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Wakefield Selectmen hear appeal from food pantry

Tax rate set at $11.69 per thousand, up $1.04 from 2009

WAKEFIELD SELECTMEN Ken Paul, Mark Duffy, and Peter Kasprzyk (left) listen to Wakefield Food Pantry President Janet Miller and Vice-President David Schweitzer present their case in opposition to the selectmen’s request that the food pantry find a new home. (Mellisa Ferland Photo) (click for larger version)
November 18, 2010
WAKEFIELD — A single email sparked alarm among those who run the town's food pantry and about two dozen of them showed at the Wakefield selectmen's meeting asking for more time. The meeting ended with the selectmen neither granting nor denying their request.

The email, sent from the selectmen's office, directed the non-profit Wakefield Food Pantry to vacate their current location at the Wakefield Parks and Recreation building by Jan. 1, 2011. Selectmen are suggesting that the group relocate to the town-owned Greater Wakefield Area Resource Center in the Union section of town.

"Our board is opposed to going to the resource center," said President Janet Miller. "Our first choice is staying where we are. Our second choice is to build a new building,"

The parks and recreation department, a town department, has shared the space with the pantry for 10 years. Until recently, the town's welfare office was also located in the same building on Meadow Street. The food pantry is not operated by the town and is registered as a charity and registered federally as a non-profit. The pantry does not pay rent or any utilities to the town.

In recent weeks selectmen, with help from the town's recreation director, have been trying to work out space needs for that department. The town's welfare office has been moved to the town hall building. Additionally, a committee has been formed and is seeking more members to help design a new recreation building at the town's ball fields.

"Why can't we continue to co-exist?" asked Miller. She and other members of the pantry group cited several reasons why the resource building in Union is not the best place for the pantry. According to statistics presented by the group, the majority of those served by the pantry live in the Sanbornville area north, so moving it south to Union would make it more difficult for people to get to. Additionally, the pantry board estimates the cost of moving and installing their large freezers at $2,500. They also asked selectmen to consider that the pantry is moving into its busiest season with more people relying on the pantry for food in winter months and the annual distribution of Thanksgiving meal baskets.

Father Edmund Babicz of St. Anthony's Catholic Church took command of the floor of the meeting to speak in support of the pantry and even admonished selectmen when they tried to interject comments during his speech.

"I have been the pastor here for over 20 years and I remember when the food pantry was a little closet. The town should be proud of what is done. There is moral, ethical obligation to take care of particular needs. The moral ethical need is to provide food and other amenities to those people in this community and Brookfield…. you are taking food out of the mouths of people. What is more important – providing fun and games for the kids or feeding the poor?" he asked.

"Nobody is trying to hurt anybody or displace anybody….we are trying to find a solution to take care of the food pantry and to take care of the parks and rec. I advocate the resource center because I believe the town needs to take more interest in that building," said Selectman Peter Kasprzyk.

"We found a good solution when we moved the food pantry last time and we will again," added Selectman Mark Duffy.

According to the town's Web site, the pantry is open to Wakefield and Brookfield residents on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon and from 5 to 7 p.m.

According to Miller, the pantry board is also looking to construct their own building and want selectmen to consider giving them a piece of the town-owned property near the transfer station. If that plan moves forward, the pantry board will be asking voters for a $30,000 initial investment and $6,000 to $8,000 annually for utility costs. To complete the building project, Miller said, they have matching foundation grant money, some money saved, and will conduct fundraising activities for the first time in pantry history.

"I think we can collaborate and make this work and do it efficiently," said pantry vice-president David Schweitzer.

Selectmen have taken all comments under consideration and made no decision during the meeting.

Setting the tax rate

Based on the revised property assessments, the overall value of Wakefield property went down $4 million. Selectmen announced the new property tax rate of $11.69 per thousand assessed valuation, which is up $1.04 over last year. Of that, $2.76 is town tax, $1.09 county, $5.33 local school and $2.50 state school. Town Administrator Teresa Williams said the town has a surplus fund balance of $946,000 but $874,150 of that is unpaid property taxes. NH Department of Revenue recommends that towns maintain 10 percent of their annual operating budget in reserve to be tapped into in case of emergencies. Due to the unpaid property taxes, Wakefield's fund balance is only about $70,000 while it is recommended to be $426,566.

Shopping Bus

Dianne Smith of Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast transportation (COAST) said her organization has received a grant and has developed a new pilot project next spring. The plan is to have a mini-bus with volunteer drivers take elderly and disabled people to Rochester for shopping. Seats will also be available for the general public if space allows. Anyone interested in being a volunteer driver is asked to contact the town office or COAST at 743-5777. Training will be provided and volunteers do not have to have a commercial driver's license.

River Clean Up

Linda Schier of Action Wakefield Watershed Alliance (AWWA) gave an update to selectmen regarding water quality monitoring, erosion control and other activities the group has participated in this year. More information about the group's activities can be found at their Web site, www.AWwatersheds.org. Additionally, Schier was given permission for the group to use the town's transfer station and the fees are waived for the DrewMill Pond clean-up the group will be organizing.

Martin Lord & Osman
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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