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No water or sewer rate increases planned for 2011

August 11, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Public Works Director Dave Ford reviewed the results of a water and sewer rate study with selectmen at their Aug. 4 meeting. Despite projecting losses until 2012, he proposed to limit rate increases to every other year through 2018.

The town contracted with Weston and Sampson of Portsmouth to do a water and sewer rate study covering the years from 2009 through 2019 and based on actual revenue and expenses for 2009 and 2010 with projections for the remaining years.

According to the data released July 27 and presented at the Aug. 4 meeting, 2010 water revenues are 9.6 percent above 2009 and sewer revenues are 13 percent higher. Gallons used were only up slightly, which Ford attributed to a drier spring and early summer than last year and somewhat higher use.

The water and sewer projections presented assumed an eight percent rate increase for both services every other year. An eight percent rate increase was implemented in 2010, with additional increases to follow every two years, in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018.

The projections also include the assumptions that operating costs will increase two percent a year (with exceptions noted shortly) and capital projects for the water system totally $600,000 in 2010, $400,000 in 2011 and $1,100,000 in water main construction projects in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The cost of water projects is paid for through water rates, but sewer construction cost are paid through general tax revenues due to the low number of users. Operating expenses for the sewer system are projected to drop four percent in 2013 when the town takes over the operation from current contractors Woodard and Curran.

The projected net result of these assumptions is that current operating losses will be reversed in 2012 and cumulative operating losses will be paid back in 2013. The water department had a net loss of $46,745 in 2009 and is projected to lose $8,372 in 2010 and $62,698 in 2012. The sewer department had a net loss in 2009 of $45,097 and is projected to lose $28,690 in 2010 and 2011. These operating losses are paid for from enterprise fund reserves.

Ford pointed out that the only significant area of revenue shortfall in water rates was in hydrant fees, which are fees assessed by the town against itself to maintain hydrants throughout the town. The board of selectmen had voted to make those fees pay for 20 percent of the operating budget, but had only budgeted them at 15.5 percent in 2009 and 17.5 percent in 2010. Ford's projections assume that the 20 percent goal would be met by 2013; if not, revenues would drop about $55,000 a year.

Selectmen thanked Ford for the analysis and recommendation. A decision to implement the proposed increases will be made by selectmen each year during the budget preparation process.

Property valuations

Owen reported that the revaluation had been completed and that new property values would be sent out to property owners beginning Aug. 5. Hearings to question or challenge the valuations will be held on Aug. 18, 19 and 20. On being questioned, Owen said he would check to see if people can schedule meetings on different dates.

He also pointed out that the five-year revaluation process has now been completed and asked the board if it wanted to go out for bids on the next five-year cycle, or negotiate a new contract with Cross Country Appraisal.

Murray said she was in favor of going out to bid. Silk reminded board members that the last time the contract went out the town was "just on the threshold" of justifying having a full-time assessor as a town employee, rather than contracting out all of the work. Owen said he would update the analysis done at that time.

Code enforcement

Town Manager Dave Owen reported that Downtown Market Grille has removed the sign that was in violation of the sign ordinance (reported last week) and therefore the town has withdrawn its suit (see the related story on page A3).

Selectman Sarah Silk referred to a recent memo prepared by the planning department that provided a breakdown of the 123 notices of sign violations sent out from 2006 to the present. The unsigned memo showed that 42 notices were sent in 2006; 34 were sent in 2007; 20 were sent in 2008; 17 were sent in 2009 and 10 were sent to date in 2010: the numbers do not include the enforcement with Downtown Market Grille.

The higher numbers in earlier years came from citations under the category "Off-Premises (Real Estate)": 20 in 2006 and 16 in 2007, but only two in 2008 and one each in 2009 and 2010.The "Off-Premises (Retail) category, into which the Downtown Market Grille belongs, hit a high of seven citations in 2008 and has tapered down to two a year in 2009 and 2010.

An attached list of 59 businesses bore the introductory comment: "As to equal enforcement across the board, after compiling this list I believe that instead of asking 'who else has gotten a letter' the question should be 'who hasn't gotten a letter,' as the list reads like a Who's Who of Wolfeboro."

Selectman Chair Linda Murray said she feels that there should be uniform enforcement of sign violations. She also pointed out that while the board of selectmen is responsible for enforcing zoning ordinances through the Code Enforcement Officer, it does not make or change them: that is the work of the planning board, which will meet next on Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. If people object to the sign ordinance, they should make their views known to the planning board.

Owen said that Code Enforcement Officer Audrey Cline "seeks voluntary compliance and is not prone to issue written citations or to go to court." He used the analogy of being pulled over by a state trooper for speeding: the trooper is not going to excuse you because others were speeding too.

Other business

Owen reported that if will not be necessary to hold another special meeting Aug. 11 on building permits for the Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to the Pop Whalen Ice Arena and Public Safety Building. The board had held a special session on July 28 to find out why Cline had refused to issue the permits. Owen said that the fire code variances needed had been granted for one year and the permits have been issued.

Silk complained that Metrocast had cut off service to the library recently and asked why they did that, since their contract called for providing free service to town locations. Owen responded that not all locations were listed when the contract was drawn, so Metrocast considers any additions as new hookups. He said that representatives of Metrocast will be at the selectmen's Sept. 1 meeting, along with the town's Cable Advisory Committee, to discuss contract renewal. Murray pointed out that in the contract Metrocast promised to connect all houses in Wolfeboro but had a density requirement that was not disclosed.

Selectmen scheduled their 2011 budget workshops. They will begin Oct.13 at 6:30 p.m. and continue at 3 p.m. on Oct. 14, and at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21 and on Oct. 25-28 as needed.

The board appointed Ford to the Steering Committee of the newly-reactivated Lakes Region Scenic Byways Committee.

On the recommendation of the planning board, selectmen voted to release the property at 579 Stoneham Road owned by Christopher and Kristi Ginter from a Notice of Deficiency recorded by the Wolfeboro Historic District Commission (HDC) on March 31, 2009. The HDC was abolished by voters last March and the Ginters have complied with a court order regarding the items that led to the notice in order to sell their house.

The board set a special meeting date of Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. for a non-public session to evaluate Owen. Murray will send an evaluation form by e-mail to board members.

Selectman Chuck Storm reported that the planning board had issued what he called a "drop dead" notice to the owner to complete cleaning up the former GreatWaters Bank site at the corner or Pine and Center Streets by Wednesday, Aug. 11, or the planning board would pull the bond and have the work done. Owner Paul Zimmerman responded to this reporter that their had been an offer on the lot and that the cleanup will be completed before Wednesday.

Storm also reported that the planning board could not agree on a basis for imposing impact fees on new construction and will continue the discussion at a later meeting. The disagreement centers on whether to use a structure basis, as recommended, or assess fees by the square foot. The argument is that higher fees would be collected on single-family homes larger than 1,800 square feet.

The board approved temporary event permit for the Wolfeboro 250th Committee to hold a colonial encampment on Brewster Field Aug. 20-22. Murray urged residents to join the Wolfe Hunt sponsored by the committee and held up a copy of the just-published commemorative book, which she said is available for sale at the town offices and other locations downtown.

Silk reminded residents that the next Household Hazardous Waste Collection will be on Aug. 21 from 8:30 a.m. to noon and will include a medicine collection.

The next meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the library meeting room.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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