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Wolfeboro Year in Review, Part I

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
January 03, 2013
WOLFEBORO — It was a very eventful year in Wolfeboro in 2012, so much so that we will need two articles to summarize all that happened.

This first part will cover the politics, issues and hard news events of the year. The second part next week will detail the many developments in businesses and organizations over the year as well notable personal achievements and a record of those we lost in 2012.

The year 2012 was the year of elections, beginning with the New Hampshire Presidential Primary on Jan. 10 and ending with the General Election on Nov. 6.

Jon Huntsman had held a rally at the Wright Museum on Dec. 29, 2011 and Newt Gingrich followed with his own rally at the Wright on Jan. 7. Ron Paul also came through town as part of his campaign. Despite those efforts, Wolfeboro summer resident Mitt Romney won the primary easily, amassing 1,066 votes to Ron Paul's 352, Jon Huntsman's 281, Next Gingrich's 201, Rick Santorum's 111 and Rick Perry's 12.

Romney went on to win the Republican nomination and his presence in the annual July 4 Independence Day parade made it the best-attended parade ever and an event that gave Wolfeboro lots of national exposure as print and broadcast reporters from the national media covered not only the parade but followed Mitt and Ann Romney around the lake and town and reviewed local restaurants. Romney also held a press conference at Bradley's Hardware on July 6 following the parade to comment on the latest unemployment figures.

In the General Election Romney also prevailed in Wolfeboro, outpolling Barack Obama 2,400-1,854, even though Obama won at both the state and national level.

One disturbing aspect of the presidential campaign was the destruction and theft of the political signs of both candidates. The most dramatic destruction was done on large Obama-Biden signs on Sept. 6, the night after they were put up following Obama's nomination acceptance. It was also reported by Obama supporters that roofing nails had been spread in the driveways of those displaying Obama signs. Romney's Wolfeboro headquarters reported than more than 1,000 yard signs had been stolen by that point in the year. Increased police vigilance reduced the level of theft. Police also announced that three camp counselors from Camp Northwoods had been arrested for political sign theft on Aug. 15.

In contrast to the 89 percent voter turnout for the presidential election, turnout for the town election on March 13 was only 29 percent. Selectmen Dave Bowers and Sarah Silk easily won re-election and in the two contested elections Joe Balboni outpolled challenger John R. White for police commissioner 613-520 and Vaughn Dugan and John Thurston edged out Fred Tedeschi 704 and 705 respectively to 668. In a write-in contest for a one-year Budget Committee position Matt Krause won over Don Faul 83-19.

The year also saw two state elections, a party primary on Sept. 11 and the General Election on Nov. 6. Carroll County was redistricted in 2012 based on the 2010 census, and Wolfeboro went from sharing four reps with Moultonborough and Tuftonboro to having two reps of its own. Republican incumbents Chris Ahlgren and Steve Schmidt won both contests, overcoming challenges in the General Election from Democrats Beverly Woods and John R. White with 2,087 and 2,010 votes respectively against Woods' 1,691 and White's 1,506.

Wolfeboro resident Republican Jeb Bradley easily won re-election against Brookfield Democrat Jeff Ballard by a 16,280-10,046 margin in the county and a 2,672-1,453 margin in Wolfeboro.

Town Hall issues

The hot issue in town in recent years has been the renovation of Brewster Memorial Hall, and it was certainly a popular topic again in 2012.

Following the narrow defeat of a proposed $4 million total renovation proposal in March 2011, selectmen reviewed a number of subtotal options before proposing a $200,000 set of repairs aimed at resolving the most pressing issues with the building and thereby putting off a major project for a few years, until the economy improves.

Through petition articles renovation opponents offered voters two other options as well as the chance to give their non-binding opinion on what to do with the building. The two option articles one requiring creation of a Municipal Building Plan before any work was done and the other requiring that town office employees be moved out of Brewster Memorial Hall into rented space both failed by margins of 501-765 and 442-863 respectively. In answer to the five non-binding survey questions, voters narrowly rejected restoring Brewster Hall to serve as town offices by a vote of 627-680, while decisively rejecting building new town offices, 518-756, and leasing space for town offices, 422-812. Of the three means of funding rehabilitation of Brewster Hall, voters narrowly favored a combination of taxpayer and private funds, 622-598, while voting against sole taxpayer funding, 215-906, and sole private funding, 497-603. Selling Brewster Hall had strong appeal but fell short by a 583-679 vote.

Objection to the renovations did not stop with the 752-589 vote in favor of $200,000 in repairs. When Town Planner Rob Houseman gave his first progress report on repairs at the June 20 selectmen's meeting, resident Bob Lemaire challenged the process by which bids were being awarded and pointed out that what bids had been received were higher than the estimates used to come up with the $200,000 warrant article. The Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Dave Owen insisted that town bidding policies were being followed, but it was clear that bid costs on all six projects were indeed higher than anticipated.

Lemaire was particularly critical of the replacement window bidding process which he felt favored Pella Windows because dealer Dave Hadley was a local resident and had helped Houseman with the specifications. In the end, despite efforts to attract other bidders, Pella was the sole bidder on the replacement windows.

Projects completed during 2012 included asbestos abatement, carpet replacement and dehumidification. The remaining work will not be done until 2013.

Another Town Hall issue brought up during the year was the lack of a public bathroom in the building. Resident Bobby Hanson, whose complaint against the town's lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2005 led to major changes in town buildings and parking lots, came to the selectmen's Aug. 15 meeting to complain about the lack of bathroom facilities which he claimed made use of the Town Hall meeting room illegal. In response Town Manager Owen called in consultant SFC Engineering Partnership to evaluate the issue. SFC reported that upgrading the existing employee-only bathroom to ADA standards was not required but gave specific instructions on how to bring it into compliance. The town did do the ADA upgrade but as of the end of the year selectmen had not decided whether or not to make the bathroom available to the public for evening meetings in the Town Hall meeting room. Hanson maintains that the lack of a public bathroom, ADA-compliant or not, made the meeting room illegal for holding public meetings of any kind.

In the meantime the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall have begun the process of organizing a fundraising campaign. On Aug. 22 the Friends conducted tours of the building and hosted a presentation by Architectural Historical James Garvin on the value of preserving buildings like Brewster Hall.

Resident James Cross questioned why the town does not have to meet building code requirements with respect to Town Hall while all residents and organizations do. Town Manager Owen responded that state law exempts the town but that the town is attempting to meet all code requirements at Town Hall but does need voter approval to spend the funds.

Other issues

Another issue in 2012 was the creation of group homes for patients in residential areas without town oversight. Former Planning Board Chairman Dick Hamilton, who lives near a Lakeview Neuro Rehab group home on Eagle Trace advocated a zoning amendment that would require planning consultation on group homes. The warrant article was defeated on a 531-746 vote.

The town filed suit against Wright-Pierce Engineers on April 2 for faulty research and installation of Rapid Infiltration Basins to dispose of treated septic effluent. The basins were supposed to handle an average of 600,000 gallons per day but after issues developed following installation, the rate is less than half that.

Josephine Amatucci filed a third suit against the town concerning incidents in 2002 and 2003. The suit was dismissed by Justice Steven Houran on April 2.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the town's withdrawal of recognition of the firefighters union on July 20 based on errors in the town voting granting recognition.

Selectmen wrote to state reps opposing HB 1341, a bill allowing guns and fireworks to be fired in public parks without permit. The bill passed in the House but was defeated in the Senate.

Selectmen proposed to purchase and demolish two derelict buildings at 74 and 80 Lehner Street but withdrew the 2013 warrant article when the owner declined to accept a lower outside appraisal.

After some discussion selectmen agreed to allow free boat trailer parking by island residents in designated spots at the Pop Whalen Ice Arena.

Town news

The town opened two new parks in 2012: Bean Park next to the Railroad Station was opened on June 21 and Front Bay Park off of Bay Street was opened on Sept. 12.

A freak storm on July 17 broke a summer drought but damaged a number of trees.

A house at 46 Pine Street was destroyed by fire on Oct. 28.

More news about town organizations and businesses will follow in Part II next week.

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