Wakefield ponders future of water precinct

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
February 20, 2014
WAKEFIELD — Dave Tibbetts, one of the three commissioners of the Sanbornville Water Precinct, met with the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 12 to discuss future options for the precinct.

On Feb. 13, 2013, Rick Skarinka, inspector for the Water Division of the Department of Environmental Services, made an appointment with selectmen to express his concern about the water precinct. The system had passed inspection but Skarinka noted that the day-to-day running of the water system, as well as its long-term management, depended on the three water precinct commissioners, all of whom were more than 70 years old. Even though the water precinct is a separate entity, not part of town government, both the integrity and quality of both water and sewer systems in Sanbornville depended on those three men. Skarinka urged selectmen to meet with the water commissioners and discuss ways to keep the system working in the long term.

Tibbetts agreed that there was a problem with the aging board of commissioners. He is 75 and his fellow commissioners (Dean Giffin, who is the state licensed operator, and Bill Drown) are both over 70. The water system was installed in 1938-39 and is funded by its users. The main problem is that the original system was installed with asphalt-coated steel pipe that rusts from the outside in.

The pump house is in Brookfield. Tibbetts checks it once a day and also reads the meters. Giffin "does the budget and knows the history" of the system after working on it for 35 years. Commissioners have to be members of the water precinct.

Tibbetts said he had looked into what would be involved if the town took over the water precinct. First, precinct members would have to vote to turn it over to the town and then the town would have to vote to accept and take over management of the precinct.

He said he was reluctant to turn the precinct over to the town because he was sure that rates would go up. Currently the rate is $5.75 per 1,000 gallons plus a fee of $50 paid twice a year. For a two-person household the cost is typically $200 a year.

The 2013 budget for the precinct was $278,768, but the total spent was only $213,536.34, according to Tibbetts, because state requirements blocked plans to upgrade at Lovell Lake Road, so only Rines Road was done for $94.708.15. The proposed budget for 2014 is $257,300, including $133,000 in new construction.

Selectman Charlie Edwards suggested the commissioners hire someone to run the system and learn the ropes. "If the town takes over, it would have to hire someone to run it. If the water precinct hires someone now, it would makes things easier if the town needs to take over." Edwards said he thought it would take two years for a new person to get the experience needed to be a licensed operator.

Selectman Chair Ken Paul said it was more likely that the town would expand to a public works department rather than simply take over the precinct.

Town Administrator Teresa Williams said that if no one steps up to run for water precinct commissioner at the annual meeting, users should know what the future options for the service will be.

Edwards confirmed with Tibbetts that construction is contracted out, leaving checking for leaks and managing the system as the basic responsibilities for someone working 10 hours a week. "At up to $30 an hour that's less than $15,000 a year," he said, commenting that "there would not be a high cost in running" the system.

Tibbetts reminded selectmen that the precinct still needs three commissioners even if someone new were hired.

Paul said a complete written description of the system should be done and future plans put on paper.

Selectman Connie Twombley went back to the fact that commissioners need to come from the precinct. Williams said the town may have to look at the charter and see if it is possible to change that requirement.

It was agreed that the commissioners should send out a letter asking people to step forward to becoming commissioners before the annual meeting. It was also agreed that the board should also meet with Dean Giffin possibly in the afternoon about moving forward.

PSNH building move

Heritage Commission Chair Pam Wiggin and member Phil Twombley met with selectmen to get the board's support for moving the old freight building owned by PSNH at 30 Cosmar Drive to Turntable Park. Wiggin said the electric company needs the lot as a staging area for a project and otherwise plans to demolish the building.

Wiggin said the commission met recently with two representatives of PSNH about the matter. Besides three commission members the meeting also included Selectman Twombley, Town Administrator Williams, Wayne Robinson of Parks and Recreation, Code Enforcement Officer Nate Fogg and Building Inspector David Stephen. PSNH is willing to donate the 20- by 40-foot building to the town, and the Heritage Commission has voted to accept the gift.

The commission is getting estimates to move the building to Turntable Park and place it there on a new slab. Best estimate so far is $15,000, which will not come from the town but from PSNH, which would save the cost of demolition, and other sources.

The proposed location has been reviewed by Fogg and Stephen. It does not interfere with anything else on the site. The only site issue is a buried water tank that could collapse when the building is moved over it: there is no record of it in the B & M files, so its size needs to be determined and the location filled in.

A second issue is that the site of Turntable Park itself is leased from the state on a 25-year lease that runs out in 2017.

Wiggins said the commission needs Board of Selectmen approval, permission under the lease to place the building and a fundraising effort to get the work done. She said the commission has been looking for a satellite site in Sanbornville and this building would provide a place to display artifacts from the area.

Paul said that even though an expensive site plan review is not required, he would like to see a layout of the site showing the building's placement.

The consensus of the board was to give the project a green light.

Other business

The board finally signed the franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. Williams noted that the first payment of franchise fees is due by May 15.

Selectmen OK'd having department heads present warrant articles for ClearView Community TV's taping. Clearview will also be broadcasting Jim Miller's interviews with candidates in contested races.

As required by the contract for the Greater Wakefield Resource Center, the board approved new leases for tenants using the space.

Selectmen also approved hiring Kim Proulx as assistant tax collector. She is a town resident and Tax Collector Angie Casperonis recommended her.

Wakefield Projects Inc. opened three bids for work on the Opera House on Feb. 11. Start of work may be delayed after until the annual SCAMP performance, possibly April 14.

Williams informed the board that the town can put tax-deeded properties out for bids after three years without further notice to the former owners. She advocated putting them out for bids right away and not saving them up for an auction. There is a property valued at $19,200 available now. Edwards asked if abutters will be notified. The answer was yes. Bids will be sealed. Selectmen approved moving ahead with the process.

A letter of appreciation will be sent to Bill Gaver for his work on the 1919 Wakefield model railroad at the Heritage Center.

The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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