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Wolfeboro Deliberative Session focused on town office questions



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TOWN LEADERS at the start of Feb. 7 Deliberative Session in the Kingswood Arts Center (l-r): Moderator Randy Walker; Town Clerk Pat Waterman; Town Counsel Mark Puffer; Finance Director Peter Chamberlain; Town Manager Dave Owen; Selectman Chair Sarah Silk and Selectmen Linda Murray, Dave Senecal, Dave Bowers and Chuck Storm; Budget Committee members Allan Bailey (partially hidden), Chairman John MacDonald, Brian Black, Harold Parker, Bob Moholland, Frank Giebutowski, John Burt and Bob Tougher. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
February 16, 2012
WOLFEBORO — Wolfeboro's four-hour deliberative session on Tuesday, Feb. 7, provided the opportunity for residents to voice their opinions on a number of warrant articles for expenditures to address the town's infrastructure in the year ahead.

With upgrades pending on roads and water and sewer treatment facilities, Public Works Director Dave Ford spoke to 10 separate articles, offering background information, explanations and the rationale for each.

Suzanne Ryan came to the microphone numerous times throughout the evening to question articles and to solicit reasons from Budget Committee members for any dissenting votes.

She registered her opposition to the proposed changing over of the water system from a manual to a radio-read meter system that Ford said will enable the town to generate monthly bills and better track unaccounted-for water flow (which is currently 31 percent of daily water flow), and asked for the Budget Committee to change its 6-2 support of the warrant article. Budget Committee member Allan Bailey promptly said that after hearing Ford's presentation, he wanted to change his negative vote to the affirmative.

Ryan also disapproved of the cost of construction of the Glendon Street Parking lot, which will add 65 parking spaces and some boat trailer parking to the downtown mix. Ford said that the plan is to do that project in tandem with Phase Three of the drainage, road and sidewalk upgrades on Lehner and Union streets, noting the efficiency and cost savings in doing so.

Town offices

The most impassioned and extensive discussion of the evening, however, involving a number of voices, centered on the proposed expenditure of $200,000 to continue repairs and improvements to Town Hall.

Town Manager David Owen showed slides of the new windows in the back (which he said have had the welcome result of saving energy and providing a more comfortable work space), the repairs to the roof and a now ADA-compliant handicap-accessible front entrance.

He reviewed the history of attempts to renovate the brick structure (the $4 million dollar renovation fell 20 plus votes short of the required two-thirds majority) and said that taking the state of the economy into consideration, the Board of Selectmen chose to continue addressing maintenance issues rather than proposing a larger project at this time.

Bucky Melanson proposed an amendment to remove the words "Town Hall" following Brewster Memorial Hall and termed the building a "sink hole." That amendment was unsuccessful.

Ryan proposed amending the article to add language stating that the repairs would not bring Town Hall into compliance with safety codes. Others in the audience suggested that the building is so unsafe that the best course of action is to take the employees out and situate them in leased space at Huggins Hospital. Jerome Holden argued that it would be less costly than continuing to repair the Town Hall.

Ryan is the author of the petition warrant article asking voters to approve $70,000 for a one-year lease. (Last year's request from the town, in anticipation of passage of the extensive renovation project, was $50,000 for a six-month lease.)

"Does the building meet life safety codes?" challenged James Cross. "We're working on them," replied Owen. "It needs to be vacated until it's done," Cross insisted. "It's subject to voter approval," countered Owen. (See Letters to the Editor from Cross and Owen on page A12 for more details.)

Selectman Linda Murray stated emphatically that she was not in favor of abandoning the building, leaving a large, vacant edifice on Main Street.

The Town Hall is on the National Historic Register, offered Selectman David Bowers in its support, noting that the Avery Building down the street, which houses Melanson's Many Facets among other businesses, was built at the same time and has been rehabilitated three times in the intervening years. He pointed out that it is a wood frame structure, while Brewster Memorial Hall, neglected until coming under the fairly recent ownership of the town, is brick.

"You can't have it both ways," he said to those simultaneously critical of its shortcomings while standing in opposition of any further repair to the building. "You have to pay for what you get."

Ryan's amendment failed on a 38-76 vote.

Participants in the evening's deliberations also declined to vote in favor of an amendment by Eagle Trace homeowner Fred Tedeschi to dedicate $25,000 from within the operating budget to legal expenses to pursue the matter of where group homes are allowed within towns. Owen said that $10,000 had already been expended on legal wrangling and expressed doubt that further expenditure would change the outcome. Murray noted that the planning board has a line item of $10,000 in its 2012 budget.

The one amendment that passed, other than approval of Ryan's proposals to change language in her own petition articles, was an amendment by Mimi Dye to a petition article placed on the warrant by Bob Lemaire for a non-binding survey of voter opinions relating to the matter of town hall.

Late in the evening, Dye sought to clarify the fourth question in the survey, "Do you favor rehabilitation of Brewster Memorial Hall with private funds?" by offering three options to respondents: d) 1 – By taxpayers as the sole financial support?; d) 2 – By private funds as the sole financial support?; or D)3 – By a combination of taxpayer and private funds?

Ryan then stood to question Lemaire on why he used the term restoration in one question, but rehabilitation in the other. His reply? After a thoughtful pause, he laughed, and providing a welcome moment of levity, answered, "I don't know."

The meeting ended at 11 p.m.

Residents will have a chance to mark their ballots on Tuesday, March 13, in the Undercroft of All Saints Episcopal Church on South Main Street from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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