Ossipee selectmen approve all but one non-profit request for 2014

November 21, 2013
OSSIPEE — Though it doesn't happen often, there is at least one Ossipee selectmen's meeting a year that can be counted on to last two hours – and that meeting was held last Monday, Nov. 18.

It is the annual meeting when representatives from a long list of non-profit agencies present their budget requests, hoping they will win the support of selectmen. The Budget Committee then gets their turn at deciding which of the agencies will be included in the final budget for vote by Town Meeting voters in March. If any of the agency requests don't make the budget, or if the amount agreed to is less than they'd hoped for, an Ossipee resident can gather a petition signed by a percentage of the town's registered voters. Any qualified petitions presented by the state-mandated deadline must then be also included for voting at Town Meeting.

Selectmen appeared particularly generous Monday night, upping the request of two agencies and only denying one.

A representative from the Freedom Food Pantry barely made her presentation before Selectman Richard Morgan made a motion to up their request from $5,000 to $8,000 which easily passed a board vote. Those in attendance did learn that 46.1 percent of the people served by that pantry are from Ossipee. Last year Ossipee voters supported a $5,000 request for funding after hearing that the pantry was having difficulty staying financially afloat and was in danger of closing without town support.

L.I.F.E. Ministries, Inc., the food pantry in Wolfeboro came to selectmen asking for $2,500, but Morgan won the support of Selectman Harry Merrow and upped that to $5,000. Selectman Robert Freeman, though he did not give a reason why, voted against that increase. Morgan was later heard to question, "What makes a difference where people are going for food, as long as they are being fed?" – apparently countering past objections by Freeman that Ossipee people should not be going to Wolfeboro for food when there is a pantry in Ossipee. A L.I.F.E. Ministries representative said that 26 percent of the people served at their Wolfeboro pantry are from Ossipee which equates to 869 residents, 337 of them children under the age of 18.

Merrow made it clear that he sits on the advistory board as selectmen's representative to Schools Out! Afterschool Program at Ossipee Central School and was the one to suggest the director, Jen Berkowitz up the annual requested amount from $6,000 to $10,000 for 2014. Berkowitz said the program, now in its eleventh year, provides not only afterschool programs, but family fun nights and other enrichment programs to Ossipee families throughout the year. Merrow said with various funding sources scaling back on their giving, the program really needs the increased funding this year to meet its expenses. "It is extremely important to take care of Ossipee children," he said. When Morgan was the town's police chief, he also served on the program's advisory board and spoke to value of the program. He said anything that can be done to keep children safe and engaged, especially in the after schools hours is a good thing.

Ossipee Main Street had their budget request approved by selectman but that approval came with a bit of cautious reluctance on the board's part. Morgan said he had "to be very honest that he is beginning to join the crowd of skeptics" that is continues to be a viable program. He said that despite the good intentions, including those of most recently appointed director Gail Montgomery, many of the original goals of "beautifying downtown" have slowed and, he noted that while he will support the request this year is unlikely to speak in favor of their request at Town Meeting. And, looking forward to 2015, if he doesn't see noticeable progress from the organization, he likely won't support future requests for funding.

Montgomery asked for some appreciation of the fact she has only recently taken on the directorship and pointed out a few things the organization has done for community –building including moving the farmer's market back to Center Ossipee Village and the recent scarecrow contest. "We are a work in progress right now," she said. Morgan pointed out that many of the activities the program is engaged in are similar to that of what Ossipee Old Home Week Committee does, the difference being that the committee doesn't ask for taxpayer funds. Ossipee Main Street Program has existed since 2005 and on its website at www.ossipeemainstreet.org, credits itself as having "brought a sense of rejuvenation to the downtown area of Center Ossipee."

Other non-profit agencies that won selectmen's support Monday night include Medication Bridge, White Mountain Community Health, Carroll County Transit, Ossipee Children's Fund, youth mentoring program Life Bridge, Tri-County Community Action, and Kingswood Youth Center. CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) representative Jay Hayes could not win support for her request for $500.

Other meeting news

Selectmen have re-worked the request for proposals and are re-advertising as well as meeting with Effingham selectmen to possible enter into a partnership with that town for the new ambulance contract. Currently, CarePlus has agreed to continue serving the emergency medical needs of Ossipee on a month-by-month basis until April. This gives selectmen more time to negotiate and sign a contract. After the last bid period closed, selectmen were left with two bids that each included a variety of possible options and ranged in process from $600,000 to $900,000, quite the jump from the 2013 town meeting-approved $199,992 for ambulance service. Madison selectmen sent a letter inviting Ossipee to join in the discussion as they revamp their ambulance contract along with Tamworth and Freedom. Ossipee selectmen, however, have declined this invitation.

There was $1,381.23 in unpaid taxes at 1 Jude Boulevard so selectmen voted earlier this year to take the property. On that property of less than an acre sits a house that was gutted by fire in Sept. 2008. After the fire, the owner abandoned the property and it has become an eyesore and selectmen have been urged by residents and others to clean it up. What it would cost the town to clean it up is in the $12,000 to $13,000 range plus dumping fees, according to Ossipee Public Works Director Brad Harriman. Merrow said what will likely happen is the property will eventually just go out to bid, sold "as is."

Selectmen took a moment to reflect on the public service of N.H. Executive Councilor Raymond Burton, who died Nov. 12 following a long battle with cancer. Morgan said that he worked with Burton to address "dozens and dozens and dozens of issues" and Burton's shoes are un-fillable.

Ossipee resident Jim Fitzpatrick who took the reins of Ossipee Old Home Week Committee earlier this year and helped steer that organization back on track has agreed to take on economic development. According to selectmen, Fitzpatrick has agreed to gather individuals and drum up interest for the work of the town's economic development committee.

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