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Wolfeboro selectmen review town election results

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
March 29, 2012
WOLFEBORO — In their first meeting following the March 13 election, Wolfeboro selectmen took time at the end of their March 21 meeting to discuss the significance of the vote.

Selectman Linda Murray pointed out that 73.6 percent of voters approved the operating budget and $3.5 million in capital improvement project passed by significant margins, with bonded articles receiving approval percentages well beyond the 60 percent required.

The only selectmen-sponsored article that failed was Article 26, Develop Asset Management Program, which was turned down on a 500-784 vote.

Murray noted that the $200,000 in Brewster Memorial Hall repairs and improvements was approved by 56.1 percent of voters and that leasing interim town office space received only 33.8 percent approval. She reviewed the non-binding survey questions in Article 30 and noted that none of the three options (a-c) passed: renovate (49.5 percent approved), build new (40.6 percent) or lease (34.2 percent). Also, while voters were somewhat interested in shared public/private funds for renovation (51 percent), they were not in favor of public funding alone (19.2 percent) or private funding alone (45.2 percent). They did not want to sell the building either (46.2 percent said yes).

Murray then reviewed editorials and letters published in the Granite State News on Brewster Memorial Hall and found 60 in all. In them she found a full, open and complete discussion of the issue.

The message she has taken away was that voters are encouraging the Board of Selectmen to be proactive and find private money to renovate Brewster Hall. Brewster Hall also consistently gets higher levels of support than any other option for town offices.

Selectman Chair Sarah Silk noted that only 1,390 voters turned out to vote of the 4,756 on the checklist of registered voters 29 percent which was a disappointment.

Public Works report

Public Works Director Dave Ford reported that the weight limit ban on town roads is still in effect but that the frost is coming out of the roads and the ban may be lifted in another week or so.

Ford also said he expects to have the contract in place to do the voter-approved work on the Public Safety Building within a week. The work itself should be completed by July.

Work on the Downtown Streets project is off to a fast start, Ford reported, with contractor Lyman Construction of Gilford hard at work on Glendon and Lehner Streets. See separate article for a complete update on that work.

Ford told selectmen that while the existing Glendon Street parking lot and the Bridge Falls Path are closed off now by construction work and vehicles, the area will be cleared in time for spring sports and the start of the tourist season. He urged pedestrians and motorists to be careful in the area due to construction activity and irregular surfaces.

Public Works department crews are doing work on Central, Depot and Railroad Avenues locating buried lines and doing drainage work, as well as preparing for making the parking spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said it would be possible to reduce the number of overhead wires in the area if the phone company cooperates.

Thanks to the weather, expenditures for snow removal were below budget Ford hopes to be able to do more sidewalk repairs.

Murray asked if Ford's plans for 2012 included leveling the handicapped spaces in front of Town Hall. Town Manager Dave Owen responded that he would be talking to the Department of Justice about getting an extension on that work as well as the ADA work needed in the back parking lot.

Bickford resignation

Attorney G. Thomas Bickford addressed selectmen during the second public input at the end of the meeting to read a letter addressed to Town Manager Owen resigning from his position as a volunteer firefighter. The reason for his resignation was, in his words, "because I no longer respect nor do I have confidence in the ability of Fire Chief Philip H. Morrill Jr. to efficiently administer the fire department, to command firefighters and to hold their respect and confidence."

Bickford writes his lack of confidence is based on his 25 years of experience with four different departments, his 12 years with the Wolfeboro department watching the ranks of volunteer firefighters "being decimated to the point of practical non-existence," and "the fire chief's own report in which he admits to having only two full-time firefighters available to respond to a major emergency at any particular time."

In conclusion Bickford asks that the Town Manager and selectmen to hire an independent company "like Municipal Resources Inc." to evaluate 1) "The department's ability to manage foreseeable major emergencies and to protect the people and property in the town of Wolfeboro during those major emergencies;" and 2) "The chances of a Wolfeboro employee, volunteer, resident or visitor suing the Town because of the department's administration, management, supervision and training practices."

Bickford has raised the issue of declining volunteer firefighters before in 2010 and provided a comparison with surrounding town fire departments, who all rely on on-call volunteers. Bickford was also dropped from the volunteer roster by Morrill and reinstated after an appeal to selectmen.

Selectmen gave no response to Bickford's reading of his letter.

Other business

Selectmen learned that the wayfinding signs to direct tourists to specific locations were being produced by Harriman Signs and would be installed before the season begins.

Town Manager Owen announced that the town has changed assessing services from Cross Country Appraisal to Murdough Assessing Services. Longtime assessor Dave Wiley is working for the new firm. See separate article on the change on page A4.

Owen also reported that all Hawkers and Peddlar spaces in the downtown area have been filled by incumbent vendors.

Finance Director Peter Chamberlin presented his Monthly Revenue and Expenditure Report for February. Both expenses and revenues are tracking well against budget so far.

Commercial Vessel Landing Permits were approved for the Winnipesaukee Belle, operated by the Wolfeboro Inn, and for the Millie B, now operated by the New Hampshire Boat Museum.

Selectmen also approved temporary event permits for a Cystic Fibrosis Charity Walk on May 19 beginning and ending at Foss Field, the Kingswood Regional High School prom at Cate Park on May 12 from 4:30 to 7 p.m., the 13th Annual Muddy Moose Trail Races on April 29, and the 38th Annual Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race on May 19 sponsored by the Wolfeboro Lions Club.

Selectmen normally hold a reorganization at their first meeting following the election and elect the chairman. However, Selectman Dave Bowers was absent due to a business trip, so the reorganized was deferred to the next meeting.

The next meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.

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