WOLFEBORO BOARD OF SELECTMEN Chairman Linda Murray answered questions and suggested clarifications to several warrant articles following input and discussion from registered voters participating in Wolfeboro’s Deliberative Session. The full text of the 2013 warrant articles as amended by residents in attendance Tuesday evening, Feb. 5, at the Kingswood Arts Center, is on the town website. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
February 14, 2013WOLFEBORO — By 11 p.m. on Feb.5, this year's Deliberative Session came to a close. In the course of four hours in the Kingswood Arts Center, the wording of several of the 25 warrant articles were amended slightly in the interest of clarity, no money articles were reduced, and only Article 7, pertaining to Public Works Garage upgrades, showed an increase.
Public Works Director David Ford asked for an additional $60,000 to account for recent damage sustained to the building and equipment from the fire on Jan. 29. Voters agreed to increase the appropriation from $340,000 to $400,000.
The first article to come under discussion – Article 5, regarding the appropriation of $2.1 million for the Center St. Reconstruction project – received attention for a full hour as a number of citizens offered a variety of amendments to make it apparent that the town's share will remain no greater than $700,000, despite the possibility that the state's final commitment may be lower than previously expected.
Bob Lemaire began the discussion following Ford's presentation, which also showed a "reduced scope and/or town self performs" lower cost option. The warrant stated that two-thirds of the municipally managed project would be funded by the state, but the final funding commitment of New Hampshire's beleaguered Department of Transportation (DOT) is unknown.
In order for the infrastructure project to retain its coveted place on the state's list of projects, the warrant article needs approval from the voters. Ford explained that the state received the town's application months ago, but he does not yet have its final answer.
Selectman Chairman Linda Murray's made a successful amendment to eliminate the sentence that refers to the state's two thirds funding. No matter what the final number is from the state, the town's share will be no greater than $700,000.
The project, which will address drainage and safety concerns, is not expected to begin until 2015, but approval of the appropriation is necessary to keep it on the state's list.
Moving on to other articles, Suzanne Ryan made an unsuccessful bid to reduce Article 10, a request of $600,000 for upgrading town roads and drainage systems. Ford told the audience there are 66 miles of town roads; 52 are paved, 14 are gravel. The Board of Selectmen have raised the annual amount in an effort to move the process of upgrading town roads forward. "We're moving forward, but we're not moving ahead," he stated. In 2013, 5.5 miles of road are scheduled for work; to do less would extend the cycle of repair, leaving more miles untended. The voters supported the warrant.
Another road project, this one slated for developing a design for improvements on Middleton Road, which intersects with Route 28 at Weston Auto Body in South Wolfeboro, asks for $150,000, with the state contributing two-thirds of that amount. The town's share will be $50,000. Selectman Dave Senecal spoke for this article (#11) explaining its importance as a highly traveled road, which provides access to 158 homes. "Good roads are essential for economic development," he emphasized.
The warrant also authorizes the town to acquire the state's interest in the road following design completion. The road would thereafter be accepted and maintained by the town as a Class V road. Senecal pointed out that the state's road budget is severely restricted. The road's last paving was in 2001 and the state has no plans to repair or upgrade it.
Barry Muccio, head of the Municipal Electric Department, offered information on Articles 13 and 14; the first for electric meter upgrades, the second to replace a bucket truck. Jerome Holden, who has expressed his concerns in the paper about smart meters yielding too much information to the government, asked if the new meters, which would allow the reading of meters from the street, were smart meters. Muccio answered no. The meters would be one way only.
John Sandeen, Chairman of the Wolfeboro Public Library's Board of Trustees, spoke in support of Article 15, a request for $100,000 for making needed evaluations of structural conditions and mechanical systems and making needed repairs and building maintenance improvements of both the Libby Museum and the library. Sandeen said that the library spends $10,000 on maintenance and $19,000 on electricity and heating oil. The system is 33 years old and some of the parts can no longer be replaced.
On March 12, registered voters will be asked to appropriate funds for contracts negotiated by the town with Local #534 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Local #39 of the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA). The requests amount to $41,671 and $26,768 in Warrant Articles 20 and 21.
Ryan suggested an amendment to write the percent increases in parentheses beside the information listed in those warrants. The amendment passed for Article 20, but Town Manager David Owen spoke up against such a move for Article 21 saying that such a move would draw attention only to the increases, which he said are only half the story.
In the employees' defense, he commented that there is nothing said about the thousands of dollars they have saved the town by contributing more to their health and dental insurance plans and agreeing to accept a lower cost health insurance plan.
The state has passed costs for retirement plans down to the towns, which pay half. Employees pay the other half as well as increased FICA and payroll taxes, all of which offsets their raises.
Ryan's amendment to Article 21 did not pass. Selectman Sarah Silk asked for reconsideration of the vote on Article 20. Voters reversed the vote to "no" the second time.
The last article discussed, Article 23, a petition warrant article submitted by Ryan, drew the attention of Lemaire. He said he was not in favor of the article, which in part includes having all votes recorded and their tallies included in the town warrant along with notations stating the estimated tax impact. "These are complex questions," he said, elaborating that the numbers would have little meaning without comparisons to the last year. "They are abstract numbers. They take away from the big picture."
The list of warrant articles, as amended on the evening of Feb. 5 during the Deliberative Session, is available for viewing on the town of Wolfeboro's website or at the Town Hall.