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Proposed tax cap draws negative reactions from Ashland residents

February 22, 2017
ASHLAND — The Ashland selectmen hired a part time police officer, approved the use of the Public Works loader to help the Fire Department, held a public hearing on the proposed tax cap, and reviewed ongoing issues during their Feb. 21 meeting.

Police Chief Tony Randall asked the Selectmen to hire Joshua Gadbois as a part time police officer. Gadbois is a resident of Ashland and a full time police officer in Plymouth. Chief Randall noted that he has all the necessary police training, and would just need some field education on Ashland roads and properties. He explained that increasing the number of part time officers will allow more flexibility in staff assignments and would reduce the need for

overtime for the regular police officers. The selectmen approved the hiring.

Fire Chief Steve Heath explained that the Fire Department will burn down the derelict house at 99 Winona Rd. for a training exercise, probably in May. But the Fire Department will have to prepare the building for the burn, which will take some time. The Fire Chief therefore asked for clearing away the snow with the Public Works loader so the firefighters can began those preparations. The Public Works Director is willing to do the clearing, but the Fire Chief also

wanted the permission of the Selectmen as well. The consensus of the Board was to proceed with the snow removal. Other fire departments will be invited to participate in the exercise. The Fire Chief has also begun to talk with the neighbors about the burn. He said that the

exercise would provide valuable training for the participating firefighters.

Article 35 on the Ashland Town Warrant is a petitioned warrant article that would require the selectmen to recommend an annual town budget that would not increase town taxes by more than 2 percent in any year. Under recent budgets that require a little over $2 million in

taxation, the tax cap would limit an increase to about $40,000 to $44,000. The Selectmen held a short public hearing at the end of the meeting on the proposal as required by law. Virtually everyone spoke against the tax cap. Chair Fran Newton pointed out that Town tax

increases have not increased by more than 2 percent in recent years, but a disaster or emergency might require the Town to cut services in order to avoid exceeding the tax cap. She mentioned the need to replace the Fire Station roof and the Collins Street bridge as examples of such emergencies. Selectman Harold Lamos noted that the Fire Station roof

had cost $50,400. Newton also made the point that much of the budget is out of the control of the selectmen. Town Administrator Charlie Smith cited the recent increase of retirement rates as an example.

Budget Committee Chairman David Ruell added that other revenues, such as the amount the state gives the town, are not under the control of Town officials. He also pointed out that while inflation has been low in recent years; in the past, during boom times, it has often exceeded 3 or 4 percent, so the cap may not keep up with price increases. Selectman Leigh Sharps felt that tax caps had failed in other cities and towns, such as Franklin. Selectman Steve Felton could see no need to establishing a tax cap. John McLean felt that it unnecessarily tied the hands of town officials. Selectman candidate Tejasinha Sivalingam could see the challenge that the tax cap might create in an emergency, but suggested that it might lead to more creative thinking and more participation in town government.

The Selectmen and the Town Administrator reviewed the projects list, formerly the current issues log, to see where various issues stood. Smith reported that the GIS mapping contractor was almost done and would submit her final report on March 8. The question was what to do next in the mapping. The new Electric Department building is almost finished, although there are some concerns still to be addressed. New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services officials walked a section of the old woolen mill property in preparation for testing for hazardous substances. Selectman Katie Maher reported on the broadband application being made by the Ashland School and the interest that the UNH officials showed in also including the Town government as well. Smith said that the current assessment of the Town's real estate is now estimated to be at about 95% of its market value, but the revaluation will be finished next year. Maher questioned the proposed contract with the Building Inspector, saying that the Selectmen had to decide whether he was a town employee or a contractor. There was further discussion of the building permit fees suggested by the Building Inspector based on the fees in the Town of Tilton. The Planning Board had studied the proposal and concluded that the present fees charged by the Town are about average and did not need to be changed. The selectmen were not inclined to change all the fees, but were open to changing selected fees, The Town Administrator will contact the Building Inspector about the fees again. The Lakes Region Planning Commission's request for suggested transportation improvements was directed to the Ashland Transportation Advisory Committee. The Town Administrator was asked to resume the presentation

of a report on Town department activities at a public meeting every month.

The selectmen approved two elderly exemptions, two veterans tax credits, and one tax deferral for the elderly and disabled. They held a non-public session in the interval between the regular business meeting and the posted time for the tax cap hearing.

Martin Lord Osman
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