October 31, 2013WAKEFIELD — At their Oct. 23 meeting Wakefield selectmen finally came up with a solution to the problem of winter sand use by contractors who service private roads and driveways.
Since 1997 contractors have been allowed to load town sand at the highway garage without charge as long as the contractor did not charge for the sand and, since last year, also produced letters from private road associations in town authorizing the contractor to use the sand on their roads.
The problem arose when the town received a resident complaint that giving away the sand, which was purchased through property taxes for town use, was illegal. Town Administrator Teresa Williams confirmed through the New Hampshire Municipal Association that allowing private use of town sand without charge violated state law. The town needs to charge "a fair market value" for the sand instead of giving it away. The town's cost per yard would be considered a fair market value.
The board had reviewed the issue at its Sept. 26 meeting and asked Williams to find out from Road Agent Fred Clough how much sand and money was involved.
On Oct. 23 Williams reported from Clough that last winter contractors used 740 yards of sand that cost $3,000 – $4.05 a yard.
Speaking as a contractor who plowed and sanded six roads in Wakefield last winter, resident and former selectman Johnny Blackwood complained that deciding to charge for the sand now, just before winter, was unfair to contractors. "It should have been brought up earlier," he said.
Williams responded that the original complaint was made last February and it was discussed at that time.
Blackwood pointed out that the lake associations in town pay most of the property taxes and should get free sand.
Selectman Charlie Edwards responded, "I agree, but it's illegal." He said his main concern with charging for the sand is the town's potential liability for overloading. Contractors are willing to overload their trucks, but if anything happened on the road and the truck was found to be overloaded, the aggrieved party might go after the truck for allowing it to be overloaded.
Selectmen Chair Ken Paul said the bigger issue is payment. Highway department employees should not be handling money. He thought the system used for the sewage lagoons, with drivers signing for loads, might work. Alternatively, a contractor could make a deposit payment up front at Town Hall and sign off for each load, with the town doing an accounting at the end of the season.
Edwards pointed out that the season is short and contractors might take more than they have prepaid for. "It's a lot of effort keeping track," he said and said he was concerned with trying to collect if more sand was taken than prepaid.
This reporter suggested that the board consider using a coupon system where a contractor would buy a book of coupons at town hall – one coupon per cubic yard, for example – and then hand in the coupons to highway department personnel when the sand is loaded. If more coupons are needed they could be purchased and any leftover coupons could be used the following winter.
Williams said it would be fairly easy to get numbered coupons made and that a coupon system would solve the problem of highway personnel keeping track of money or cubic yards used, since both could be tracked at Town Hall.
Edwards agreed coupons were a good solution, and the board voted unanimously to adopt a coupon system for selling winter sand to contractors at cost.
Paul wanted to make it clear that this policy only relates to truckload quantities of sand. Residents picking up buckets of sand to treat their own driveways will still not be charged.
Blackwood was not entirely happy with the solution, stating that "we are arguing about a spoon of sand" and that "I don't care about what other towns do. We should do what's good for Wakefield" and keep the sand free.
He also said no one should be spreading sand during a snowstorm. Upon being told that the highway crew does not load sand during a storm, only before and after, he said he had seen town trucks spreading sand during a storm.
While on the subject of roads, Blackwood also said that the town should not be paving only sections of road, as he saw this year on Canal Road. Instead, the whole road should be done at once so it holds together longer.
Blackwood also asked whether the town planned to buy a new dump truck in 2014. Paul answered that no new truck purchase was planned since the town had been able to get the rusted truck repaired so that it passed inspection. Some money will be put in the truck capital reserve, however.
"A truck should last 20 years," Paul said.
"It should go 30 if it is properly maintained and washed," Blackwood countered.
Williams clarified that trucks purchased from the capital reserve can either be new or used. Blackwood described the condition of a used dump truck purchased by a friend that had been used by two towns. "It was well taken care of and looks better than this town's truck, even though it's older," he said, once again emphasizing the value of regular maintenance.