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Selectmen disagree about Nursery School's new rent

Ginter and Webster want a rate closer to market

July 09, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Selectmen reviewed and approved a 9.5-month lease for the Wolfeboro Nursery School at their July 1 meeting, but not before a lengthy discussion and a disagreement on the rent to be paid.

The Railroad Station has two tenants, with the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce occupying the end of the building toward Main Street and the Wolfeboro Nursery School using the remainder. Both tenants were required to evacuate the building when asbestos was found in the crawl space in May. The Nursery School finished out its school year at the First Congregational Church. At its June 17 meeting, the board approved a plan to deal with the most pressing problems at the Railroad Station, including abating lead paint to state standards in the Nursery School space, at a direct cost of $100,743 beyond what had already been spent and $2,032 more than the $145,000 approved by voters for Railroad Station repairs last March. The approved repairs are to be completed in time for the Nursery School to reopen next September.

Between June 17 and July 1, Town Manager Dave Owen and Selectmen Linda Murray and Kristi Ginter met with Nursery School President Heather Larsen and others at the Nursery School to work out a revised lease agreement that included three significant changes. The first and second changed the term of the lease from 12 months to 9.5 months, from Sept. 10, 2009 to June 15, 2010, corresponding to the school year, and allowed the town to lease the space during the summer months to another tenant.

The third change increased the rent from $120 a month (for 12 months) to $240 a month (for 9.5 months). Owen indicated that the rent increase was based on the discovery that both tenants were separately paying the full amount of real estate taxes on the building. The tax portion for each was lowered and the rent increased to make up the difference.

Selectman Marge Webster said that under the proposed lease, the revenue for 2009 will be less than for 2008. She said she feels that 700 square feet of space downtown for $240 a month is too low. A 750-square-foot space nearby was listed for $800 a month. She said she would like to see the rent set at $500 a month.

Owen explained that the negotiations were aimed at maintaining the revenue stream while giving the town the option of getting more revenue by leasing the space to someone else in the summer.

Ginter agreed with Webster that the rent should be higher. "The town should be increasing revenue to pay for the maintenance," she said. She also asked why the space was not put out for bid.

Speaking for the school, Larsen pointed out that there is no other public preschool in town. While agreeing the rent was low, she also said the Nursery School provides a service.

Selectman Sarah Silk said commercial rents in town are high, but pointed out that the space in question is not retail space.

Murray agreed the town should try to bring in more revenue from the properties it owns, and said that the new terms were a step in the right direction toward increasing revenue. However, as in any negotiation, the overall result was a compromise, she said. As for the repairs to the building, Murray pointed out that 67 percent of voters asked that the building be repaired, regardless of rental income, and that the Nursery School was an asset to the community.

Both Webster and Ginter assured Larsen that their remarks were not personal but aimed at protecting taxpayers' interests. Webster added that the board of selectmen "has not been a good steward of town property" and "we are not in the real estate business." Ginter said she was concerned that two people negotiating for the town was not enough and "we don't have an obligation to keep rent low to keep the Wolfeboro Nursery School in the building."

Selectman Chair Dave Senecal allowed audience members to comment. Amy Cloos said her grandmother, who died a year ago, was a founder of the Nursery School. She asked where the angry taxpayers were, pointing out there were none at this meeting. She said she was frustrated that "people who don't come to meetings get more consideration than those who do. I don't see letters to the editor or protests…Money should not come before children."

Silk agreed that, "not a single person has come to me about the Nursery School paying more."

Ginter acknowledged it was difficult to have this discussion, adding that taxpayers were not "angry," they just wanted to see the town get more revenue.

Lauren Hammond spoke, saying her mother was a co-founder of the school. She said the school has tried subletting the space during the summer and didn't get much. She urged the board to consider the value the school adds to the town.

At that point, Senecal closed the discussion and gave his opinion. "I don't consider the added rent to be a sizeable amount," he said. Murray moved to accept the lease as presented and Silk seconded. The vote was 3-2, with Senecal voting in favor along with Murray and Silk.

Sex offender ordinance

In the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting, resident Oliver Weiss reported an incident on Lehner Street where a known sex offender called out to his five-year-old son and a friend asking to take a walk in the woods. Weiss reminded the board that in 2007 Patty Austen gave the board a petition asking that an ordinance be adopted prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or playground. Weiss said he had collected ordinances from five other towns. He noted that the one in Dover had been challenged in court.

Police Chief Stuart Chase was asked to comment. Chase noted that there are five sex offenders in Wolfeboro, four of whom have to register. One is on parole and the other four have had their case adjudicated and are not being supervised. Chase said there are many problems with sex offender ordinances, including the grandfathering of current offenders. He questioned whether an ordinance would be effective.

Senecal asked Weiss to give the information he had gathered to Owen and asked Owen to review the other ordinances and report back to the board.

Public Works issues

Public Works Director Dave Ford met with selectmen to review two projects.

The first was an update on the Rapid Infiltration Basin septage disposal system, which has been in operation since March 3 and is approaching a total of 48 million gallons disposed. Ford shared a letter to Mitch Locker of the Department of Environmental Services (DES) that identified four problems encountered so far, including hillside seepage. The town is committed to submitting a plan to correct the problems within 60 days. Ford assured the board that the problems will be solved but the town will need to spend more money to make sure everything is "working to specifications."

The second project involved parking and crosswalk issues that have arisen now because of the eminent repaving of Main Street by the state. Ford discussed with the board the possibility of relocating the crosswalk between Spencer Hughes and the Avery Building for safety reasons from the corner of Central Avenue to Railroad Avenue. To do it right would require a bump-out and other modifications to sidewalks. The board decided not to tackle that problem right now.

The board did approve creating a van-accessible parking spot near the entrance to Dockside that would meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act but would require losing one parking space.

Selectmen also approved paving the sidewalks from Pickering Corner to Clark Road on the Brewster Side of South Main and from Crescent Lake Avenue to Pickering Corner on the opposite side once the crossover water main project is completed.

Other business

Libby Museum Director Pat Smith asked board members, who are also the Libby Trustees, to support efforts to celebrate the museum's centennial in 2012, which will include scheduling year-long activities directed by a steering committee the museum will organize shortly and funded through a series of fundraising events. The board agreed.

Owen noted that a portrait of General James Wolfe, for whom the town was named, had been discovered in a Libby storeroom and was now being restored at The Art Place for future hanging at Town Hall.

Selectmen accepted the recommendation of Finance Direct Peter Chamberlin to use the level principal payment method for the 20-year bond on sewer system improvements.

The board approved a Hawkers and Peddlers license for Downtown Market Grille to operate a cart featuring frozen key lime pies on a stick at the approved Railroad Avenue site. The Grille was the only applicant for the site that selectmen vacated at their last meeting.

A zero percent increase guideline that excludes collective bargaining agreements and other contractual obligations was adopted by the board for 2010 budget planning.

A workshop meeting was set for July 22.

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