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Berlin City Council hard at work

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
May 13, 2020
BERLIN — On May 4, the City Council in Berlin was called to order at 8:22 p.m., and was held via Zoom conference calling.

Mayor Paul Grenier announced a public hearing a few minutes later to resolve the issue of accepting $5,000 from Jericho Power and appropriating to the Berlin Police Department. There were no public comments. Grenier then called another public hearing in regards to the Downtown Tax Incentive Application for 156 Main St. Again, there were no public comments. Councilor Peter Higbee moved, with a second by Councilor Remillard, that after a duly noticed public hearing, the City Council of the City of Berlin grants an incentive for five years in accordance with the City of Berlin's Code of Ordinances, Chapter 19, Article II, Section 19-19, known as the Community Revitalization Tax Relief Incentive, Item 6, in the amount of $28,180 to Kendall and Lanetha Strahan, owners of a qualifying structure located at 156 Main St., for the rehabilitation activities that are to be completed at the existing structure on the condition that a covenant be signed by Mr. and Mrs. Strahan and the City Manager and then filed at the Coös County Registry of Deeds. The value set on this property is currently $43,900. The motion was approved.

A disbursement summary for the dates April 18-May 1 for a total cash disbursement of $743,243.84 was approved to pay all bills that were recommended by the committee.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Jamie Welch President of the BEA, asked the Council to remember teachers due to Teacher Appreciation Week. Welch reminded the Council that despite severe budget cuts, educators have been doing more with less. He then relayed that the BEA has made a shift of cost of healthcare to the members to reduce the cost for the City, and the City cannot continue to ask the teachers to take less without getting something in return. Welch asked for the support and thoughtfulness of the Council as they work together and move forward. The Year one salary increase is 3.9 percent, and BEA changed the health insurance plan to one significantly less robust at a significant cost savings to the City. There is no salary increase the second year. Mayor Grenier advised that the cost savings is $650,000 on the cost of health insurance. Councilor Higbee moved, with a second from Councilor Theberge, to approve the cost items in the BEA contract as presented, for a total cost of $110,539.89. The motion carried.

The topic of bids for heating oil was discussed for the upcoming winter. Costs last year were 2.059 for bulk and 2.189 for local delivery. CN Brown was the low bidder at a cost of 1.249 for bulk and 1.369 for local. This is projected to reduce fuel cost to the school system by roughly $144,000.

Covid-19 related business was discussed in regards to a recently announced funding in the amount of $40 million for municipalities. Also announced by Gov. Sununu was a $300 per week stipend for first responders.

A pedestrian safety issue was discussed after a letter written to the Council by K. Ann Campbell was read. A crosswalk that extends from Bank Park to where the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru line shoots out into the road near the Eagles Club is of concern. The issue seems to be that the road and crosswalk are usually blocked, and pedestrians often have to wave cars to back up. Apparently, many drivers are unwilling to move, forcing pedestrians to wait until that drive-thru line is completely gone. As pedestrians cross from sidewalk in front of Eagles Club toward the bank park, they must stand directly in front of vehicles with running engines waiting in line.

Campbell wrote, "Some drivers shift their vehicles into "park" while waiting in road but others simply put their foot on the brake which creates very dangerous conditions for pedestrians who must walk around their vehicle to access the crosswalk. Meanwhile, other vehicles are approaching that same crosswalk from Main St. to get to intersection on Pleasant Street adjacent to Dunkins on the other side of the median."

Campbell said that few drivers stop for pedestrians, but speed on through. She added that many do not even look to see whether anyone is on that crosswalk. She says that it's "stunning" to witness the recklessness.

She explained that the current set up could be deadly, commenting "Pedestrians must wait at median in center of road/crosswalk until the speeding ramp vehicles pass by. Most vehicles try to beat the yellow light and speed through intersection, nearly running down whoever is standing on that crosswalk. Potentially deadly situation."

She then went on to suggest that an exploratory committee be formed to study the traffic pattern in that location.

"My request is proactive. I simply do not want anyone to be hit by a vehicle in that area - but the potential for that is high. Summer is short in this area. I have raised this issue to you on several occasions, without improvements. Pedestrians should be able to safely enjoy the nice weather on downtown sidewalks to access local retail stores, also, without fear of being hit by vehicles." said Campbell.

She went on to write, "Additionally - many of the sidewalks in downtown Berlin are uneven creating trip hazards. Since many communities around the state and country have easily addressed problems like this by investing time and allocated funding to make major improvements to sidewalk conditions for pedestrians of all ages in a timely manner, I am asking for city-wide sidewalk repair that can be completed in a professional and efficient manner before summer season begins in earnest. Why not also install heating vents which have been mentioned on numerous occasions, as well, to reduce ice and snow in winter."

She then suggested in writing that concrete and asphalt mixtures incorporate cork to help absorb noise.

"Last year, I introduced NH DOT to cork mix paving solutions which substantially reduce heavy traffic and sidewalk noise, and are widely used out West. Plant more trees downtown as we did in Rochester in 1976 when revitalizing downtown for the bicentennial," said Campbell.

She went on to explain, "Trees provide more oxygen and shade for walkers. Add soothing low lighting along the sidewalk path for late afternoon and early morning strolls, and additional benches. Why not also plan a city-wide bike lane - it's overdue. Population is aging. Pedestrians matter. Imagine how much more pleasant Pleasant and Main Streets would be if local patrons and residents had high quality, even, and wider sidewalk surfaces to enjoy throughout the year. Remove the eyesores. Invest in Berlin's people. It can be done. Just requires willingness and dedication."

The Council said that they would forward the letter to the Traffic Safety Committee for review, along with a copy to the Public Works Director and the Police Chief.

Varney Smith
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