March 01, 2012WAKEFIELD — At their Feb. 22 meeting Wakefield selectmen agreed to narrow the number of comparable towns to be used in a study of town government to five or six.
Mike Branley and Don Jutton of Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI) had met with Town Administrator Teresa Williams the day before to pull together data about the town to help identify comparable communities. Selectmen have contracted with MRI to do a study of Wakefield town operations to identify areas where costs could be reduced by changing how existing services are delivered. The board has spent the past several years keeping costs down to avoid tax increases and all three members have said that they have gone as far as they can go without dropping services. Outgoing Selectman Mark Duffy has been particularly articulate on the danger of cutting too much, citing the reduction in road paving as a worrying example. Selectmen hope that MRI will be able to give them ideas about how comparable towns have managed to do similar tasks and provide needed services at lower cost.
Branley provided selectmen with a spreadsheet listing 13 towns, showing population, municipal budget, square miles, median household income, number of housing units, percent of the town population in poverty and town valuation. In the listing Wakefield had two entries: one by itself and one combined with Brookfield, since Wakefield provides fire, police, animal control, and solid waste services to that town. The combined entry acknowledges that Wakefield fire and police have a wider area to cover than just the 39.5 square miles of Wakefield itself: Brookfield adds another 22.9 square miles.
To focus the comparison Branley advocated limiting major comparisons to five towns and recommended Alton, Farmington, Lebanon Maine, Milton and Ossipee.
Duffy said he liked having Alton in the study but said he wanted to thrown in a town like Barnstead which has a smaller budget but similar population. He added that he preferred Barnstead to Farmington base don population.
Selectman Peter Kasprzyk said he wasn't sure about Barnstead but wondered about Effingham and Northwood, neither of which was listed in the spreadsheet.
Williams said New London was also considered, but it is too far away. Branley added that it also had a different labor market. Selectman Chair Ken Paul said New London reminded him of Wolfeboro because of its high assessed value.
Kasprzyk said he preferred Limerick, Maine to Lebanon: it has a similar population to Wakefield's and a comparable road network but a smaller budget. He said he was also more familiar with Limerick than Lebanon. Limerick data was not provided in the spreadsheet.
The board settled on Alton, Barnstead, Lebanon or Limerick Maine, Milton and Ossipee, and Paul asked Branley to look further into Lebanon and Limerick comparisions.
Steve Brown asked from the audience whether the board would ask MRI to look at the highway department first, since Wakefield department head Dan Davis is retiring. Selectmen responded with a "yes."
At the last selectmen's meeting on Feb. 8 there was a spirited discussion from members of the audience on Conservation Commission Chair Dave Mankus' purchase and sale agreement for two Union Meadows properties that he submitted to selectmen for signing. As a result the board put off consideration until its next meeting.
On Feb. 22, which time enough to review the agreement and get an opinion from the Local Government Center that no public hearing was necessary to sign the agreement, Duffy and Paul voted to sign it (Kasprzyk abstained due to his prior work as a forester on the properties). Even though all of the audience members who had participated in the Feb. 8 discussion were present, no objections were raised.
However, Conservation Commission member Relf Fogg did bring up another issue related to the commission. He said that some members of the commission did not feel it needs to do site visits on properties before an application is sent to the state Department of Environmental Services (DES). Fogg gave his opinion that without a site visit the town and landowner are exposed to DES rejection.
Kasprzyk, who is Selectmen's Representative to the commission, said the issue is whether the commission should do a site visit only when invited or also when there has been a complaint. He said in the past there were more "police actions" by the commissions, which he feels were inappropriate.
Duffy commented that while the states does the work on an application sent to them, without help from the Conservation Commission, the process of considering the application can get held up and sometimes without a commission signoff it can get kicked back.
Fogg said there is a box on the application which the applicant can check to get help. He said in his opinion the commission should have responsibility when there is a problem project, do due diligence on the application and sign off in order to avoid the state citing violations.
Duffy responded strongly that the commission "shouldn't be doing interventions. If the application is not clear, you can ask the applicant to clarify, but should not take actions on your own." He said he was upset the Foog was bringing this up.
Fogg repeated that he thought the commission should do due diligence.
Duffy responded sharply that when the Code Officer gets a complaint he forwards it to DES.
Commission Chair Mankus interjected "the Conservation Commission is not going to go wandering on properties and taking photos." He said the commission has not gone on any properties uninvited.
Chairman Paul cut the discussion short, saying if more talk is needed, it should be placed on the agenda for a future meeting.
Brown stated "for the record" that he and Mankus went to a meeting of the Association of Conservation Commissions and heard that conservation commissions should do site walks.
Kasprzyk reported on his inspections of the two highway department trucks that may not pass inspection in April. The dump truck unloads salt from the front and has a double frame, he reported. Salt washes over the whole body and the double frame design traps the salt – a poor engineering design. He concluded the dump truck won't pass inspection and the pickup truck is shot as well.
Paul pointed out that the dump truck won't be needed for plowing after April and the town could have sand and salt delivered rather than picking it up. He also said the new Road Agent should be involved, and Duffy agreed.
Paul and Williams both said there isn't enough money in the capital reserve to replace the truck.
Kasprzyk said the particular truck covers North Wakefield and has a longer run than other trucks. "It needs to be replaced." He got an estimate of $30,000 to get the truck to pass inspection.
Williams pointed out that another option is leasing. It would cost $38,000 in the first year.
As for the pickup truck, Williams said she looked into the state bid process, and the state contract winner can provide a new pickup with an eight-foot plow for $32,300. She also got a quote from Irwin Ford for $34,100 for the same truck with a nine-foot plow. Used trucks available include a 2007 superduty for $24,000 and a 2010 superduty for $30,000, both with plows.
The board voted to go with the Irwin offer, assuming the warranty is the same.
Kasprzyk suggested after his trip to the highway garage that next year the town should look into installing a lift that would allow the crew to do some maintenance work in house. He also heard that Epsom has built a salt shed for $35,000: Williams agreed to check it out.
Paul reported that Milton and Acton have already posted their roads. The board agreed Wakefield should do the same.
Duffy reported that the Wakefield Bearded Wonders raised out $1,600 for Hospice at their Feb. 19 show. The board voted to send a letter of appreciation to Lance MacLean for his work in bringing the musical acts together.
Williams reported that the Heritage Commission is working on a grant to get the canal on the National Register.
The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, March 14 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.