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Forests & Lands to assess timber taxes in 2013 in UPs

Capt. John Accardi of Lancaster, regional forest ranger for the state Division of Forests and Lands, discussed timber tax assessments in the Unincorporated Places on Wednesday with the county commissioners. The board voted, 2 to 1, to use the state agency on a year’s trial basis and not to contract the service to former county commissioner Burnham “Bing” Judd of Pittsburg. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
February 20, 2013
LANCASTER – The county commissioners voted, 2 to 1, on Wednesday to have the state Division of Forests and Lands of DRED undertake a year's trial of assessing the timber taxes in the county's Unincorporated Places (UPs).

Chairman Tom Brady of Jefferson and clerk Rick Samson of Stewartstown voted "yes," and vice chairman Paul Grenier of Berlin, "no."

One of the meeting's dustups between Grenier and Samson took place when Samson said that he did not believe that former county commissioner Burnham "Bing" Judd had been as vigorous in performing his timber assessment duties as he could have been, resulting in a loss of revenue to individual UPs.

Grenier objected to Samson's statement, pointing out that he thought it unfair that Judd's reputation was being impugned by his successor when he was not on hand to defend himself. "I don't like that on the record," Grenier said.

At another point in the meeting when Samson declared that the commissioners were doing "the public's business," Grenier said he did not need to be lectured to.

He also said that he was perplexed as to why the majority of the commissioners would choose to pay Forests and Lands rangers more than Judd would have charged. Chairman Brady said, "It's a new chapter in the book."

The issue has been on the commission's back burner for at least three months.

Before Wednesday's vote, Regional Forest Ranger Captain John Accardi told the three commissioners that his communication with the county in advance of the commissioners' Nov. 7 budget workshop had been misinterpreted. The minutes, available on the county's website, appear to support his understanding.

The Nov. 7 minutes reflect that then-county administrator Sue Collins reported that the Division's Interim Director-State Forester Brad Simpkins had sent a written budget request of $67,500, up by $2,500 from the previous four years.

The minutes note, however, that Collins said she had not included the state's $2,500 request in the draft of the proposed budget.

Capt. Accardi also contacted Collins about timber tax assessments in the UPs, where they have the contacts and on-the-ground knowledge, and told her that DRED could provide this service for $2,500, making its total budget request $70,000.

During this Nov. 7 budget session, Grenier pointed out that Commissioner Judd had provided timber assessments at no cost in his capacity as county commissioner. He only charged mileage.

Although Grenier said he did not have a problem with DRED's request, he turned to then-chairman Judd to ask if would be interested as a private citizen in performing this service.

Judd stated that he was interested.

Grenier proposed continuing the timber tax assessments with Judd, noting that a dollar figure would be needed for the proposed budget.

The minutes read: "… a contract will be prepared after Mr. Samson is sworn into office. Commissioner Brady agreed. Commissioner Grenier also specified this item (would) need to be brought to the attention of the Delegation. He does not want this to appear underhanded."

When Collins then inquired at the Nov. 7 budget session about the original DRED appropriation request for $67,500, the Board agreed unanimously at that time to level fund that budget at $65,000.

Judd was willing to do the assessment work for $2,500, but the commissioners never established publically, despite a reporter's question at the Dec. 15 budget hearing, whether or not this fee included mileage from his residence in Pittsburg.

The Unincorporated Places budget was briefly discussed at the Dec. 15 budget hearing.

County administrator Jennifer Fish noted that there was an increase in contracted services to include timber tax assessments as well as Sue Collins' services to assist Fish in the Unincorporated Places, on "as needed" basis. When asked about the logistics of these two contracts, Grenier "stated that the figure was a placeholder. Further discussions will occur with the new commissioner (Rich Samson) in Jan. 2013." Collins not only offered to work as an Unincorporated Places consultant but also to work for the Coös County Planning Board, doing what she had done in recent years as its clerk. Since then, Collins has resigned from the Board.

As clerk, Collins prepared all information pertaining to the meeting and took the minutes that, she pointed out, are often quite extensive. She said that if she continued to prepare these minutes, she would expect to be paid. Collins predicted there would be "a lot of intense work coming up in Dixville (an Unincorporated Place), due to the rebuilding of The Balsams."

At Wednesday's meeting, the commissioners decided that how the Planning Board decided to go about getting their minutes taken at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26 (see related article) in Lancaster would be up to its members, all volunteers.

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