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Budget, streetlights on agenda in Bristol

November 23, 2010
BRISTOL— The Bristol Board of Selectmen responded to residents' requests for reassurance on the budget and a revisiting of the new street light scheme, among other items of business, at the last regularly scheduled board meeting last week.

Newly appointed board Chair Jeff Shackett, fresh from his first day as a newly elected legislator in the New Hampshire House of Representatives in Concord, presided over the meeting that included consideration of the upcoming budget process.

Shackett is also the board representative to the Bristol Budget Committee, which has been meeting regularly on Monday evenings for a number of weeks.

Town department heads have already appeared before the budget committee to present budget requests for the next fiscal year, and deliberations are already well underway.

The select board will delve into the budget in detail at an upcoming workshop in the weeks ahead, when they will have ample opportunity discuss the details after they have studied the budget thoroughly and have a chance to devote an entire meeting to the issues in the upcoming year.

However, a serious and constructive tone for the upcoming budget deliberations was set by Shackett and the other board members as they responded to comments by resident Mike Bannan, who also recently appeared before the Budget Committee with his concerns.

Bannan said that he was "very upset" to have recently received his tax bill, with a 27 percent increase in the town portion of his taxes. He asked why the board had not decided to take money out of reserves to soften the tax impact of the serious revenue shortfall the town is experiencing this year.

Selectman Joe Denning explained that the undesignated fund balance has fallen below desirable levels, and that it is a goal of the board to gradually increase the balance to more acceptable levels.

Board member Don Milbrand pointed out that last year's tax rate had dropped sharply due to a revenue error at tax setting last year, making the increase appear much larger than it should be, but all board members agreed that the tax rate increase was serious and painful.

Bannan said he understood that the town had begun with an artificially low tax rate because of the error last year, but he still felt that in this difficult economy, steps must be taken to alleviate the burden on the average citizen until the economic recovery has taken hold.

The board members agreed that the situation was serious and difficult, but board member Phil Dion assured Bannan that major strides have been made on improving accounting procedures so that the board and budget committee have all the accurate information they need to make good decisions as the process unfolds this year. He and his fellow board members all said that they had great confidence that new Town Administrator Michael Capone has gotten a good handle on financial issues.

Shackett indicated that the budget committee intends to work very closely with department heads this year so that whatever cuts are made will reflect their expertise and guidance throughout the process.

"We expect to have our emergency personnel back in to meet with us in January if cuts are to made, and it looks like that is where we are headed," said Shackett. "We want to keep the lines of communication open and work on the budget together this year."

In other business, the board considered a petition from Castle Lane residents, and from a number of other residents, for a chance to revisit the new street light scheme in town. New energy efficient streetlights have been installed, and some streetlights, considered redundant or unnecessary, have been eliminated in the interest of economy.

While numerous public hearings were held on the project before implementing the new streetlight scheme, board members acknowledged that some residents may not have been fully aware of the changes and how they would impact their neighborhoods. Now that all the changes have been fully implemented, and the darkness of winter has set in, it is more obvious what the impact of the new scheme will be.

"Obviously, we want to make sure people feel safe, and if they do not feel safe, we will need to do something," said Shackett. "We want people to know that we are listening."

The board will hold one more public hearing on the streetlight scheme some time in December, at a time to be determined, in order to allow residents to have their concerns addressed. The hope is that if the town needs to get Public Service of New Hampshire back to make revisions to the streetlight scheme, all changes can be completed with one last visit.

The board also met briefly with New Hampton Town Administrator Barbara Lucas to discuss the certificate of completion and the closeout on the Central Street Bridge project. Now that the project has reached its conclusion, board members expressed great satisfaction with the overall design and construction.

Denning took the occasion to publicly thank Lucas for all the administrative "heavy lifting" on the long and complex construction project.

"I think many of us worked on this," said Lucas. "Both towns worked cooperative on this project, and worked very well together. We did a great job."

The board also accepted a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Southern New Hampshire Services for the Riverview Elderly Housing complex on Lake Street. Riverview is paying an amount of $5,300, or a percentage of total rental income from the senior apartments for the fiscal year ending June 30, in consideration of a long-standing agreement that was reached even before construction began on the housing development.

Martin Lord Osman
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