October 22, 2020ASHLAND — At their Oct. 19 meeting, the Ashland selectmen approved the paving of a driveway and rear parking area at the Town Garage and the hiring of a finance assistant. They also discussed the Scribner Trust Fund, playground usage, Squam River Covered Bridge repairs, and in-person meetings.
At their Oct. 5 meeting, the selectmen had discussed a proposal from Public Works Director Craig Moore to pave the parking area behind the Town and Utility Garage and the driveway leading to it, because of drainage problems, which have washed out the driveway in the past and threatened to flood the electric substation. The selectmen had delayed action on the proposal so that they could look at the situation first. At this meeting, Moore presented a slightly revised project that now included curbing and raised the estimate to $45,950, to which was added 5 percent for any overages, bringing the total request to $48,247. Town Manager Charlie Smith had asked an engineer to meet with Moore and review the proposal, to see if it needed a full scale engineered plan. The engineer was satisfied with the DPW plan. The selectmen,
therefore, voted 4 to 1 to use up to $48,247 from the Road Improvements Capital Reserve Fund for the project.
When the utilities were located in the Town Garage building, they had a staff of three full time people in the office. The Utility Office was relocated to the Town Hall and, due to a retirement and a resignation, that staff was reduced to one person. Town Manager Smith explained that more help was needed to handle the utility billings and other financial duties in the Town Office. The selectmen had previously discussed hiring a Finance Assistant to work on both the utility and the Town finances in the Office. Smith subsequently revised the job description for the position. At the Town Manager's
request, the selectmen voted unanimously to proceed with the hiring of a Finance Assistant.
Amanda Loud of the Town Trustee of Trust Funds and the Scribner Trustees and Alice Staples of the Town Library Trustees presented the views of their Boards on the Scribner Trust. Emma Scribner bequeathed her home and a trust fund, whose income was to be used for the maintenance of the property, to the Town in the late 1930's. The
trust fund was then valued at $40,472. The Town set up the Scribner Trustees, a five member board consisting of the three elected Trustees of Trust Funds and two more trustees appointed by the selectmen, to oversee the property and the trust fund. The current Scribner Trustees have concluded that the Trust Fund income can no longer support the maintenance of the building and its grounds. The issue has been further complicated by the recent statement from the state Attorney General's Office Charitable Trusts division that the principal is not just the $40,472 starting amount, but that it should have grown by accrual over the years. Loud explained that the Scribner Trustees do not now know what the principal of the fund should be, but it is likely more than the amount the trust fund now has in hand. The Scribner Trustees are recommending that the Trust be dissolved, that the Scribner Trustees be discontinued and that control of the property be turned over to the Library Trustees, as the Library is now the sole occupant of the building. They also suggested that the Trust Fund be turned over to the Library Trustees, either as a cash payment or as a trust fund to be managed by the Library Trustees. Staples explained that the Library Trustees supported the discontinuance of the Scribner Trustees and the passing of control over the property to
the Library Trustees, but they felt that the investment of the Scribner Trust Fund should be managed by the Trustees of Trust Funds, with the Library Trustees deciding how the income should be spent. The Scribner Trustees asked that the matter be referred to the Town's legal counsel, who could determine what the principal of the trust fund should be and what the Town's legal options are. After some discussion, the Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to refer the issue to the Town's attorneys.
Selectman Kathleen DeWolfe raised the question of the usage of the playground again. The selectmen had previously agreed to the request of Park & Recreation Director Ann Barney that use of the new playground at the ballfield be limited to the After School program children and staff from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. every week day that the
program was in session, to protect the students from the Covid virus. DeWolfe reported that residents had complained about this restriction, particularly the mothers of small children. She suggested splitting that time period, with the After School program only getting an hour and a half or an hour and three quarters of exclusive use. Barney
suggested that instead the playground could be used by residents as well as the After School programs during the whole time period. Her main concern was limiting exposure of the After School children to non-residents. On a 3 to 2 vote, the Selectmen agreed with Barney, and allowed residents (wearing masks) to use the playground during the
After School sessions.
The Town Manager asked the Selectmen for permission to close the Squam River Covered Bridge on Thursday, Oct. 22, to allow Arnold Graton and his crew to replace floor planks on the bridge. This led to a discussion of the funds available for the project. David Ruell of the Ashland Historical Society explained that the Squam River Covered
Bridge Committee, acting under the auspices of the Society, raised more money for the construction of the bridge than was needed, and that the court subsequently allowed the Society to retain those funds for covered bridge related expenses. The fund has mostly been used for repairs over the past three decades. The Society Board did approve a
request from the Public Works Director to buy materials for the replacement of the railings on the bridge approaches, but that project was delayed because of the current high prices for pressure treated lumber. The selectmen briefly discussed possibly establishing a capital reserve fund for future work on the covered bridge and perhaps
the two other wooden bridges.
Chairman Eli Badger was asked at the most recent Budget Committee meeting to inquire about the Selectmen resuming in-person meetings. Selectman Fran Newton noted that Covid cases are now rising in Grafton County and throughout the country, so she did not feel that this was the time to meet in person. Newton and DeWolfe both felt that the selectmen were getting their work done without face to face meetings. Badger concluded that the consensus was that the Board will continue its present Zoom meetings.