THE WOLFEBORO AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE hosted a candidates' night on Feb. 12 at the Wolfeboro Public Library, sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts. Vying for the three open seats on the Budget Committee are (from the left) Brian Black, Steve Johnson, John MacDonald and Chuck Storm. Running for the school board are Bob Jones and current school board Chairman Stacey Trites. (Elissa Paquette photo)
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February 20, 2014WOLFEBORO — Four candidates for the three open seats on the Wolfeboro Budget Committee lined up along the table with the two candidates running for the one seat open on the Governor Wentworth Regional School District board last Wednesday, Feb. 12, in the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room to entertain questions read by Moderator Randy Walker.
Mary DeVries, Executive Director. of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce introduced the candidates on behalf of sponsor Bartlett Tree Experts to those in attendance.
Incumbents Brian Black and Chairman John MacDonald are on the ballot for the Budget Committee positions along with Steve Johnson and Chuck Storm. Bob Jones is running for the seat on the GWRSD School Board currently occupied by Chairman Stacy Trites.
Black and MacDonald both have backgrounds in law enforcement. Black, who has served as an officer and then Chief of the Wolfeboro Police Department as well as a Budget Committee member commented that he's been on both sides of the budget process. He has been both responsible for creating a budget and reviewing budgets, and said that employment by Goodhue and Hawkins Navy Yard gives him a business perspective,
MacDonald was a member of the NH State Police, earned a law degree after retirement from the force in 2009, and has been a member of the committee since 1991. He noted that the budget this year is less than last year and said that he is proud of his service to the taxpayers as a common sense problem solver.
Steve Johnson, a longtime business owner (Bay Street Discount) and now an employee of that business, said he served on the committee in the 1980s and again "feels the call to serve." He points to his nuts and bolts knowledge of budgets gained from experience running three successful businesses.
Chuck Storm, a resident since 2003, a former paymaster, banker, and ten year member of the California legislature, who has also served Wolfeboro as a selectman and a member of the planning board, commented that while he was on the Board of Selectmen,, it "didn't leave much on the table for you guys to whittle away at."
Candidate for the school board Bob Jones, a former Marine, retired to Wolfeboro in 1984 following an "enormous career in the food business" that culminated as general sales manager of international operations for Mechanical Rubber. He said he worked locally in real estate for 22 years. Saying that his mind wasn't as sharp as it used to be, he chose to retire from real estate and decided to contribute to the community as a volunteer.
He enjoys volunteering at the Wright Museum and has talked to marketing classes at the Lakes Region Technical Center. He strongly advocates reading as "the best possible way to learn."
Trites, a Kingswood graduate herself, and Meredith Village Savings Bank employee, said she really enjoys serving the district. When she first arrived on the school board, the Kingswood campus was "in rough shape. Now we have a great facility, a new superintendent," and time to look at curriculum, as an example.
"The payback is huge," enthused Trites. "To see a second grader give a PowerPoint presentation on ecosystems" and be able to use technology with facility is a pleasure. She is also proud that the increase this year in the GWRSD budget is under one percent.
Walker asked participants for their opinion on the impact the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have on the budget. All full time town employees receive health insurance that meets the requirements of the ACA. The law requires that employers of 50 or more employees offer insurance to part time workers working 30 hours a week or more, a factor that the town controls.
Johnson noted that the question was broad and that the law was recently amended, giving businesses another year before that takes effect. Storm said he felt health care is becoming increasingly more unaffordable, and Jones said he agrees with Ben Carson, M.D., a retired neurosurgeon and frequent Fox News contributor that it should be scrapped.
Black termed the law to be "too new and controversial" to offer an opinion, but said that employees of the town are the beneficiaries of good benefits and costs are reevaluated as contracts come up.
"I'm not going to debate the ACA," said Trites, who went on to note that employee benefits are 70 percent of the budget and to praise the members of all three groups involved in negotiations on those matters, most of whom live in the district, whom she said "know the bottom line" and have worked unpaid days to help keep costs down.
MacDonald observed that health care costs are a "big chunk" of the general fund, noted that it takes compromise to keep costs under control, and floated the idea of putting $50,000 aside each year for pay raises and divide it up.
Budget Committee candidates, asked if they supported the renovation of Town Hall on this year's warrant, all offered appreciation for the $750,000 contribution of private funds raised by the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall for the project should it receive the voters' approval, and were in agreement that, as MacDonald commented, it is time to step up, with the exception of Johnson, who offered approval of maintaining the building, but not necessarily for town offices.
A question to school board candidates on the proposed tuition agreement with Middleton met with both their favor. Jones said he was "100 percent in favor" and thinks it will "enhance the sports teams." Trites said she, too, was strongly in support of integrating Middleton's 137 students. It would help maintain the range and depth of courses offered at the high school, countering the shrinking number of school age children; no new staff would need to be hired; and if approved in 2016, would bring in $1.4 million in revenue.
When asked how they would enhance economic development in Wolfeboro as Budget Committee members, MacDonald cited the Economic Development Committees of the town and the Chamber as helpful and said there are now more professional jobs in town and light industry in the area. Black said they've done a commendable job so far in keeping the business interests in mind. Storm said that having a town planner has helped encourage the expansion of opportunity.
Johnson commented that he would like to make Wolfeboro "more business friendly." In his opinion it can be difficult to get through the Codes and Planning Department.
Walker recited figures that 48 percent of the district's students go to four year college following graduation and 24 percent go to two year schools, numbers below the state average and asked the school board candidates to respond.
Trites commented that not every student is destined to go to college and pointed to the high poverty rate among children as a contributing factor. She also called attention to the "fantastic vocational program" at the Lakes Region Technology Center, noting that the district now has a precision machinery manufacturing operation available for students. She also pointed out that some students are able to acquire certifications, such as an EMT, before graduation.
Jones offered the advice to students that " If you don't know what you want to do when you graduate, don't go to college. You'll just get into debt."
The last question asked for pet peeves. Black said he would like to see an improvement in the justification process for nonprofits, for discretionary spending is tight. Johnson suggested "as a newbie" that if there was a surplus that it be given back to the taxpayers. MacDonald offered,"Don't just rubber stamp." He also commented that he's like to see a cap on the fire department capital reserve account. Storm said he'd like to see cuts in the Welfare Department budget.
Jones decried the drop out rate as higher than state average and encouraged all students to read Carson's book "America the Beautiful." Trites on that subject commented that the district runs an alternative school and said that the drop out rates worsened this past year. Social workers are calling attention to the number of homeless students struggling to get by.
All the candidates will be profiled next week in yet another opportunity for voters to get to know where they stand.