodgeball tournament was held, a trading post was open to children who found gold throughout the area and turned in for prizes, petting zoo was open and wagon rides were held throughout the day. Different contests were held, a horseshoe tournament was held, best dressed cowboy and cowgirl were determined and the day ended with fireworks at night.

In August, input was gathered from the public to contribute to updates of the town Master Plan, in particular the "Historic and Cultural Resources" section of the document.

During an August meeting, the selectmen received public comment from Mike Clarke, the road agent, about going away from MRI Inc. for contracting the position of the town administrator. A questioned was raised about the town hiring a new fire chief and Chair Theresa Jarvis said there was no new fire chief.

Cathy Allyn, the Chair of the 1772 Meetinghouse Committee, met with the selectmen and announced that a Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) grant had been accepted. Allyn said the total project would take 10 to 15 years to complete and would result in a community center and a nice park.

The selectmen discussed the hourly rate for police officers hired for detail work by outside companies but delayed making a decision until more information could be obtained.

In late August, Garrett Probert was arrested for manufacture of a controlled drug. A total of 27 marijuana plants were seized during search of his property.

In September, the newest member of the police department was introduced. Fred, a German Shepherd from Czechoslvakia, will be living with Chief Bernier and took part in training thanks to a grant from the Working Dog Foundation.

In September, the selectmen held a joint meeting along with the budget committee to start the discussion on the 2014 budget. At the end of the meeting, Selectman Jeff Kratovil attempted to make a motion to stop the search for a new fire chief, but his motion died for the lack of a second. He also attempted to change the fire chief's pay rate from hourly to salary but that also didn't receive a second.

During a meeting at end of September, Kratovil was questioned for contacting the Alton Police Department about regionalization. He was also questioned about revealing information discussed in non-public meetings in a letter to editor in The Baysider. He was stripped as his position of vice-chair of the selectmen. The selectmen voted to move Varney's pay rate back to the former pay rate, with Jarvis opposing the motion.

In October, the selectmen discussed software options to help keep track of town inventory. Clarke questioned why the board hadn't given him the authorization to fill a vacancy in the highway department that had been open for some time. The selectmen discussed the Quonset hut and the cost of finishing the project after an error was made.

Kratovil later questioned using MRI Inc. to staff the position of the town administrator. He suggested looking into the matter further but received no support from the other board members.

In November, the selectmen met with Rudy Roisello to discuss updates on the computer systems in town. The selectmen also discussed purchasing new software to help track the inventory in town. Kratovil questioned Jarvis about the court prosecution cost being moved to the police line in the budget. He said it still remained in the legal line and questioned why it hadn't been moved. The selectmen voted to move $100,000 from the unassigned fund balance to reduce the 2013 tax rate. The tax rate for New Durham was set at $22.50 per thousand, which is 46 cents less than last year's rate.

In December, the issue of personnel in the highway department was discussed again by Clarke. He also discussed contracting services and felt this wouldn't save money. Kratovil voiced support for contracting services.

The board discussed doing a study of the highway department and members felt it is something that could be done in the future to get a better idea of the department and how it is run.

Kratovil made a motion to give the fire chief a new three-year contract but the motion died due to lack of a second. Kratovil and Swenson disagreed on the issue.

Tim Croes can be reached at or 569-3126

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