Tuftonboro candidates present themselves to voters

SELECTMAN CANDIDATE BOB MCWHIRTER moved up close to the audience gathered in the Tuftonboro Central School cafetorium to answer questions during Candidates Night, sponsored by the Tuftonboro Association. McWhirter, a member of the Budget Committee, is challenging incumbent Selectman Chairman Carolyn Sundquist, seated at the table. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
March 06, 2014
TUFTONBORO — Candidates for selectman, Road Agent and Budget Committee presented themselves to a full house in the Tuftonboro Central School cafetorium on Tuesday evening, Feb. 25, during Candidates Night, an event sponsored each year by the Tuftonboro Association.

Selectman candidates

On March 11, Tuftonboro voters will have a chance to cast their ballots in the contested selectman's race for incumbent Chairman Carolyn Sundquist or challenger Bob McWhirter, a member of the Budget Committee and appointed member of the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Committee.

Sundquist, who won the coin toss to speak first, reviewed accomplishments during her tenure on the board. She said that she established regular Friday hours during her first term and has continued to do so to give residents the opportunity to share concerns in private in addition to the scheduled board meetings and to allow her time to interact with the staff.

Her accomplishments include: construction of the fire safety building; installation of a pellet boiler system at the old Town House (a move that has reduced energy expenditures); attention to the maintenance of town buildings; fostering a stable, dedicated work force; and making progress in controlling milfoil to protect the town's waterways.

She also cited the town's healthy undesignated fund balance, Tuftonboro's low tax rate (fifth lowest in the state), and a board that she says works well together and is respectful.

McWhirter told residents that he and his wife, Darlene, moved to Melvin Village in 2006. Since then, he has served on the Fire Station Committee, the Budget Committee and the CIP.

While he appreciates Sundquist's service, said McWhirter, he would like to go further where appropriate and revisit the town's Master Plan. He would like to refocus on the fire department, police department, library building sequence.

While he said that he is not against the library building plan, in his opinion it is "not the right plan," and said that the Library Board of Trustees developed it and the selectmen approved it, but he would have preferred to see an independent committee produce the plan as in the case of the fire station.

Also, he believes that the town could exceed its capital capacity in 2016.

Guy Pike asked the two candidates how they each felt about limiting selectmen terms to two terms. Sundquist said that she didn't see a need to establish a limit, for people can say yes or no when they vote; McWhirter said he thought six years was enough time to get something accomplished, but did not say he was for the idea.

Pike then asked what each of them would focus on in their first month of office. McWhirter said he would like to continue to focus on the budget as a selectman as a weekly event. Sundquist said she would continue doing the business of government.

The two candidates were in agreement that the H.E.B. Engineers project under consideration to address erosion issues along Lang Pond Road in Tuftonboro as it meanders along the shore and crosses wetlands was too big, too expensive, and not the appropriate solution at this time.

Winnie O'Shaugnessey asked McWhirter what specifically about the library building plan he disagreed with. He answered that there was a lack of financial information on the night of the Budget Committee meeting in which he voted against it, and he said he would like to have more financial information on what it would cost to renovate the old library to accommodate the police department. In his mind, the two projects are linked. A renovation cost of $700,000, an estimate provided by an architect, is the figure that has been mentioned when that question has come up at recent budget and selectmen's meetings.

Library Trustee Paul Matlock interjected, "There isn't a plan for the police department." Sundquist joined in, "They are two separate projects. All three (fire station, police and library buildings) are needed. The firs station and police station were linked and did not pass. Now the fire station is built. With a new library, the old library would be available for the police." She added that the use of the old building has not been officially decided. It would be a logical move, but no plans are underway.

Anne Hunt stood and, carefully choosing her words, addressed McWhirter about what she sees as "a lot of negativity" during Budget Committee meetings. She said she has tried to view them on DVD, but found the contentiousness too difficult to watch.

"Will you carry on that attitude, or work with the board?"

McWhirter said he would like to improve the relationship between the Budget Committee and the board, but said that it is the committee's job to ask questions about financial information.

Pike, saying he was speaking for "perturbed citizens," asked in light of the numbers of people on fuel assistance, an overrun in the welfare budget, and the number of unemployed or underemployed, what the candidates thought about "doubling the town's debt."

Sundquist called attention to the town's healthy fund balance in reserve and said that the board looks at the impact on the tax rate. "That's the beauty of the CIP," she said. "It makes every attempt to stabilize the rate."

McWhirter replied that he's been there himself in the last year or two, and "to tell someone that it's (the price of the library proposal) only a tank of gas a year, doesn't help sell the project."

Selectman Dan Duffy asked McWhirter, " Your wife works for the town. How would you handle conflicts of interest?

"Darlene is the love of my life," answered McWhirter, "Anyone who thinks I lack the integrity to not vote if it was improper should vote for someone else." When there are salary issues, said McWhirter, he would recuse himself.

Duffy, referring to the Dec. 17 budget meeting in which the committee voted contrary to the selectmen's allotment for her salary, adding $2,000 to the executive administration line, countered, "You recused yourself, but you continued to speak."

"As a member of the public," said McWhirter.

Pike, returning to the topic of building a police station, asked why not consider a million dollar stand alone police station. "What has the police department done to deserve a 45 year old building?"

Sundquist pointed to the $500,000 to $750,000 estimate for possible renovation of the present library and said it wouldn't be necessary to build a new station. McWhirter commented, "At $750,000, you might as well look at a new facility. You don't want to put them in a substandard building just to save money."

At that point Matlock, rejoined, "Why not have a police station near the elementary school and library?" McWhirter said there are other options.

Road Agent candidates

Road Agent Jim Bean and challenger John Lapolla both made presentations.

While Bean, as the incumbent, could offer a list of accomplishments, he also faced criticism from residents whose roads have not been on the list for improvement yet. Chris Sawyer, for one, took issue with the inclusion of Federal Corner Road on Bean's list, pointing out that she lives on the road, and it is in need of repair. She said the part that he worked on was just a small section, and she complained, "A lot of roads are not in good shape."

Frost heave season may not be the best time of year for a Road Agent to make a case for himself, but Bean said he enjoys the job, has an experienced crew, owns his own equipment and takes his responsibilities very seriously. He is a certified Roads Scholar following course work at the University of New Hampshire that included maintenance issues as well as study of state rules and regulations.

Lapolla spoke of his 27 years in the field of excavation, which has included septic work, snowplowing and road work. He uses subcontractors on an as-needed basis. That, he said, gives him flexibility and lower overhead.

Guy Pike asked Bean how Lang Pond Road got into "such terrible condition." The road, the center of much discussion in regards to flooding, erosion and the flow of silt, a source of phosphorus build up, into Mirror Lake, has been a focus of the Mirror Lake Watershed Committee, of which Pike is a member.

Bean responded that he regularly maintains it. "I don't have the go ahead to do an overhaul," he commented, and added that he has been against the engineering plan (currently on hold) "from day one."

Steve Wingate, another member of the committee, asked what his approach would be to improve water quality and storm water management. Bean mentioned that he had a class in salt reduction on roadways and follows those guidelines. Lapolla said that he, too, would reduce salt, but noted that every storm is different, so needs vary.

Budget Committee candidates

Longtime Budget Committee member Tyler Phillips spoke to the audience. He is running for one of the two seats available on the committee this year.

Steve Brinser, a former Price Waterhouse accountant, is running for the other.

Phillips told the audience that the Budget Committee is a sounding board, "not a rubber stamp" to the selectmen and a "wallet protector." He said he is looking forward to the Wage and Classification study (a $7,500 item on the warrant).

He stated emphatically that he is "FOR the library expansion" for the building in his words is "crash jammed." He mentioned that he attended the library presentation on the proposed new building, likes the plan, and even said it was "needed and required", but the "sheer cost" is a problem. He has voted against it twice in the two 4-3 votes of the Budget Committee.

Brinser said he is a Certified Public Accountant and was a Chief Financial Officer of a $100 million company, is on the board of directors of a bank, and has been in business for 40 years.

Library presentation

Gordon Hunt took off his Moderator hat and put on his Library Trustee hat to offer a few words on the Tuftonboro Free Library's building project.

The new building features an open concept to allow flexibility in use over the coming years. The library is currently operating at 150 percent capacity, with part of the collection stored off site by necessity.

Hunt, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, reviewed the facts and answered questions from the audience. The total to be raised by the warrant at Town Meeting on March 12 is $2.6 million. $550,000 in capital reserve and accumulated by library fundraising efforts reduce that figure closer to $2 million. No request is on the warrant for Capital Reserve this year.

In 2008 the plan fell short at Town Meeting of the required 66 percent approval required.

Now in 2014, five years later, the price has gone up. Trustees changed the exterior specifications from brick to the siding like that of the fire station building to reduce expense, but the sprinkler system to meet safety codes and rising construction costs have increased the price tag.

The new building, positioned behind and to the left of the present library, will be twice the size, enabling the meeting room seating to increase from 50 to 92 and yield 45 parking spaces.

Hunt responded to the question of whether the library could be expanded, explaining that the wetlands preclude expansion outward and expanding upward would be more costly for less gain in space. The infrastructure needed: an elevator, two stairwells, a mechanical room, and support for the 150 pound per square foot load of books and shelving would be costly. Such an option would also fail to address parking needs.

The selectmen have agreed to a 15 year financing plan with Northway Bank at 3.75 percent interest should the voters approve the warrant article at Town Meeting on March 15. Hunt noted that the interest generated from the money sitting in trust is earning less than that, so it would be beneficial to apply it to the project at this time.

A woman asked if the new library could be smaller. Hunt explained that there are aspects that have to be included, such as bathrooms, a mechanical room and storage space, so a reduction would shrink the space designated for the collection and activities.

Trustee Paul Matlock, who is running for election this year, invited all citizens to avail themselves of the services offered by the library. Internet service is available; forms for fuel assistance can be filled out online, and if help is needed, the staff is more than willing to offer service.

He spoke in support of the building project, noting that a delay would result in a smaller, more expensive building in the future, considering the expected rise in interest rates. The plans are available for viewing at the library.

Voting for candidates will take place in the Old Town Hall on Tuesday, March 11. Town Meeting, centering on the town warrant articles will take place the following evening at the Tuftonboro Central School at 7:30 p.m.

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