Citizens' group hears update from Rep. Dino Scala
Article to harvest timber to pay for rec building plans debated
March 03, 2011WAKEFIELD — Concerned Residents of Wakefield (CROW) continued their monthly meetings Monday night with a report from Wakefield resident and New Hampshire State Rep. Dino Scala on happenings in Concord and a debate on the selectmen's proposal to use timber money to fund a parks and recreation building plan.
Scala, the Republican state representative for the towns of Wakefield, Effingham and Brookfield, told the group, "My party got a tough start but I think we really have found our footing and will keep pressing along despite what the media says." Scala and Rep. Joe Fleck have been regulars at CROW meetings and Board of Selectmen meetings in Wakefield in an attempt to keep the townspeople informed about issues being worked on at the State House.
Scala touched on the progress of several bills that are in various stages of passage, selecting ones he felt most relevant to the people of Wakefield. First off, he said, the repeal of the state's Shoreland Protection Act is likely to pass. While in favor of protecting the shores of water bodies throughout the state, Scala said the goal is to repeal it, dismantle it and rebuild it to something that gives more local control to the towns.
The House has passed a reduction in the state's rooms and meals tax from nine percent to eight percent. But after that passed it was tabled, said Scala. Representatives will wait to see how the rest of the state's revenue comes in since chopping this one percent is $30 million in lost revenue for the state. If the revenue comes in where they think it will, said Scala, the reduction will move forward to the Senate for passage.
The Evergreen Bill, which Scala said "took the teeth away from school boards," has been repealed by the House but representatives are expecting a fight from the governor. The bill was signed into law just a couple of years ago and guarantees municipal and public school employees salary step increases if their contracts lapse because of failed negotiations.
The Right to Work Act, said Scala, will make New Hampshire the only state in New England where employees have a right to choose whether or not to be in the union at a workplace that has a union. One goal of this act, said Scala, is to encourage businesses to locate to the state. "Expect a fight from the governor. Expect to see rallies at the state house as this bill moves forward," said Scala.
Scala, along with 212 other representatives, voted not to repeal the law requiring all towns to offer kindergarten. Supporters of the repeal wanted towns to be able to decide for themselves whether or not to offer and fund kindergarten. 'Right now every town in the state has kindergarten," said Scala. It would be a step backward to remove it and would not be fair to the kids, he added.
As of July 1, car registrations will cost $30 less as a special fee is set to "sunset" on that day. Opponents of dropping the fee argued that it will mean a huge loss in revenue for the state but, Scala said, "What good does it do to have a sunset clause if it never sunsets?"
Scala applauded the work of Senator Jeb Bradley who is currently working as part of the group charged with sorting out ten bills that deal with pension reform and reworking of the state's retirement system which, according to Scala, is $4.2 billion in the hole. Scala said there is no doubt that reform needs to happen but he does not favor any of the bills that affect workers already in the system or those that have already retired.
Scala said the Republican plan balances the $880 million budget deficit by not over-projecting revenue and making cuts across all departments and not shifting the costs to the towns – also called downshifting. "Our goal is to do no more harm," he said.
Parks and Rec debate
In the days leading up to the ballot vote on the town's warrant, the issue of whether or not to harvest timber and use the proceeds for recreation department plans has been much debated. At Monday's CROW meeting, members staged a mini-debate to argue both sides of the issue.
With the passage of Article 31, selectmen plan to have timber harvested on the town's ballfield property and with the income from that develop plans for a recreation building on the site.
On the side of those in favor, David Mankus said voters shouldn't focus on what the building project might cost later down the line but rather support the article as a way to have a written plan developed. But if voters wish to think of the future possibilities, he said, the building would be a place where everyone in the town could gather for recreation opportunities and meeting space year-round, such a location that is not available now.
"The only reason for government is to do the things we can't do for ourselves," said Mankus. He added that unlike larger cities, Wakefield's size limits the ability to go after corporate funding for projects such as this and recreation is something the town should provide to help strengthen the community. Even taxpayers that wouldn't participate in its use should support it, but like they should support education, he said. "Our society has accepted the concept that to educate your children I am going to benefit from that in the long run. I pay for the fire department even if I don't have a fire. There are some things you just have to do," he said.
Jerry O'Connor took the other side of the argument. He cited a list of unfinished projects in the town and said now is not the time for the town to take on something new. He listed three bridges in serious disrepair, the unusable second floor of the resource center, an unfinished opera house and the unfinished upstairs of the town's public safety building.
With the economy the way it is it doesn't make sense to invest in the planning, said O'Connor and pointed out it is a split issue that barely passed the budget committee on a vote of 5-4. "I think we have to be very careful about what type of entitlement programs we create. People don't volunteer their money – they are taxed under threat of losing their property or going to jail…it is not the taxpayers' responsibility to entertain people," said O'Connor.
One audience member who spoke against the article pointed out they already pay enough in taxes and don't need anymore. Another said the money would be better spent creating a trade school where young people can be trained in real job skills "instead of playing basketball or ping pong."
Scala praised the work of selectmen on this article for taking the time to plan this project instead of just throwing together a building proposal for a vote as was attempted the first time the new public safety building was presented.
O'Connor questioned why the selectmen spent $8,500 to have the land surveyed last month since a survey is not necessary to complete the logging operation. He also questioned whether there is even enough $20,000 in timber on the property.
Relf Fogg said he felt the $20,000 for plans was too expensive and that there are a lot of talented people in Wakefield who could come together and create a less expensive plan.
Voters will now decide which side of the argument they support when they go to the polls March 8.
Town reports are now available at the town office as well as absentee ballots for those who will be unable to vote next Tuesday, March 8.