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Council discusses Bartlett school future, turbines and city streets


September 02, 2009
BERLIN — Eckerd Youth Alternatives, the non profit that runs Cascade Academy in Berlin, asked the city council to consider leasing them the Bartlett school building. The council took the discussion into non-public session.

Cascade Academy is a program for students from around the region with special needs who need extra attention.

Eckerd's director for New Hampshire services Mike Adamowski said the future at their current location is up in the air.

"We're looking at other options so we don't find ourselves with kids to serve and no place to serve them," he said.

Cascade Academy currently serves 16 students and employed six staff last year, he said. This year they may need an additional staff person.

Having a program locally reduces the cost to the school district, he said, because special needs students are entitled to a free public education, and if one is not available close by the district might have to pay for a residential program. These can be between 30 and 50 percent more expensive.

The goal, Mr. Adamowski said, would be to turn the Bartlett school into a community center for non profits. The non profits could divide up the cost of leasing the property and pay less rent, and the city could have the building stay in use.

The larger building would not mean the school would take on more students, he said.

The council asked Mr. Adamowski a few questions but did not reach any conclusions in the meeting. Mayor David Bertrand said they would continue discussion in non-public session.

Councilor Mark Evans asked the council to consider voting to enact a state exemption for wind energy systems. RSA 72:66 allows cities to give people who erect wind turbines on their property for on-site power generation an exemption on their property taxes for the amount of the turbine. Councilor Evans said he had been approached by a constituent who was interested in the exemption.

"I support individuals taking this type of initiative in becoming self sufficient," he said.

The rule doesn't allow the individuals to sell the power their wind turbines generate, he said.

Councilor David Poulin said the wording suggests there would be additional tax breaks for doing this sort of project, beyond the cost of the turbine. He said he would not be in favor if there was such a tax break.

Mayor Bertrand said he did not want to see adjacent property owner's property values go down as a result of a turbine on an abutter's property, resulting in a drop in property tax revenue.

City manager Pat MacQueen said he would look into the specifics of the law. He also noted the state is offering an exemption to property owners at the expense of the cities without reimbursing the cities, transferring the burden to the municipalities.

The council reviewed the capital improvement projects planned for the next six years, and they also got an update on the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant proposal the city is a party to. The TIGER grant would cover $14 million in road repair and reconstruction over two years. Mr. MacQueen said the understanding is the city, after receiving the TIGER funds, would make it a priority to maintain the roads once repaired. The projected road repair costs are $600,000 per year.

The city is currently spending less than half that per year on road repair, according to public works director Mike Perreault.

The problem with this approach is that the worst roads require all the money and good roads quickly deteriorate. According to estimates by the company submitting the grant on Berlin's behalf, by repairing the roads with the TIGER funding and then maintaining them the cost actually stays lower overall. Instead of patching streets in poor condition the city would be maintaining quality roads, albeit for significantly more than it currently spends.

"That would be small money to have excellent streets," councilor Poulin said. "It hurts more to pay $300,000 for junk."

The council decided to continue forward pursuing the grant with the understanding that if the city gets it they will have to make a good faith effort to spend significantly more on road upkeep.

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