Wakefield voters to deliberate Saturday night
Selectmen support a lower budget than the Budget Committee
February 03, 2011WAKEFIELD — Saturday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. voters will gather in the Opera House upstairs at Wakefield Town Hall to deliberate and, if they choose, to amend the final 2011 town budget that will be voted on at the polls in March.
Staying conservative again this year, selectmen here have voted not to support the Budget Committee's recommended budget of $3,954,669 because it has add-ons that increase the selectmen's originally proposed budget. Selectmen had been praised previously for presenting the lowest town budget in five years and appear to want to hold on to the distinction.
The Budget Committee final number includes increases to the land use and heritage commission budgets of $12,500, $2,000 extra in the fire and ambulance budget, and $3,500 more for the library. Selectmen Ken Paul and Mark Duffy voted against those increases at their selectmen's meeting last week. Selectman Peter M. Kasprzyk was absent.
The town warrant is posted and in addition to the operating budget, voters get to decide the outcome of 18 zoning ordinance amendments and 11 other money-related articles.
Most of the money articles ask voters to continue putting away money for the future in police cruiser, ambulance, fire truck, bridge construction, invasive species treatment, computer equipment, emergency management, forest fire, highway truck and cemetery maintenance reserve funds.
The subject that seems to be getting the most attention on this year's budget is whether or not to spend timber harvesting money from the town's ballfield property on architectural design and pre-construction services of a new recreation building on the ballfield property. A survey of the property was completed and paid for to the tune of $8,580 and is available at town hall for public view.
Selectmen support moving forward with the design of the new building but the Budget Committee was split on their vote, 5-4.
Dick Wessell, a regular at selectmen's meetings, echoed the concern at last week's selectmen's meeting. Wessell stated that the problem is the way the project has developed. Last year, he said, selectmen supported buying a building to house the recreation department that was being sold at a price much higher than its assessed value. Then selectmen changed their mind and got out of a purchase and sales agreement. Then a building committee was formed and Wessell questions what makes the project so important to push through so quickly. "The Town has bridges that are falling apart and which should be a priority," he said. He referred to other larger towns that have great recreation departments that are run out of an office at town hall and The Nick in Wolfeboro that was developed through private funding instead of tax dollars.
Selectman Duffy stated that sports are necessary and are not supported at Paul School. Current interest rates are very good right now for borrowing funds. He said selectmen are only asking to use the funds from the timber harvest to develop plans. Selectman Paul said that if the warrant article does not pass, it will be an indicator of the feelings for the overall project.
In other town meeting news, voters will be asked to support combining the Town Clerk and Tax Collector positions so that starting in 2012 they can be held by the same person.
The police department is asking voters to spend $2,442 to match a grant that will upgrade the video camera system in the police cruisers.
Selectmen are also asking permission to convey the Union Schoolhouse property at 80 Chapel St. back to the heirs of Arthur Taft. The property was donated to the town in the early 1900s for school purposes but is no longer being used for school purposes.
NH Representatives Joe Fleck and Dino Scala met with selectmen to give an update from the State House of sorts. Scala said there are normally 11,000 to 13,000 bills presented each year but this year there are only about 700.
Scala defended the right for representatives to carry guns in the State House now but also said the media in the southern part of the state is spending too much time on trivial issues instead of focusing on the work that is getting done. He told selectmen that the issue with guns is a rule. By state constitution, a rule for how the state house will run must be established the first day of the new fall session. Scala believes this new rule to be safer for all, as one must have a "carry concealed" permit—no more open carries. He noted there are 16 entrances to that building, and there are no metal detectors. Fleck stressed the need to protect our second amendment right, adding that this rule is a step in the right direction.
Duffy referred to directives started by the state that are passed on to the towns without any actual plan or funding by the state. Fleck and Scala agreed they expect to see major changes in the Shoreland Protection Act, combining of duplicative state agencies and changing education funding.
Duffy asked whether there continues to be discussions regarding gambling. Fleck said the plan is to solve the budget problems first, and then gambling could be considered. However, he added, gambling has not resulted in lower property taxes or lower budgets in those states where it is allowed. "Good fiscal management must come first," said Fleck.
Tammy Webb of the town's auditing firm Vachon Clukay reported that the town has minimal debt, a good investment plan and a healthy fund balance. The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration recommends towns have 10 percent of their total budget in unreserved fund balance to be used in case of emergencies or unanticipated budget overruns. Currently Wakefield's fund balance is at $954,000, which represents close to seven percent. The audit also revealed no significant deficiencies in town bookkeeping procedures or internal controls.
Knotty Pine Grill and Tavern
The new owners of 551 Pine River Pond Road, the former Pine River Steakhouse, asked selectmen for a letter of support so they can obtain a liquor license and have live entertainment. Selectmen support this as long as the police chief and code enforcement officer do as well.