Economic challenges, community triumphs marked 2009 in Meredith


December 30, 2009
MEREDITH — The economic downturn made for some sudden challenges in Meredith, though town officials and residents worked around the difficulties.

At the beginning of the year, Co-interim Town Manager and Administrative Services Director Brenda Vittner announced there was a nearly $381,000 projected revenue shortfall. As a result, the burgeoning budget would have to be cut by $300,000 more. Department heads went back to their budgets and found areas to trim while money was marked for removal from a parking fund. Additionally fees were raised on boat launches and transfer station stickers to help gain additional revenue.

After measures and the budget passed at town meeting, the increasing uncertainty of revenues, especially revenues from the state, resulted in items being held back. Some items, such as a new police cruiser, have been released, though items are still being held and will likely remain held into the new budget year.

The Public Works and Water and Sewer Departments were given approval to form a collective bargaining unit. The intention to form a union in the Meredith Public Works, Water and Sewer Departments came to light late last year. After town disagreements over how the unit should be formed and regarding rulings by the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, the PELRB upheld its decision to allow Meredith's Public Works, Sewer, and Water Departments join in a union. The PELRB approved the proposal for a collective bargaining unit between the departments in May. A first for the town, the petition to form a collective bargaining unit was made by the State Employees International Union, Local 1984.

Meredith voters narrowly rejected a measure to go from the traditional town meeting to SB2. With 858 people voting on the issue of SB2 in Meredith, 472 voted for it, and 386 voted against. With 60 percent approval needed for passage, the article fell short with about 55 percent approval. In its first year of voting on this change in 2008, the tally came to 616 in favor, and 456 not in favor of SB2, failing by about 30 votes.

At the beginning of the 2009 town meeting, resident Andre Kloetz offered a petition signed by several residents for the town to explore a charter form of Town Meeting instead.

After utilizing co-interim town managers for 10 months, the town hired a new town manager. After a five-month review by a citizen committee, Phillip L. Warren, Jr. was hired as Meredith's new Town Manager. Warren had served as the town manager of Abington, Mass., since 2004 and was previously the town administrator of Holbrook, Mass., from 2000 through 2004.

The economy posed a looming threat to one major conservation effort, though supporters came through for the purchase of Page Pond and Forest.

The Page Pond and Forest conservation project was first announced in 2007 under the management of the Trust for Public Land and volunteers and conservationists in Meredith throughout New England sought to come up with the necessary $2.6 million to purchase all 567 acres. By early 2009 $1.85 million had been through a combination of private donors, a $400,000 bond approved by Meredith voters in March, $350,000 of existing funds allocated by the Meredith Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission, and a $400,000 grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

Fundraising efforts hit an economic snag as a gap of around $400,000 formed. The price reduced to $2.25 million and fundraising efforts strengthened. The campaign also garnered a pledge from an anonymous Trust for Public Land supporter for a $100,000 match. All funds were raised and the Trust for Public Land closed on the sale in February. The Conservation Commission is currently working on a trail system on the property.

Another major town project was officially unveiled after years of effort. With the uncoupling of one last fire hose, the newly renovated and expanded Meredith Fire Station was officially opened in May after years of planning, committees, and construction.

The ribbon was cut on Pinecrest Apartments and Frances Court Manufactured Housing Park. After years of planning and discussion, the workforce housing project on Boynton Road was constructed by the Laconia Area Community Land Trust and the ribbon cutting ceremony took place in October.

The ribbon was also cut on the new Community Center Garden in July. The garden in front of the Community Center was a combination of the efforts of the Greater Meredith Program with local architects, landscapers, clubs, nonprofit organizations, and other volunteers.

Ground was officially broken on the site of the Interlakes Medical Center's expansion. A larger building is in the process of construction to offer expanded facilities and services for patients in Meredith. The expansion is part of an overall expansion program by LRGHealthcare.

The economic downturn meant the closure of the long-time grocery staple for those in the area. After 19 years in business, Jackson's Star Market closed its doors.

Shoppers were first notified of the closing on February, as signs were posted on the doors advising of the store's imminent closure. The sign told shoppers "the downturn in the economy has forced us to close our store." The store began an inventory reduction sale the next morning, reducing almost everything in the store by 20 percent in an attempt to sell off the inventory. A few weeks after the announcement, Jackson Star closed its doors, effecting nearly 40 employees.

More financial trouble brewed for investors in November when the doors suddenly closed at Financial Resources Mortgage, Inc. and CL and M. The sudden closing of a local mortgage firm has brought on a hail of lawsuits, an investigation by the FBI and state agencies, and word that millions of dollars are now unaccounted for.

After efforts by the Attorney General's office, the companies were put into involuntary bankruptcy and further actions are being reviewed against holders Scott Farah and Donald Dodge.

Meredith was especially hard hit by a rash of burglaries, as residences, summer homes, and businesses were targeted indiscriminately for electronics and other valuables. Homes on Sachem Cove, Lovejoy Lane, Red Gate Village, Collins Brook Road, and Livingston Road were broken into in December, and items were taken, according to a Meredith Police report.

A burglary in July on Meredith Center Road resulted in the arrest of 18-year-old Steven E. Levasseur, who was charged with the crime.

Significant concerns arose over the health of Lake Waukewan, the town's drinking water supply. A blue-green algae bloom found near the docks tested positive for cyanobacteria, resulting the closure of beaches for a period of time.

Local discussions increasingly centered on the lake level, with many residents concerned the lake was too high. After public meetings with state officials, Rusty McLear, principal of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings and owner of the Waukewan Dam, sent a letter to the towns of Meredith, Center Harbor, and New Hampton notifying them that Lake Waukewan will be drawn down between 12 and 18 inches starting Nov. 3. According to the letter the water will go from its summer level of around 540.5 feet to around 539 to 539.5 feet. Boards would be removed from the dam to let more water flow through.

As a result of lowering Waukewan, Lake Winona will also be lowered as both lakes are connected by the Snake River.

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