Board asked to fire police officer, create panel to sell Brewster Hall
Selectmen deny abatement for late veteran's exemption
July 14, 2011WOLFEBORO — Philip Bosch, a veteran who was denied a veteran's exemption on his 2011 taxes, appealed his case to the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen at their July 6 meeting.
Bosch said he is asking for a $500 abatement, the value of a veteran's exemption, because he was not aware of the need to file an exemption form until it was too late.
He said that on Jan. 27, before the Jan. 28 purchase of his property in Wolfeboro he went to Town Hall to change the electricity billing to himself and to ask what else needed to be done as a new town resident. He said he was directed to the Town Clerk's office where he was assisted in applying for a veteran's license plate and getting a dog license and a dump sticker. He said no one suggested he go to the assessor's office about a veteran's exemption and he did not think about it himself until he received his first property tax bill.
A visit to the assessor's office revealed that because he had not filed form PA-29 before April 15, he was not eligible to receive a veteran's exemption in 2011 but could apply for 2012 and thereafter. He said he was also advised to call the Department of Revenue Administration and a man named Chuck Reese advised him he could apply to the Board of Selectmen for an abatement equal to the veteran's credit.
Bosch said he had had veteran's exemptions in the three other towns where he has lived (Kensington, Lee and Campton) and does not remember being asked to fill out a form. The form says it is for a "permanent" exemption, so he wondered why he would need to file it more than once.
Town Manager Dave Owen requested an opinion from Town Counsel Mark Puffer. Puffer responded that the board could grant a credit against the 2011 taxes after the final rate was set in the fall, provided the applicant could convince selectmen that his failure to file before April 15 was that he was "prevented by accident, mistake, or misfortune from filing." Since Bosch had received veterans' tax credits in other towns Puffer's opinion was that it would be difficult to argue that the process of filing was beyond his control or something that a reasonably prudent person would not be expected to do. Puffer added, "I do not believe it is the duty of Town employees to inform or remind taxpayers of filing deadlines."
Puffer then cited a case where he had represented the Boy Scouts of America and they had failed to file a charitable tax exemption on time because a new director was unaware of the requirement. Superior Court ruled in favor of the town not granting the exemption.
Selectman Chair Sarah Silk cited Puffer's opinion on the strictness of the April 15 deadline and difficulty in making a case for a credit. The board voted 4-0 to deny the abatement request.
Selectman Linda Murray said she was sympathetic to Bosch's case and asked Owen to prepare a New Resident Checklist that would provide information on all possible filings a resident may need to make, including Form PA-29.
Josephine Amatucci came before the board during public input to ask that Patrol Officer James O'Brien be dismissed immediately for abducting her on Dec. 28, 2003. She said she was arrested by Officer O'Brien for violating a stalking order, which is a criminal matter. Amatucci said what was in place was a mutual no-contact order, which is a civil matter. She claimed O'Brien knew there was no stalking order but arrested her anyway, and thus should be dismissed based on this new evidence from court that was "never litigated" and "speaks for itself."
Chairman Silk told Amatucci that the Board of Selectmen has no jurisdiction in police matters and that she should bring the matter to the Wolfeboro Police Commission. Amatucci replied that Police Commissioner Ron Goodgame "does not listen to me."
Amatucci wanted to continue with her presentation but Silk pointed out that the three minutes allocated per resident were used up.
Suzanne Ryan asked if the police grants to be approved at the meeting (see separate article) came with any strings attached, short- or long-term. Owen answered "no."
Ryan said she was also concerned about the 2012 budget in view of the $44 million shortfall at the end of the 2010-2011 state budget, the $22 million county nursing home the cost of which should begin to appear on December bills, and the need to pay for sewer bonds beginning this year. She said she was also not sure the school district would get all the funding promised from the Kingswood project. "Please keep these things in mind when you do the budget," she urged.
Brewster Hall alternative
Ken Bowers also used the public input section to present an alternative proposal for Brewster Hall, saying he had asked to be given 10 minutes on the main agenda, but was told to use the public input part of the meeting.
He began by stating everyone agrees that Brewster Memorial Hall is an historic building and should be restored.
He said he had served as a selectman in Newton where the town hall was refurbished, but also cited the multi-function building in Moultonborough as having many advantages for town government. He reminded the board that Suzanne Ryan has asked them to consider a multi-function building
He offered an approach "to take the politics out of Brewster Hall." "We need a Plan B," he said. He suggested the board appoint to look into selling Brewster Hall to a private developer and "retain some part [of the building] for town use." Doing this would preserve the building at no cost to taxpayers. "It can be done," he said, citing Pease International Tradeport Authority. "It's time to do that," he said, adding that "there's lots of talent in town." He also cited a building in Newburyport that was sold to a private developer and converted to condos. "It now pays taxes," he said.
"Stop closing your eyes to other alternatives," he urged.
"I get the feeling as a citizen that the town is being held hostage to the building. It serves no purpose." He reminded selectmen that 750 people voted against restoring Brewster Hall. "It's time to look at Plan B," he concluded.
Selectmen made no comment on the proposal.
Other Brewster Hall items
John Grosvenor of Northeast Collaborative Architects (NCA) was not available to meet with the board on July 6 but submitted a revised proposal for $5,000 to analyze the town's options for phasing renovation of Brewster Hall. The work would provide costs for phasing the work over a number of years in discrete phases. The only missing component would be costing and plans for building mechanical work (heating, air conditioning, ventilation): in the $4 million proposal a sum was allocated to allow the successful contractor to provide both the plans and the work, and since the proposal did not pass, no mechanical plans were created.
The funds to pay the $5,000 cost of preparing these plans and estimates would come from those remaining in the $500,000 renovation design warrant article and would not impact the current budget.
The board approved the NCA proposal 4-0.
Selectmen held a first public hearing on a proposed revision of the town parking ordinance that affects parking at Brewster Hall. The change would limit parking time at the eight spaces in front of the building (including the three on South Main Street) to 30 minutes, and all 52 spaces at the rear of the building to two hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Joan Hill of Keniston Island expressed concern about how the two-hour limit in back will affect island residents who need to park overnight. She suggested that a sticker could be made to identify island residents for overnight parking.
Ryan asked how many parking spaces are there in total (52 in back, eight in front, per Owen); how many are used by town employees (19); how many handicapped (5) and how many are available to the public (60-19=41). She also asked who enforces the ordinance (police).
Mary DeVries, Executive Director of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce, asked selectmen to preserve spaces most convenient to doing business with the town if overnight parking is allowed.
Selectman Dave Bowers gave his view that the parking during business hours be limited to two hours, with no exceptions, but that overnight parking outside of business hours be allowed. He pointed out that Wolfeboro has three inhabited islands – Melody, Keniston and Parker – and suggested the board meet with island residents to see what accommodations could be made.
Selectman Dave Senecal agreed with Bowers that island people need spaces, and Silk said she feels it would be very easy to develop a sticker system for the limited number of residents who need them. She cited her experience with resident stickers at Rye Beach.
Murray stated, "If we can do stickers for boats, we can do it for cars."
The board voted to continue the hearing to July 20 to consider the sticker change.
Murray shared some information on visitors to Town Hall. Tax Collector Brenda LaPointe said she averages 86 transactions per day with 384 being a high point – these are transactions, not people, and one person can have many transactions. Town Clerk Pat Waterman estimated she had 500-100 visitors a day. At present there are no statistics for the Public Works and Planning departments located in the building annex.