SELECTMEN CANDIDATES James Hidden (left) and Willie Farnum answered voter questions during the Meet the Candidates event held in Tamworth Monday night. Hidden is hoping to be elected to his first political office offering, he said, a new voice to the board. Farnum is hoping voters will decide he is the best man for the job and re-elect him to a third term on March 13. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
March 08, 2012TAMWORTH — The civil tone of Meet the Candidates seemed to surprise everyone, including the moderator as the candidates appeared to disagree on little and the oft repeated, "We are not running against anyone we are running for the Town" was the sentiment of the event.
About 60 people turned out at K.A. Brett Elementary to hear the candidates in several contested races here tell voters why they are the best candidate to vote for March 13. Questions were submitted in writing to the evening's moderator, George Cleveland, prior to the start of the event.
This year newcomer to town politics James Hidden is hoping to unseat Willie Farnum who is running for election to a third three-year term as selectman. Hidden's father, Sam was a selectmen here in the 1980s and 1990s and the younger Hidden said he is ready to follow in his father's footsteps and become a selectman, a job he's wanted since he was 10. Hidden, who works at the family's auto repair business in town, joked that that business is like a beauty salon for men in that it's where the guys in town gather and gossip and talk town politics. The crowd laughed again when Cleveland quipped, "Now I understand why there are stools at the counter at NAPA." Hidden said he has gotten to hear the concerns of the voters and hopes to be able to carry on the family tradition of service to Tamworth that dates back to the late 1700s when his ancestors helped start the church in town. "I think I'm finally old enough to be taken seriously," he said.
When asked if selectmen should continue to work towards lowering the property tax rates and, if so, what steps should be taken, Hidden said a combination of watching expenses and encouraging open-minded commercial growth is key.
"We do have to watch our expenses, a by-product of what the voters pass at Town Meeting. We have to be sure everyone that wants to come to town is heard. We have to stop and say that is my personal opinion but do what is best for the town," Hidden said.
Tamworth once had one of the highest property tax rates in the state and now is near the middle of that list. One of the biggest contributors to that is the townwide property revaluation that brought the property values in line with market value at the time. But, Farnum said the selectmen have also worked hard to look for other sources of revenue, including grants, and ways to further trim costs including partnering with other towns for the multi-town ambulance and property assessing contracts. Farnum said he also spearheaded the changes to the way the town's highway department is run in line with the suggestions of the town's master plan, another cost-saving measure.
On the question of whether or not the selectmen's office is doing business in an open and transparent way, Hidden said he has never had a problem getting information from the town office but has heard from many who have been frustrated by their experience at town hall. "We have to be ready, willing, and open to the public," he said. Farnum said when he became selectman he assumed his phone would be ringing off the hook with calls from concerned residents. "Everything can be more open. My phone does not ring at home. I only get three or four calls a year with issues to do with the town. If they have a problem they should come and talk to the board. Dealing with it at the coffee shop only makes it worse," said Farnum.
The two agreed that the most difficult challenge facing Tamworth into the future is the division in the community but neither could pinpoint a solution – something they said will have to come from the town citizens or maybe even from someone outside the community. Farnum said there needs to be something the town can agree to pull together to accomplish, something that with bind the town back together and bring things back to the way they used to be. He said if others have ideas on what that could be, he wants to hear them and if he comes up with a solution he will let the people know. Hidden echoed Farnum's sentiment and while he too did not have an instant solution to the problem, he said it is too bad the town has become divided. He said it used to be that the people could disagree, step back, and then compromise to find a middle ground, something that he said has been lost but can be found again if people have the chance to really be heard.
Planning board candidates
When thinking about divisiveness in Tamworth, the issue of zoning and the decade-old court battle with Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI) come to mind immediately.
The planning board candidates were asked several pre-submitted written questions about those two subjects, including one that one candidate wouldn't touch, "Do you believe that CMI is a company run by morally sound individuals? Candidate David Little said he wasn't touching that question with a 20-foot pole given the fact the town is still battling it out with CMI in court.
David Goodson said, "They are responsible people and have done everything in their power to abide by town regulations. Think it would be good for the town. The noise factor not an issue. It would create jobs and pull people in that would enjoy this facility to boost the economy for the town. We need economic growth. I think they have gone way overboard. I think the town has spent way too much money fighting this. They have met every obstacle."
Yvonne Staples said the president of the company is a decent and fair person while Steve Gray said the company's president has been responsible, forthcoming, and courteous to the planning board and acts like a good neighbor.
As for the town's current Master Plan that's set to be updated in 2013, the planning candidates agreed it is a good plan but the town isn't ready to implement all of the plan suggestions. Little said the plan includes 67 recommendations and while some have been implemented such as wireless internet and changes to the highway department, there is still a lot of work left to do. "The recommendations are solid," he said.
Tamworth remains one of few towns in New Hampshire that do not have a formal zoning ordinance. Goodson said the voters have voted it down and decided they do not want it. He said he is not in favor of it and the town is running fine without it. He said other ordinances that have been adopted by the voters have given the town "borderline" zoning without the full zoning ordinance.
Gray said a citizen in town once said that zoning is like the abortion issue, with two sides and no middle ground. "Zoning is a divisive issue," he said, and added that any ordinance that tries to define the "quality of life" will not get his vote as everyone's definition of that term is different.
"The good news is Tamworth doesn't have bad zoning. The bad news is Tamworth doesn't have good zoning," said Little. He said he would work to at least have some form of sorely-needed groundwater protection ordinance adopted, something that did not pass town muster in the past.
Voters will head to the polls here March 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Tamworth Town House to choose their elected officials. Town meeting will be held March 14, beginning at 7 p.m. at K.A. Brett Elementary School, giving voters the opportunity to decide the 2012 town budget for all departments and boards.