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Ashland selectmen discuss wide range of issues

March 04, 2015
ASHLAND — The Ashland selectmen dealt with a variety of issues at their Monday evening meeting, ranging from snowmobiling on the streets to the redesign of the flagpole triangle. They also heard reports on town activities.

Police Chief Tony Randall discussed the problems with snowmobiles on the streets and sidewalks. State law says that snowmobiles can only operate on local streets and sidewalks with the approval of the selectmen and that snowmobile crossings of state highways have to be approved by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. Currently, a spur from the main snowmobile trail through town along the railroad tracks runs across Route 3 (Main Street) to the businesses on West Street. But, the crossing of Route 3 has not been approved by the state. And some snowmobilers have been using the Main Street sidewalk to go from the West Street area as far as the Common Man restaurant. The Chief has been working with the Fish and Game Department and Don Stoppe of the local snowmobile club on these issues. An application to NHDOT is being prepared for the Route 3 crossing. And a sign prohibiting snowmobiles on the Main Street sidewalk was recently put up near Dunkin Donuts. The Chief's main concern was safety. He said that cars and snowmobiles do not mix well and that when they meet, the snowmobile always loses. Randall did feel that the businesses in the West Street area do profit from the snowmobile traffic and wanted to control, not prohibit the snowmobilers from reaching them. Chairman Norm DeWolfe, a snowmobiler himself, was supportive of the chief's efforts and suggested that more signs and in some places tape to better define the trail would be helpful.

Susan MacLeod of the Ashland Garden Club spoke with the selectmen about the club's plan to redesign the plantings in the flagpole triangle, in part because the taller plants were interfering with the sightlines at this major intersection in the center of the downtown. The plan was to move the tall plants to Memorial Park or to sell them, and to replant with salt tolerant plants that only grow to two feet or less. When talking with NHDOT, she learned that a state permit would be required for the work. She had also learned that the town officials were considering removing the sidewalk that runs along one side of the triangle. Town Administrator Paul Branscombe and Public Works Director Tim Paquette explained that state safety inspectors had recommended the removal of the crosswalk from the triangle to the sidewalk near the Ashland Insurance Center building, which would leave the triangle sidewalk with nowhere to go. The selectmen agreed that the town officials should work with the Garden Club on the redesign of the triangle and its plantings. MacLeod explained that this was one of the projects the Club was working on as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the town.

Clearing snow from the Town Hall parking lot has become a problem, as it is used by apartment dwellers who do not have their own private parking spaces. They often leave their cars there during the day, making it difficult for the town loader to remove the snow. Branscombe had prepared a draft of a notice to be placed on all the cars that use the lot overnight asking them to move their cars by 7 a.m. after a snowstorm so that the lot can be cleared and ready to use by 8 a.m. when the Town Office opens. Selectmen Phil Preston suggested that the deadline could be extended to 9 a.m., but the other selectmen felt that the 7 a.m. deadline was more appropriate and approved the notice with minor changes. DeWolfe said that the apartment dwellers were being allowed to use the lot as a courtesy and that that courtesy should be returned to the town workers that need to maintain the lot.

The selectmen discussed a meeting with a person who wanted to lease part of an abandoned section of the old woolen mill owned by Scott Heath, which has been a concern to town officials. No taxes have been paid on the property, but the Town has not yet seized it for non-payment. An order to the owner to board up the building has not been obeyed, as Heath reportedly has not been willing to spend any more money on the property. The potential tenant had asked that the Town pay for boarding up the exterior and insuring the building. The selectmen discussed the situation. They decided to seek legal advice on whether boarding up the building or, alternatively, doing nothing about the problem increases the town's liability, and planned to hold a conference call some morning with the town attorney on the issue. The Town Administrator is also working on getting a Brownfields assessment of the property to see what environmental hazards its poses.

After comparing three proposals for the lease of a copier for the Town Office, the selectmen decided to go with the lowest bidder, Office Systems of Vermont. They accepted a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to purchase video equipment, a video recorder and two body cameras, for the Police Department. They granted one property tax abatement for the removal of sheds on a North Ashland Road property, but asked that the town assessor take another look at a second proposed abatement for a Main Street property. They approved an $1800 renewal of the annual contract with the New Hampshire Humane Society for the animals brought to the Society's Laconia shelter by citizens and the police.

Branscombe reported on town activities.

The auditors have been at work in the town office reviewing town accounts. The audit reportedly went well.

The Town Administrator and the Public Works Director met with the town's representatives on the regional Transportation Advisory Committee to review projects in Ashland that could be included in the ten year Transportation Improvement Plan.

They identified two potential projects, which they will present to the selectmen at their March 16 meeting.

The Fourth of July fireworks have been contracted and paid for at a cost of $11,000.

A copy of the insurance contract for the Town Library building was provided by the Scribner Trustees.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services criticized the town and contractor for not obtaining a wetlands permit for the Moo Corners Bridge reconstruction, but will not require any further action on the matter. (Kathleen DeWolfe of the Conservation Commission also asked that the Commission be kept informed of such projects, as is required by law.)

Bransombe reported, to no one's surprise, that the Public Works Department devoted most of February to snow removal as well as some hauling of sand.(Selectman Steve Felton later praised the Department for their work clearing the streets.) The Police Department dealt with 164 incidents in February. Two candidates to replace retiring Lieutenant Marren have been interviewed. Two officers received training in officer involved shootings. The Crown Victoria police cruiser was out of service for repairs for a week. The Police Chief attended the Grafton County chiefs meeting and the Plymouth Area Prosecutor Association meeting. With other area police chiefs, he toured the schools in Ashland, Plymouth, Rumney and Holderness to better understand their layouts in the event of an active shooter.

The Fire Department responded to 35 calls in February, including 19 medical emergencies, 12 fires and 3 motor vehicle accidents. Area fire and police departments, the state police and the NH DOT gathered at the Ashland Fire Station for a review of the 35 vehicle pile up on I-93 in January. Those present favored creating a committee to plan for major traffic accidents on I-93 from Sanbornton to Thornton.

The Parks & Recreation Department's Vacation Day Camp was attended by 11 children, while 12 kids attended the February Kids Night Out. The next Kids Night Out on March 20 will celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Steve Felton reported that the Economic Development Committee had met with the a North Country Council planner who described the process for applying a Federal grant to develop an economic development plan for Ashland. The committee will soon begin work on the grant application. The Capital Improvement Program Committee will meet on March 18 with the selectmen, utility commissioners, and department heads to discuss the annual revision of the CIP, including the goals, schedule and information needs.

At least three selectmen will take part in a community discussion that is part of the award process for the New Hampshire School of Excellence Award, as the Ashland School is one of the finalists for the award. Chairman DeWolfe will represent the town at a regional Scenic Byway committee meeting and will speak about town government to the third grade. The selectmen ended their meeting with a non

Martin Lord Osman
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