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Good turnout for Tamworth candidates' night

March 04, 2010
TAMWORTH – More than 100 Tamworth residents turned out for the town's candidates' night Monday evening, and for the most part quietly listened while the candidates answered questions that were submitted beforehand to Moderator George Cleveland. The only brief interruption was scattered applause when one candidate made a negative remark about zoning.

Zoning and taxes were at the top of the list. Tamworth is one of the few towns in the state that doesn't have zoning, relying instead on state regulations and several local ordinances.

When asked where by Cleveland where they stood, for or against zoning, planning board candidate Sandra Flanagan answered she was not in favor of zoning the way most people think of it. "I don't think everybody in town is totally satisfied," she said of the direction drawn from the town's master plan. The Tamworth Planning Board has a subcommittee looking into land use regulations.

Steve Gray, who faces Flanagan in the race for the open two-year seat, said he wants to learn more from the committee, and that he had been neutral, but thought things like impact fees for subdivisions might be the way to go.

"I think there's a lot of paranoia about the 'z' word in town," Fred "Skip" Nason said. He said the town needs a strategic plan, which would still be subject to a town vote. Mason hopes to fill one of the two three-year vacancies on the board.

David Gaudet, running for a three-year seat, was clear in his answer. "I'd have to say I'm against zoning," he said, adding, "The voice of the people said no."

Rebecca Boyden, also running for a three-year term, said established guidelines are helpful for people looking to invest in property in the town, so that they can be aware of the types of development that could happen on the properties that surround them. "And yes, I support zoning." A fourth candidate, David Goodsen, was not at the candidates' forum.

It's a two-way race for the vacancy on the board of selectmen between Bob Abraham and Patricia Farley, and they were asked where they stood on the municipal budget. Farley said she would work with the school board to reduce the property tax burden, since the Tamworth School District's budget is greater than the town's. All parties, she said, need to get together to find answers.

"I won't want to step in the school board's toes," Abraham answered. As to keeping municipal expenses down, he said, "I think we need a long term plan to spread out expenses over time."

In the answer to a later question, Farley, who chairs the planning board's economic development subcommittee, said the town needs to expand its business base by providing the tools for businesses to grow. Key among those tools is broadband, which is not widely available in the town. That service, she indicated is as essential today as electricity and telephones. The economic development committee, she said, has applied for grants to expand broadband in the town. She said she knows of a company that would employ 20 people at good wages that would come to town if there were high-speed internet access.

Abraham said the way to get more broadband, which he says he has at his house since he gets a signal from an abutting town, is remove the cell tower ordinances. He opposes zoning, sees the three biggest challenges as high taxes, land use regulations and the decline of businesses and jobs in the town. "We have a very difficult job in front of us," he said. He thinks giving new business property tax breaks for five years might help economic development.

By the time they are elected, the school budget will be set for the coming year. The Tamworth School District meeting was Wednesday night, after press time, so school board candidates, Charlie Pugh, Norma Johnson and Marie Labrie did not know the figures they might have to work with. There are two three-year seats open ion the school board. They were still questioned as to how they would do to reign in school costs, considering the average class size is 11.8 at the KA Brett School.

In an attempt to reign in budget increases, the school board has proposed reductions in certain programs that are not as crucial the school's core mission. Costs per pupil in the last several years have risen dramatically, as the school's population has shrunk and the fixed costs are spread among fewer students.

Candidate Labrie said, "I was disappointed with the school board's proposal. Having said that, I know that they worked really, really hard." Labrie said many factors go into the classroom costs, such as some children needing more individualized attention.

"You can't dramatically change when a class starts to shrink," Pugh said. With about 23 in each grade splitting the grade into two classes is the only option. "It's a choice that we have."

"It's not the program we have to preserve, it's what happens to the kids in those programs," he commented.

"We can have the cuts," Norma Johnson said, "and I believe we can still have a good education."

The evening ended after two hours, with many submitted questions left unanswered. Cleveland suggested residents approach the candidates directly after the forum to see where they stand on topics not covered.

He also reminded everyone that the town meeting is 7 p.m. next Wednesday, March 10 at the school.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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