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Code enforcement policy discussed by Wolfeboro selectmen

Board reviews nonprofit funding requests and building evaluations

September 23, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Following their decision on Sept. 15 to extended the moratorium on enforcement of the town's sign ordinance to Feb. 28. (see separate story on this page), Wolfeboro selectmen discussed the larger issue of code enforcement policy.

During the controversy that led up to the sign ordinance enforcement moratorium, the town was accused of selective enforcement and this newspaper reported at least 21 other apparent violations that were not subject to enforcement.

Town Planner Rob Housemen, who supervises Code Enforcement Officer Audrey Cline, began by pointing out that zoning is locally developed and is not a broadly-adopted standard like building and fire codes, and in the case of signs, there is an enforcement distinction made between free-standing A-frame signs that are in front of a business and those that are off-premises, especially if there is a safety issue.

Houseman said that people should know that "staff does not get in a car and go looking for violations. Ninety-eight percent of all actions start with a complaint." He presented a list for board review and approval of five priorities in code enforcement:

1. "Violations that poses immediate danger to the public health, safety, environment and general welfare of the community."

2. "Violations related to development projects that are in the construction phase."

3. "Reactive or complaint-based enforcement."

4. "Anonymous complaints not posing an immediate threat to public health, safety, environment and welfare of the community."

5. "Complaints associated with neighbor and/or civil disputes shall receive the lowest priority."

Houseman added that "habitual offenders get a firmer approach than others…Our goal is compliance." He said that the town hasn't collected a fine yet.

Selectman Marge Webster said that complaints only come to the attention of the board of selectmen when people are upset. Her main concern was the common sense be used in enforcement.

Selectman Dave Senecal, who is the Code Enforcement Officer for the town of Ossipee, said he feels all complaints should be written complaints. "If people are not willing to put a complaint in writing then it's not worth pursuing." He said he doesn't deal with anonymous complaints in Ossipee. With a written complaint, if the alleged violator asks who complained, then you can tell them. "Otherwise you are running out in the field putting out brush fires."

Selectmen Webster and Chuck Storm both agreed complaints should be in writing, Storm said putting it in writing "crystallizes" a complaint.

Town Manager Dave Owen interjected that in his experience, requiring written complaints is standard procedure, but said he is concerned that cutting off anonymous complaints could prevent timely action on a serious problem.

Resident Lou Siracusa said he was a retired policeman and that a "common sense" factor is needed. "If it sounds serious, it should be investigated."

Selectman Sarah Silk pointed out that the town has "an older demographic" and that "older people may be afraid to give their name" for fear of retaliation.

In the end the board approved the priorities with one small change: the word "not" was removed from the fourth priority in recognition of the need for common sense in handling anonymous complaints.

Nonprofit budget requests

As part of the budgeting process for 2011, selectmen reviewed funding requests from nonprofit agencies providing services to Wolfeboro residents. Of the 15 agencies submitting requests, six asked for increases and two were requesting funds from Wolfeboro for the fist time. The total increase in requests was $22,902, up 26.5 percent over 2010. Adjusting out the two new requests, which totaled $7,500, the increase requested by existing agencies was $15,402, up 17.8 percent from the $86,399 in the budget for 2010.

The main reason for all of the increase requests was greater demand for services by Wolfeboro residents. Four of the six existing agencies asking for more cited the decision to discontinue a meals plan at The Ledges, a nonprofit senior living facility that offered a breakfast and lunch service to residents for a monthly payment. Meals on Wheels reported it is now serving meals to 14 residents of The Ledges, Caregivers of Southern Carroll County and Vicinity reported more requests to be transported to meals, and L.I.F.E. Minitries Food Pantry reported more Ledges people at the pantry (though overall demand for food is up, due to the economy). Rev. Randy Dales, whose All Saints Church is fiscal agent for both the weekly Dinner Bell and the three-times-a-week Senior Meals is expecting to serve 40 meals per session, based on current turnouts.

The two new agencies requesting assistance were CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children), which is asking for $500 and LifeBridge, a faith-based agency that intervenes with troubled teens, which is asking for $7,000.

Selectmen reviewed all of the requests and asked some agencies for missing documentation. What actually is budgeted is decided later in the budget process by selectmen working with the town's budget committee. The budget review process formally begins next month.

Other business

Public Works Director Dave Ford presented selectmen with final reports and cost estimates on the five town-owned facilities evaluated by Bergeron Technical Services of North Conway. The total estimate for correcting all of the problems identified is $1,351,812. Ford pointed out that not all of the repairs and upgrades would be done through the Capital Improvement process – many have already been corrected using funds from the current operating budget and can be handled in future operating budgets – and said that the biggest single item, the repair of structural problems in the apparatus bays of the Public Safety Building for $466,764, may in the end be put aside in favor of building a new structure. The key point, Ford emphasized, was that the town now has a detailed evaluation of all of its facilities and specific estimates to work with for planning purposes.

Ford also presented a report on the status of 2010 road improvement projects and proposed improvements for 2011. This will be reported next week.

Sand infiltration into 19 Mile Brook was observed recently and sand screens are being installed in two spots, one in Wolfeboro and one in Tuftonboro. This development has been reported to the Department of Environmental Services and the town of Tuftonboro. Ford pointed out that the town is still in compliance with its permit and the situation is under control.

The Friends of Abenaki withdrew a proposal for installing intakes and pumps for snowmaking this winter in favor of exploring combining their project with the town's plan to add sprinklers to the Pop Whalen Ice Arena, which could potentially share a major part of the pumps and pipes.

The board reviewed a favorable 2009 audit report with the town's outside auditors, Vachon Kulkay. Selectman were assured that the town's current 10 percent reserve is appropriate and within the state range of 10 to 17 percent. The auditor did point out that it is reporting for the first time under new rules $2 million in unfunded liability for future health insurance costs.

The next regular meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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