January 02, 2014WAKEFIELD — This is the first of two articles on Wakefield news in 2013. It covers issues and politics and will be followed by a review of town milestones and people next week.
Two of the three topics that dominated the news from Wakefield in 2012 also made headlines in 2013, and the third issue had some influence on the March selectman contest.
The first carryover topic was the proposal from the Conservation Commission to purchase 121 acres of land in Union Meadows using $135,000 in grants from N.H. Fish and Game and the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). On Nov. 28, 2012 selectmen were presented with a petition from 58 residents asking that the purchase be put on the March 2013 ballot.
The chief objection was to the conservation easement granted to N.H. Fish and Game. Some opponents argued that the purchase was part of the secret implementation of Agenda 21, a 1992 non-binding United Nations protocol urging sustainable development, and would lead to the end of private land ownership. Others objected to the federal source of the $85,000 grant and the boilerplate language of the easement that they argued gave the state and federal governments unfair control over the future uses of the land.
The owner of the property responded to the warrant article and the objections raised by not extending the expired purchase and sales agreement on the land. On Jan. 23 selectmen agreed to transfer the $50,000 LCHIP grant to a new owner consortium led by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests that also included Moose Mountain Regional Greenways and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership. The sale was completed in May.
The second carryover topic was the Time Warner Cable contract, which had been in negotiation since September 2011.
On Jan. 23 Jim Miller reviewed a proposed contract between the town and ClearView Community Television Service to manage the town's public access (PEG) channel on Time Warner Cable, using revenue from the franchise fee to be paid by the cable company. ClearView was formed by five Wakefield residents to take over management of the town's public television channel as a nonprofit organization independent of town government and town politics. Besides Miller, the five founding members include volunteer videographer Relf Fogg, Stan Labarra, then current Station Manager Jerry O'Connor, and Assistant Station Coordinator Valerie Ward.
On Feb. 13 selectmen signed the Clearview agreement.
Miller assisted selectmen in their review of the draft contract sent to Time Warner and the revised draft they returned. Most of the changes requested by the town were not included in the final draft. Despite that selectmen signed the nonexclusive agreement on Dec. 11, saying that after more than two years it was the best agreement they could get.
The third carryover was the report on town operations made by Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI) and presented on Nov. 14, 2012. Selectmen had hoped that MRI would come up with a number of concrete suggestions on how to reduce expenses. While the report made some cost-saving recommendations, nothing major was proposed. On Jan. 9 resident Connie Twombley criticized the report, especially its recommendation of combining Town Clerk and Tax Collector, and said "$36,000 is a lot of money to pay only to be told you're too frugal."
Twombley ended up running for selectman against incumbent Peter Kasprzyk and former selectman Johnny Blackwood in March. The result was close, with Twombley coming out on top with 235 vs. 230 for Kasprzyk and 225 for Blackwood.
Only three positions on the March ballot had no contests. Valerie Ward won Town Clerk with 264 votes to Michelle MacDonald's 175, Melissa Bickford's 106 and Bridget Passariello's 118. Tom Dube and David Silcocks won the two three-year planning board seats over Nancy Spencer Smith and Gerard Levesque. For the one-year planning board seat Dick DesRoches prevailed over Karen Gagneux.
In the Budget Committee race the top three finishers were Craig Farley with 402 votes, Bruce Rich with 385 votes and Nancy Spencer Smith will 314 votes. James Theodore was left out with 279 votes.
The last contested race was for Trustee of the Trust Funds. There Jerry O'Connor won by a larger margin over Tom Cassidy, 401-218.
All of the warrant articles passed except Article 10 ($48,015 to be added to Technology Fund Capital Reserve), which lost by eight votes, 324-332. Article 20 (Union Meadows land purchase) barely passed 325-317, even though the vote was only symbolic.
Following the elections Ken Paul was reelected Chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Other 2013 issues
Winter sand showed up two times as a topic for selectmen in 2013. The first time was in discussion of bids received for sand purchase and delivery. Road Agent Fred Clough preferred to have purchased sand picked up during off times by town trucks. Former selectman Blackwood questioned having town trucks haul sand, given their condition and the wear-and-tear and time involved. Selectmen reviewed estimates of hauling costs and ultimately decided to stay with current practice for now.
The second time was when selectmen reviewed the town's policy on allowing private contractors to use town sand on private roads in light of a legal opinion that sand purchased with taxpayer funds should not be given to commercial operators. Selectmen reluctantly decided to charge for the sand, but only enough to cover the town's costs, and to use a coupon system so that contractors pay for per-cubic-yard coupons at Town Hall and not have to give money to highway department personnel.
Selectman Charlie Edwards came up with a design and estimate for replacing the highway department's inadequate and deteriorating salt shed and using town employees to do the work. Chairman Paul disagreed about using town workers and pointed out the town does not have the $85,000 needed this year. A warrant article to raise the needed funds for 2014 was proposed instead.
Residents of Union asked the board to get the Maple Street bridge repaired. The bridge has been closed since 2010 as unsafe. The board responded that there is a second bridge in Union that is still in use and that there were higher-priority bridges in town where no alternative existed. Nonetheless, the town asked the N.H. Department of Transportation for an estimate, which came in at $880,000, with the town's share being $132,000. The board suggested residents collect signatures for a warrant article to do the repairs.