A FIRE in a highway department truck badly damaged a town garage on Jan. 29, 2013. The building did not meet current codes and has now been replaced with a larger, more useful and energy-efficient steel structure. (Courtesy photo - Dave Bowers) (click for larger version)
January 02, 2014WOLFEBORO — Despite being an off-year for state and national elections, much happened in Wolfeboro during 2013. To cover it all, this summary is in two parts: this week will cover the politics, issues and hard news events of the year, and the following week will present 2013 news about the town's businesses and organizations and well as notable personal achievements of residents and a record of notable residents we lost this past year.
Purely political activity in Wolfeboro in 2013 was minimal. There was only one election – the town election in March – and only one seat was contested. Brad Harriman challenged incumbent Selectman Chuck Storm for a seat of the Board of Selectmen and won on a vote of 623-355.
All but one of the other candidates were reelected: John Burt was reelected Treasurer with 858 votes; Dick Shurtleff was reelected Trustee of Trust Funds with 815 votes; Linda Matchett was re-elected Library Trustee with 815 votes; and Ron Goodgame was re-elected Police Commissioner with 846 votes.
All three incumbents on the Budget Committee were re-elected: Matt Krause with 768 votes, Frank Giebutowski with 697 votes and Bob Tougher with 673 votes. Planning Board Chair Kathy Barnard was re-elected with 774 votes.
The only newcomer was Paul O'Brien, who was elected to the planning board with 701 votes.
All of the 22 warrant articles passed easily.
Voter turnout reached a new low. According to Town Clerk Pat Waterman 1,032 voted out of a checklist of 5,074 voters, a turnout of just over 20 percent.
When town boards held their organization meetings following the election, the only change was that Sarah Silk was elected Chairman of the Board of Selectmen instead of Linda Murray.
The town's continuing lawsuit against Wright-Pierce Engineers, filed on April 2, 2012, became an issue later in the year. The suit was filed after the $6.4 million Rapid Infiltration Basin effluent disposal system designed by Wright-Pierce failed to operate at the promised 600,000 gallons-per-day capacity (it is now running at a third that rate). On Nov. 6 resident Bob Lemaire questioned the growing legal costs ("headed for $1 million") and retreating court dates and asked why arbitration or mediation was not attempted. The town responded with a detailed statement read by Public Works Director Dave Ford at the Nov. 20 selectmen's meeting and published in the Granite State News on Nov. 28.
A second issue selectmen dealt with was an appeal from the residents of Winnipesaukee Drive for town assistance in getting their deteriorating private road repaired. The residents claimed that the developer of the Winnipesaukee Estates subdivision had failed to maintain it and most property owners had filed a lawsuit against developer B & H Development Corporation. The town had an engineering evaluation done that uncovered substandard construction and produced an estimate of $1,122,000 to rebuild the road to current town standards. All 22 property owners signed a petition asking the town to lay out and upgrade the road and to pay for the reconstruction through a Betterment Assessment, where all property owners on the road would pay an extra property tax to pay for a bond and interest over 10 years. Selectmen accepted the petition and drew up a warrant article for the 2014 ballot. However, the developer, who still owns 24 of the 46 lots in Wolfeboro, submitted its own petition objecting to the first plus a third petition asking the town to improve and accept the subdivision roads with all taxpayers footing the bill.
Selectmen voted to withdraw the warrant article and reject the developer's second petition.
Another group of residents, this time in North Wolfeboro, objected to new reflective safety signs installed by a private contractor on town roads under a federally-funded highway safety program. The group, led by resident Claude Roessiger, complained that some of the signs were unnecessary and took away from the rural character of their neighborhood. Ford investigated their complaints as well as those of residents in other parts of town and ultimately removed 13 signs out of the several hundred installed.
A third group of Wolfeboro residents had complained about dust being raised by truck traffic on Lang Pond Road, a gravel road which runs from Route 109 next to the Libby Museum to Route 109A in Tuftonboro, running along part of Mirror Lake, with most of its length in Tuftonboro. Wolfeboro had agreed to make improvements from its end into Tuftonboro, with both towns sharing the cost. For 2013 the Wolfeboro section and part of the road in the Tuftonboro section were paved, thus reducing the dust problem. However, concerns in Tuftonboro over the effect of heavy traffic on increasing silt deposits in Mirror Lake led to a decision by both towns to place a weight limit of 15 tons on the road. Contractors driving heavy trucks on the road objected to the weight limit before both select boards and both towns agreed to lift the limit. Tuftonboro held a public hearing and appointed a study committee to determine what if anything should be done about the road.
Another issue arose when the town discovered that there were 18 illuminated "Open" signs in town, in violation of a 1997 ordinance. All were sent violation notices. Most of the signs were turned off but Paul Zimmerman, owner of Clarke Plaza and the Wolfeboro Shopping Center, objected to the enforcement action and called upon the planning board to review the ordinance. The two signs he was defending turned out to have been in place before the ordinance that therefore grandfathered, and no further action was taken.
The planning board spent the better part of the year and held a public hearing on a revised zoning proposal for Center Street from Route 109A to the point where Route 109 leaves Route 28. The revised ordinance was an attempt to provide development rules for what is a mixed use zone. Concern was expressed about possible damage to Lake Wentworth from further development and the number of allowed businesses was reduced. The changes will be voted on the March ballot.
In the spring the town lost two abatement lawsuits from lakefront property owners, incurring nearly $100,000 in legal expenses. One of the owners, Michael Appe of Southern Spectrum LLC, criticized the town's rigidity on what the court determined to be faulty assessments and announced he is moving out of town.
The last controversy concerned the use of the town docks on Back Bay at the Railroad Station. Wolfeboro Jet Ski got permission from selectmen to use one of the docks, despite a protest by island residents that the dock in question was for their use only.
Other town news
A highway department truck caught fire and badly damaged a garage on Jan. 29. The garage could not be repaired because it did not meet current building codes. Ultimately the town decided to replace the structure with a larger, more useful and efficient steel building, using insurance proceeds and funds already allocated for site upgrades.
On Oct. 19 a large tree on Filterbed Road fell on major power lines, cutting off power to half of the town for seven hours.
The town's Municipal Electric Department renegotiated its electricity supply contract and, as a result, was able to cut rates for 2014 by 18 percent.
A study of water and sewer rates showed falling demand/greater conservation and indicated a need to adjust rates to cover basic costs. Rather than raise base rates, the town decided to make adjustments that shifted more of the cost to larger users and see what effect the installation of new water meters would have on revenue before making any further changes.
The installation of the new radio-read water meters got a late start and some of the installed meters needed reprogramming. As a result selectmen accepted a recommendation to delay monthly billing for water and sewer until April 1, 2014 but go ahead with the new adjusted water and sewer rates on Jan. 1, as originally planned.
The town also changed its phone service and installed a new switch at Town Hall to reduce costs and provide voice mail service.
A new contract assessor, Granite Hill Municipal Services, was hired. Head Appraiser Todd Haywood was able to reduce the hours needed for updates and thus saved the town money in 2013.
Wolfeboro Police Commissioners sponsored a first Open House at the Public Safety Building on June 29. Police showed off their new police cruisers with bold new markings.
Instead of hiring inexperienced traffic officers from the summer, police hired two experienced and certified officers for downtown patrol. There were fewer complaints and much praise for the change.
There were three pieces of good news for the town during the year. For the fourth year Wolfeboro's Equalization Ratio (a calculation based on current sales compared to assssed value) was 100 percent.
The Route 28 reconstruction project was put back on the state 10-year plan after having been dropped in 2009.
And the 2013 property tax rate increase was only 1.5 percent, with the town's portion of the rate up on two cents per thousand dollars of valuation. Lower electric rates also promise to keep expenses low in 2014 as well.
The town joined with the towns of Conway and Moultonborough to protest being charged by Carroll County for the cost of county dispatch services: all three towns have their own 24/7 dispatch centers. The county delegation was still considering the issue at year end.
Town Hall renovation
Brewster Memorial Hall, Wolfeboro's Town Hall, continued to be in the news in 2013.
Several voter-approved projects were completed. All first floor windows except on the storefronts were replaced with energy-efficient units, and the front and back parking lots were completely rebuilt to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act as part of the town's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall got a Moose Plate grant for $10,000 and raised $24,571 to get the clock faces restored in the Town Hall tower. The project was completed in time for the tourist season.
The Friends have also applied for a Land and Community Heritage Investment Program grant to replace the second and third- floor windows.
Finally the Friends launched a pledge drive to raise up to $1 million for the building's restoration, with a focus on the second floor Great Hall, raising more than $730,000 by year end.
A warrant article for $3,889,699 to renovate Town Hall will be on the town warrant in March 2014, though it barely made it on a 3-2 vote, with Selectmen Silk, Murray and Dave Bowers voting in favor and Harriman and Dave Senecal voting against. If passed, the resulting bond amount will be reduced by $110,301 in available town funds and whatever the Friends are able to raise. If the Friends succeed in their $1 million goal, the net bond would be $2,779,398.
The last time the Town Hall renovation was on the ballot in 2011, the total proposed bond was $4 million. The majority of voters approved but the total vote fell 29 votes short of the 60 percent approval needed for bonding.