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Selectmen explain articles on Barnstead's Warrant

February 16, 2010
BARNSTEAD — With selectmen pinning their hopes for a peaceful resolution to issues surrounding the fiscal management of the fire department on the passage of their final agreement with Barnstead Fire-Rescue, Inc. (BFRInc.) at next month's Town Meeting, the board asked to discuss the details of the proposed agreement with The Baysider during its Feb. 9 meeting.

Selectman Gordon Preston explained that the board wanted to put a stop to negative rumors about the agreement by giving voters a clear idea of "why we've arrived at where we are" through negotiations with BFRInc.'s leadership.

Article 4 on the 2010 town Warrant asks voters to approve the terms of the agreement between the selectmen and BFRInc., and to raise and appropriate a total of $104,172 for the purpose of paying off BFRInc.'s mortgage on the Parade Road fire station, with $64,172 to be withdrawn from the town's undesignated fund balance and the remaining $40,000 to be raised through taxation.

Board Vice Chair Jim Barnard explained that the $40,000 the selectmen are asking for would have an estimated impact, for one year only, of roughly eight cents on the tax bill for a $200,000 home — a figure that Chairman Dave Kerr said was a far cry from the cost of continuing to pay for the mortgage through the town's annual appropriation to BFRInc. at a rate of $15,000 a year.

If voters approve the terms of the agreement, BFRInc. (which was created in the mid-1990s as a non-profit entity charged with managing the fire department's finances and the maintenance of some of its equipment) will dissolve at midnight on March 31 and re-organize as something akin to a firemen's association under the provisions of RSA 154:1-b.

Following the dissolution of BFRInc., both the Parade Road and Center Barnstead fire stations (which the organization currently owns) would fall under town control, along with any BFRInc.-owned equipment that the selectmen and fire chief decide should remain at the fire department's disposal.

The agreement also stipulates that both fire stations must be used as such by the town until a new station is built, at which time they may be used for any other purpose the selectmen deem to be in the best interest of local taxpayers.

The organization taking the place of BFRInc. would have the right use the Parade Road station for meetings and other social events, provided it receives approval from the fire chief.

When any apparatus formerly owned by BFRInc. is deemed by the fire chief to no longer be serviceable or is replaced by a new piece of equipment purchased by the town, the town will be required to offer that apparatus back to BFRInc.'s successor.

The selectmen have also agreed to maintain the fire department's Web site and provide an awards program for retiring fire-rescue personnel, the scope of which is to be developed by a committee of five people deemed mutually acceptable to BFRInc. and the board of selectmen.

Any time the selectmen set out to hire a new fire chief, representatives of BFRInc.'s successor would have to be involved throughout the hiring process.

The final provision of the agreement (which was signed by all four current selectmen and BFRInc. President Nick Rott on Jan. 12) states that the selectmen must pay BFRInc. 25 percent of its annual appropriation, in order to cover the organization's expenses during the first quarter of 2010, before it dissolves on March 31.

According to Preston, passage of the agreement would also enable the board to improve accommodations for the fire department's full-time staff by renovating the Center Barnstead station, which the selectmen cannot touch at the present time because the state Department of Revenue Administration has forbidden them from putting taxpayers' money into a building the town doesn't own.

Another key component in the transition to a municipally managed fire department will be the hiring of the town's first full-time fire chief — a position that voters approved at last year's Town Meeting, and which the board included in the town's 2010 operating budget (a line-by-line copy of which will be distributed to voters at next month's Town Meeting in the form of a handout).

Barnard explained that the search committee created last year to begin the hunt for a full-time chief received a total of 14 applications, and is now in the process of whittling that list down to the five most promising candidates.

The top three finalists, he said, will then be presented to the board, which will make the final decision.

Preston said this will be the first time the town has had a "working chief" capable of devoting a full 40-hour workweek to the position and providing the department with a strong command presence.

Barnard agreed, adding that a full-time chief would be able to offer the town a "more active presence" than one serving in a part-time capacity.

Selectman Andy Houle stressed that the hiring of a full-time chief was proposed as a way to move forward, and is in no way a reflection on the performance of current Chief George "Rusty" Krause, who he said has "done one hell of a job" and "deserves a medal."

With this year's operating budget level-funded save for non-discretionary items like health insurance, the board felt that the time was right to build up several existing capital reserve funds (such as the Bridge Reconstruction, Fire Truck, and Town Hall Computer Support funds) that fell by the wayside last year due to concerns about the deepening recession.

This year's Warrant will also feature a request for $30,036 in support of hazard mitigation projects on Holmes Road, Province Road, and Parade Road that resulted from past flood damage, and for which the town will receive 75 percent in reimbursement from FEMA.

The requested appropriation, Preston said, represents the town's portion of 25 percent.

Next meeting

The board normally meets every Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in its office at Town Hall.

Its next meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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