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Joyce Endee

Progress slow on Ossipee fire department survey

May 26, 2011
OSSIPEE — Monday night, four of the 19 people in attendance raised their hand in favor of legislative action to put the question of consolidating Ossipee three fire precincts on the March 2012 meeting ballot.

The rest of the group at the public meeting would rather wait to hear the results of a town wide survey set to be mailed later this year.

The town's attorney, Richard Sager, attended the selectmen's work session to explain the process for consolidating the three precincts. The audience consisted of a few members of the public, eight of the town's nine fire commissioners and its three fire chiefs.

In the first option, voters would be asked to vote whether or not they are in favor of a townwide fire department at their individual precinct meetings. If two-thirds of the precincts' registered voters voted in favor of abolishing their precinct, the article would pass. If only one or two of the three precincts voted to abolish their own district, a townwide fire department could not be created.

The other option involves state legislation. A state representative would have to introduce a bill to be voted on by the NH House of Representatives to allow Ossipee selectmen to put an article on the ballot vote in March. Ballot votes are typically reserved for elections and zoning changes so the town would need special permission to have this vote on the election ballot.

Sager explained that the legislature would also set the language for the ballot wording. They would decide, with input from selectmen, whether it needs a simple majority of Ossipee voters in favor or a two-thirds majority. They would also decide if the newly formed fire department would be one precinct or if it would be run by selectmen. They could also decide how the assets of the three precincts will be divided and how a combined fire department would be funded.

Selectman and NH State Representative Harry Merrow said, in the past, the filing period for bills to be presented to the state legislature was from September to the end of November. Now, under the current House leadership, that window is soon and shorter, May 25 through June 7 and he asked the crowd if they wanted him to put in a bill now just to get "something" for a vote rather than put it off for another year. He said if a bill is not introduced and passed this year, it will likely be two years before the Ossipee voters will get a chance to vote on the consolidation at a March town meeting. He added that there is no doubt in his mind about whether the bill would pass in the House. "Little things like this, with no money attached, go through all the time," he said.

"Cart before the horse" and "presumptive" were two common phrases used in opposition to Merrow's suggestion. Several spoke against taking anything to the legislature now. At March town meeting, voters approved spending $5,000 to send a survey to all Ossipee voters asking if they are even in favor of merging the departments or are happy with the way things are now.

Ossipee Corner Commissioner George Moynahan was one to speak in favor of sending out the survey first to see what the voters want "rather than jam it down their throats."

Merrow agreed that, based on the input at Monday night's meeting, he will not introduce any legislation this session.

The second half of the meeting was dedicated to what the survey should look like as well how much and what kind of information will be included. While the legal process is clear, the crafting of the survey will prove to be much trickier. Selectmen decided to close the meeting and schedule the next one for July. Between now and then they will get cost estimates for having an outside source write the survey.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Varney Smith
Garnett HIll
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