December 15, 2011WOLFEBORO — At their Dec. 7 meeting Wolfeboro selectmen went over the warrant articles proposed for 2012 for a second time and approved 13 of them unanimously.
The only article with a major change was the article to Upgrade Town Roads. For 2011 $750,000 had been approved by voters. In view of the high tax increase percentage this year and the continuing weak economy, selectmen voted unanimously to reduce the amount to $550,000 for 2012. This was the same amount appropriated for 2010.
The board also reviewed seven other articles, but deferred deciding whether or not to put them on the warrant until a special meeting the following Wednesday, Dec. 14.
Of the 13 articles that the board approved for the March warrant, two had no tax impact: the election of officers and establishing a Recreation Revolving Fund for programs that are support by fees. Positions up for election in 2012 include: two selectmen for three-year terms; one Treasurer for one year; one Moderator for two years; one Supervisor of the Checklist for six years; two library trustees for three years; one Police Commissioner for three years; three budget committee members for three years and one member for one year; two planning board members for three years; and one Trustee of Trust Funds for one year. The filing period for candidates for these positions opens during the last 10 days of January.
Of the remaining 11 articles approved, six will impact the 2012 tax rate: $160,000 to acquire the Bunn McBride property at 255 South Main between the library and Public Safety Building; $550,000 to upgrade town roads; $175,600 to be added to the Fire Truck and Apparatus Reserve; $155,000 to be added to the Public Works Vehicle and Equipment Reserve; $50,000 to develop an Asset Management Program; and $180,000 for upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and effluent spray system.
An article for $300,000 to construct a new parking lot on land acquired in 2009 next to the current Glendon Street lot, will be bonded. Also, because the lot in question will be used to stage work on the Downtown Streets Project (see below), actual construction will not begin until 2013. Bids for the project will be opened on Jan. 9, 2012; if they come in lower, the cost can be lowered at the Deliberative Session on Feb. 7.
The remaining four articles approved on Dec. 7 will all be paid through user fees and not by property taxes: $275,000 for insulation and dehumidification of the Pop Whalen Ice Arena; $120,000 to upgrade the Water Treatment Plant chemical feed system; $150,000 for Water Treatment Plant efficiency upgrades; and $500,000 to upgrade the water meter reading system and replace current water meters with radio-readable meters over two years. The water meter project would cost $100,000 less, paid through a state "loan forgiveness" grant, if voters approve the project in 2012
Selectmen have requested additional information on seven other potential warrant articles that they will review and vote on at a special meeting on Dec. 14. The results of that meeting will be reported next week.
The seven open articles are:
1) Structural repairs at the Public Safety Building. The fire apparatus bay area of the building needs major repairs, including a new roof. The working estimate is $350,000 and Public Work Director Dave Ford said that contract construction manager CCI has a nearly complete estimate at $315,000 with some items still to be added. Selectmen prefer to do these repairs to buy another 10 years before the building needs to be replaced. Of the estimated $350,000 total, $217,108 will come from funds already appropriated, including $93,994 from the Public Safety Building Capital Reserve, leaving a balance of $132,892 to be bonded.
2) Constructing a bath house at Albee Beach to replace a rental trailer and portable toilets. The working estimate is $125,000. In 2011 the foundation and septic system for the bathhouse were completed. The actual construction of the building in 2012 will be done by Region 9 Vocational Technical students as an educational project, so most of the cost is for building materials only. Selectman Chair Sarah Silk asked Parks and Recreation Director Ethan Hipple to see if Region 9 could do the landscaping as well.
3) Downtown Streets Project Phase 3. The final phase of the reconstruction of sidewalks, roads and drainage in the Main Street-Glendon Street-Lehner Street-Union Street quadrangle, estimated at $750,000. Work in this phase will focus on Lehner and Union Streets and include constructing ADA-compliant parking spaces for the Community Center. Bids for this work are due by Jan. 9, so firm costs will be inserted in the final warrant article.
4) Town Hall Repairs and Improvements. Rather than propose even a partial renovation, selectmen want to focus on improvements that will improve the safety and comfort of employees and energy efficiency while not interfering with potential future improvements. Final plans and costs were not available on Dec. 7, but a preliminary list includes commercial-grade dehumidification of the basement, carpet replacement, evaluation and upgrading of heating units, adding insulation, foundation waterproofing, and the replacement of all windows on the first floor and Annex except the back windows on the main building (already replaced) and the plate glass windows on the front.
5) Police Union Contract Agreement. A total of $19,000 was just negotiated, according to Town Manager Dave Owen. Selectmen asked for a breakdown between salaries and benefits.
6) Radio Communications Equipment. To cover communication "dead spots," the town proposes to install radio repeaters and related equipment on the Bennett Hill telecommunications tower. Final costs were not available Dec. 7.
7) Operating Budget. This is currently being reviewed by the budget committee. Selectmen have proposed an Operating Budget of $25,663,774, an increase of $165,646, or 0.65 percent over 2011.
8) Ordinance Prohibiting the Sale and Possession of Certain Intoxicating and Illegal Smoking Substances. This warrant article was proposed by the Wolfeboro Police Department to ratify and ordinance adopted last summer prohibiting the artificial marijuana-like substances known as K2 sold as herbs, incense and bath salts. Town Counsel Mark Puffer expressed concern about the enforceability of such an ordinance, given that the federal government has not put these substances on its banned drugs list yet. Lt. Dean Rondeau emphasized the public safety nature of this prohibition because these drugs are dangerous and even fatal. He cited a case in New Castle where selectmen banned surfing as a public safety matter. He also cited a traffic stop made four weeks ago in town where an officer found a young girl who had overdosed on K2 and had to be rushed to Huggins Hospital. The proposed ordinance would allow police to shut down the sale of K2. Selectmen asked Owen to go over the New Castle case with Town Counsel and report back.
Suzanne Ryan expressed concern about the town's net valuation dropping by $3 million last year and the resulting need to spread town costs over a lower base. She said she sees "a pretty bleak picture," with what she calls the sewer "snafu" where cost for improvements are not paid by fees but by taxpayers. She said she reviewed building permits and the town is not growing, so expenses should not be growing either. She urged setting a ceiling on sewer expenses and raising sewer revenues.
Ryan also urged selectmen to "clear the decks" and put off capital projects "until sewer costs are known."
Selectman Linda Murray responded that the major sewer upgrade costs are already known and in the tax rate.
Selectman Dave Bowers conceded that the town is not growing but, "like an aircraft carrier, it's hard to turn around." He cited the Empire State Building, which was started during 1929, before the crash, and when it was completed and opened it was empty for a while. He mentioned in passing Huggins Hospital and the Harriman Hill workforce housing project as ventures planned when the economy was still growing. He also cited the Kingswood renovation project: if the area is not growing the facility will not be fully used.
Bowers commented that there is very little discussion of some items, such as spending $500,000 to upgrade water meters, but it is not OK to spend $500,000 on Town Hall. He said the sewer system improvements are not user based, like the schools, and concluded by pointing out that Wolfeboro is in the lowest quadrant of property tax rates in New Hampshire – "a stranger looking at costs versus amenities would favor Wolfeboro."
The board voted to accept the terms for bonds totaling $823,000 for the Pop Whalen Ice Arena fire sprinkler installation and for the voltage upgrade on Pleasant Valley Road.
Selectmen approved a three-year lease agreement with the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce for office space at the Railroad Station. The agreement includes an annual increase of $10 a month, from $250 per month in the first year to $270 a month in the third year. The lease also includes summer use of the space used by the Wolfeboro Nursery School in return for pro-rata payments of utility bills and property taxes for the months occupied.
The board gave Parks and Recreation Director Hipple approval to finalize a contract with Back Bay Youth Hockey to add a skate sharpening concession at Pop Whalen that would also include skate rentals. Revenue for sharpening would go to youth hockey; skate rental revenue would go to the town. Used skates have been donated to the town. Hipple will try to get a completed agreement reviewed by Town Counsel in time for board review on Dec. 14.
Selectman Dave Senecal reported that the 16-passenger fixed route buses of Carroll County Transit will begin operation on Jan. 4, 2012, running from West Ossipee to Wolfeboro, Conway and Laconia.
The board approved the appointment of Library Technician Susan Fuller as a Labor representative to the town's Joint Loss Management Committee, the committee responsible for reviewing and setting standards for safety in the workplace.
Beyond the special meeting on Dec. 14, the next regular meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.