March 21, 2019WHITEFIELD — Whitefield's annual town meeting held few surprises and occasional interesting exchanges. In the only contested election, incumbent Selectman Peter Corey defeated challenger Shawn White, 182-133. Other ballot items, all of which were approved, included allowing Keno in Whitefield and several zoning related articles focused primarily on RV's and campgrounds.
At the start of the meeting, Corey presented Sandy Holz with a citation from Governor Sununu. Holz was recognized for 44 years of service at the town library.
The first article discussed at the meeting was a request to approve an additional $1.6 million for the town's wastewater treatment plant. Voters had previously approved (2017) $6.5 million for the project, but delays and a review of the project's compliance with EPA and state mandates led to the realization that more funds were needed. Selectman Corey made it clear that voter approval was needed in order for the town to pursue grants and loans for the project.
Realtor Frank Mai asked how the project would be paid for, Corey pointed out that if the entire budget were approved, it would raise Whitefield's tax rate by 99 cents – but the wastewater project would be paid primarily by user fees. When questioned by resident Frank Lombardi, Corey acknowledged that there would be incremental rate increases.
This article needed a 2/3 vote via secret ballot to pass; it did.
As Moderator Bruce Brekke ticked through budget requests one by one, they were quickly brought to the floor and approved with little to no discussion, until Culture and Recreation came to the floor. Local business owner Terry Lufkin questioned why the town is contributing to an organization (Whitefield Historical Society) that allows local businesses to be 'bashed' on Facebook. At issue are derogatory remarks made about the family's business located in town. Lufkin stated that the remarks are still online, Selectman Stan Holz said he removed the remarks and warned the poster about doing this type of thing again.
Lufkin spoke again when the item requesting $5,000 for the Whitefield Economic Development Corporation was brought to the floor. "What's the big secret?" she asked in reference to the minutes of the WEDC's minutes not being made public. Corey clarified that the WEDC is a non-profit entity which, as with all autonomous organizations, cannot be forced to share its minutes.
The entire budget, including Culture and Recreation, along with Economic Development, passed.
As voters quickly approved article after article, Lombardi, a member of Whitefield's newly invigorated Conservation Commission, took the floor and moved that Article 42, a request to establish a town forest, be brought to the floor. The motion was seconded and discussion began.
At issue were two town owned parcels located adjacent to the Whitefield's airport and Pondicherry. The petitioned article was opposed by the selectmen and the WEDC, which has been working to attract industry to the site. Selectman Holz suggested that the town may not actually own the parcels as they were given over to the WEDC. Lombardi rejected this assertion, pointing out that the funds from a recent timber cut went to the town, not the WEDC.
Several residents voiced their opinions and concerns, including retired Attorney Ken Russell who asked why there couldn't be some type of shared use as much of the land is wetlands and not available for development. Mai cautioned all parties that it would be prudent to investigate whether the parcels were covered under the Shoreland Protection Act, before investing funds in studies and planning.
Selectman Corey noted that this issue had not been properly discussed prior to a petition being delivered to the Selectmen. Conservation Commission member Donald LaPlante took the floor and concurred that perhaps more discussion was needed as the Commission didn't have all the information it should have. The article did not pass.
Several articles relating to Capital Reserve funds passed with little discussion, but an article requesting $20,000 to re-establish an Emergency Services Building Capital Reserve Fund drew some comments. Capital Improvement Committee member Rick Wright pointed out that the committee had put this project very low on the list of priorities. When questioned about the need for a new fund, Corey stated this was actually reestablishing a new fund as the original had been used toward the new town hall. He also pointed out that Whitefield has a history of 'kicking the can down the road' when it comes to maintenance, which becomes more expensive in the long run. The article was approved.
Article 26 sought $68,400 to pay off a general obligation bond early. Selectman Corey estimated that this would save the town $32,000 in interest costs over the years. There was some discussion on this item and ballot clerks had to count votes. The article passed 46-26.
A dozen articles related to contributions requested by various organizations. A request was made for them to be voted on as a block, but the request was denied. Each of the articles passed.
The final article of the night involved the town accepting a small section of road in a subdivision, most of which it had accepted last year. The article passed.
The meeting adjourned at approximately 10:45 p.m.