February 15, 2017ASHLAND — At their Feb. 13 meeting, the Ashland selectmen discussed warrant articles, the technical education center at the regional high school, a grant for the proposed library, hiring new employees, snow removal, and culvert planning.
As some warrant articles that the selectmen had previously expressed their opinion on were amended at the deliberative session, they took another vote on them. Selectman Katie Maher was absent, so only four of the five selectmen voted. They agreed to recommend by 4 to 0 votes the amended versions of Article 4 for the lease-purchase of a fire engine, Article 21 for the LCHIP grant for a Town Hall Planning Study, and Article 41 on opposition to Northern Pass. They also voted to not recommend three other amended articles by varied votes, 3 to 1
against Article 3 for the purchase of the old school for the Town Library and against Article 37 for a salary increase for the Town Clerk/Tax Collector, and 4 to 0 against Article 38 for a salary increase for the Town Treasurer. One article the selectmen had not voted on before the deliberative session was the petitioned Article 39 to adopt the Town Manager form of government. They voted 3 to 1 to not recommend the change of town government.
Tejasinha Sivalingam said that he and other signers of the original petition for the article against the Northern Pass power line project were concerned about the amendment made at the deliberative session, which seemed to change or at least obscure the intent of the article. Chair Fran Newton explained that the selectmen could not change the new wording that had
been adopted by the deliberative session. So most of the discussion was on the title of the article and what could be said in the Voters Guide. Sivalingam felt that the title now given to the article "Opposition to Northern Pass" was not as clear as the original phrase "In Opposition to Northern Pass." Town Administrator Charlie Smith was asked to look into the selectmen's options for the title and the Voters Guide.
Another issue that will appear on the ballots at the March 14 election is the proposed renovation of the Technical Education Center at the Plymouth Regional High School. Catherine Hahn, Ashland's representative on the Pemi Baker Regional School Board, introduced Superintendent Mark Halloran and Principal Bruce Parsons who explained
the project. Halloran explained that every 25 years or so, state and federal funds are made available on a 75 percent to 25 percent match for upgrading the technical education centers. An earlier attempt to fund such a project failed on a 58 percent vote, as a bond issue requires a 60 percent vote. The project has been revised. Not all the components of the proposal
qualify for the match, but much of it does. More than $5 million in grants are available for the over eight million dollar project, leaving $3.1 million to be raised on a 10 year bond. Halloran pointed out that $3.3 million had been identified in repairs and upgrades, including code compliance issues, that need to be done in the next ten years, even if the bond issue does not pass. Parsons noted that Plymouth is one of only two technical education centers in the state that have not taken advantage of the federal and state grants. He described the various programs offered by the technical center in auto repairs, health, digital media, culinary arts, marketing and drafting, and the improvements that would be made to each program. Of the 680 students in the high school, 265 are now enrolled in those technical center programs. Enrollment is now maxed out because of the space and equipment available, but the renovation will allow more students to enroll in these career programs. The project will not add space to the building or require hiring more teachers. Halloran said that the bond
would add 14 cents to the Ashland tax rate in the first year, but the tax impact would decline in the following years. Both Parsons and Halloran invited interested citizens to visit the high school and see these programs in action. Selectman Leigh Sharps favored the project
and the technical center programs, noting that her granddaughter is earning her LNA in the health program.
The Board held a public hearing on a community facilities grant application made by the Library Trustees to USDA Rural Development for $25,000 to buy shelving and furniture for the proposed new library in the Tri County CAP building, the old school, that the Trustees are
seeking to buy and renovate. She explained that the shelving in the present town library is all built in and could not be moved to the new building. The grant would cover 75 percent of those costs, and would reduce the amount to be borrowed for the purchase, renovation and equipping of the building. It will not be known if the grant application is successful until after the March 14 vote on the Library Building proposal.
Snow removal was discussed in the wake of the recent spate of snowstorms. Selectman Harold Lamos asked if there could be better coordination of the New Hampshire DOT snow removal efforts with those of the Ashland Public Works Department, particularly in avoiding disruptions to downtown businesses during their open hours. Public Works Director
Tim Paquette was doubtful, noting that the state has its own guidelines and standards which determine how and when their crews do their work. Bobbi Hoerter and Sherrie Downing both complained about the snow preventing parking on Main Street and at the Community Center
on Highland Street. Downing, who runs a hair salon on Main Street, said that the snow filled parking spaces were costing her customers and money. Paquette explained that he had only a four man crew and a limited winter maintenance budget. He could not afford, as some other
towns can, to hire additional trucks and loaders during every snowstorm, although he would be doing that for the most recent heavy snowstorm to clean up Main Street. The Director explained that his priorities were first the roads, then the sidewalks, next parking and
finally shoveling. His plan was to clean Main Street within 24 to 48 hours after a snowstorm, as time allows. Much of the work of moving the snow is done during the hours parking is prohibited between 1 and 5 a.m., which usually avoids disrupting the Main Street businesses. During the latest storm on Sunday and Monday, the Public Works crews had been out for 26 hours straight, so they had to take a break. But, he planned to have Main Street cleaned up by Wednesday morning. He said that his Department was doing the best it could with what he had. Eventually, Newton ending the discussion, which was becoming heated, by saying that the Board would look into the issue.
The selectmen approved a contract with the Lakes Region Planning Commission to do a survey, analysis and plan for the Town's approximately 400 culverts. A grant will cover 75 percent of the cost, with the Town funding 25 percent, about $2,500.
The selectmen agreed to hire Craig Moore for the Public Works Department vacancy at Director Paquette's recommendation. He explained that four candidates had applied and three had been interviewed. The search for an Administrative Assistant in the Town Office, to replace Pat Crowell who is retiring, drew over twenty applications. About half of the applicants had or would soon be interviewed by the Town Administrator and the Town Clerk/Tax Collector. The selectmen asked the Town Administrator to pick the two or three best candidates so that they could interview them the next week, after reviewing their resumes.
The Building Inspector has proposed changes to the various building permit fees, based on those used by the Town of Tilton. The Planning Board was asked to review his proposal. Planning Board member Mardean Badger explained that that Board had looked at fees in other towns and found that they varied greatly. She planned to give the Town Administrator the results of the that research. The Planning Board finally concluded that there was no real need to change the fees and recommended that they stay the same. Lamos pointed out that the greatest percentage change in the proposed new fees were for roofs, which he noted were usually replaced by necessity, not by choice, so raising roofing fees might create hardships. The selectmen decided to meet with the Building Inspector before taking any action on his proposed fees.
Selectman Sharps reported on the activities of the Pemi River Local Advisory Committee, which is now a full intervenor in the Northern Pass power line review process. The selectmen ended their meeting with a non-public session.