June 07, 2012OSSIPEE — In addition to their own properties, Ossipee taxpayers collectively own a lot of property in town – about 130 parcels to be exact. Many of those parcels are vacant conservation land. Others house government facilities such as the transfer station, Constitution Park, library, police station, highway department, water tank, sewage treatment plant, and the Town Hall. And there are four properties that have tenants, with the townspeople serving as landlord – Ossipee Main Street, Ossipee Concerned Citizens, Ossipee Water and Sewer Precinct, and the fish hatchery on Route 16.
The fish hatchery, owned by the town and managed by Ossipee Conservation Commission, is occupied by long-term tenants who pay a monthly rent and, as part of their lease, agree to be caretakers of the house and operate the fish hatchery.
A two-week inquiry, with several public documents obtained, culminated in a discussion about whether or not the line is blurred between what is town government's responsibility and what should be the responsibility of its tenants, focusing on two non-profits and a government agency.
Ossipee Main Street
The Ossipee Main Street Program originally started and continues to report as the state registered non-profit Ossipee Revitalization Group. That group was formed in 2004 and Center Ossipee received recognition as a Main Street Community under the N.H. Main Street Program in 2005. The state program no longer exists but the Ossipee program and several Main Street communities across the state continue their work.
The Ossipee Main Street Program resides in a town-owned building on Moultonville Road in Center Ossipee, located next to the town park. It was renovated in 2007 with the help of $10,000 from Town Meeting voters and many hours of volunteer labor. There is no formal lease agreement between the town and the Program for use of the building.
According to the Program's Web site, ossipeemainstreet.org, the mission of the Program is "to revitalize the downtown Ossipee community, renewing the friendly hometown atmosphere and encouraging businesses and activities, while emphasizing historic preservation." The Program holds several events throughout the year including a Rubber Ducky Race in West Ossipee, an economic fair, Beech River Run 5k road race, and an ice fishing derby on Ossipee Lake. In July, the new season of the farmer's market opens in the new location in West Ossipee. As reported last month, program directors agreed to move the market to West Ossipee after several years of failed attempts to lure people to Center Ossipee Village to the market.
According to board member Pat Jones, "it is very, very hard to raise money now-a-days" for the program. But according to town records, it appears the program has needed extra support to pay its bills for the last several years. In 2005, Town Meeting voters donated $5,000 to the program and have continued to give an annual donation that has increased steadily, with voters at the March 2012 meeting giving $9,500 to the program.
The program operates on a budget of about $24,000 a year, with about 65 percent of that going to pay the salary of the program's executive director. Board members have come and gone as have directors, with the program having five executive directors since 2005.
In addition to the annual donation and use of the town building, town records reveal that taxpayers have also been footing the bill for the program's utilities, at least since January 2010, totaling about $4,200 for electrical and water/sewer. Selectmen indicated Monday night that representatives of the program came to a selectmen's meeting years ago and their request for help paying their bills was granted by the board. A search through many months of selectmen's meeting minutes on the town's Web site was unable to confirm exactly when the request was granted.
Though there was no formal vote taken, selectmen agreed Monday, at the request of Selectman Harry Merrow, to draft a lease agreement between the Town and Ossipee Main Street Program to legitimize the landlord/tenant relationship.
Merrow went on to say that if the town suddenly stops paying for the program's utilities, it is likely the program will run out of money. Merrow said that the program's representatives had provided a list in the past of goals they plan to work on. While he has supported the program in the past, if the goals aren't being met, he said, he will "have a hard time" supporting them in next year's budget cycle. Though it was uncertain at Monday's meeting whether or not the other board members support the idea, Merrow said he would consider moving the program into the town-owned building at One Moultonville Road, also known as the Freight House once renovations are complete on that building later this year, and selling or renting out the program's current building.
Voters at the 2012 town meeting approved funds to renovate the Freight House and it is currently set to house the town's land use boards and related records and provide additional storage for records as storage space is running out in the town hall.
Ossipee Concerned Citizens
Ossipee Concerned Citizens, commonly referred to as OCC, is a non-profit organization that provides senior services and operates a daycare center in a town-owned building at its 3 Dore Street location in Center Ossipee.
The building was purchased with funding from a federal grant back in the 1980s and voters at the 1988 town meeting approved selectmen entering into a 30-year lease with the organization for $1. The lease runs from 1991 to 2021.
As a result, there is a lease agreement between the town and OCC. The lease agreement indicates that OCC would accept the building "as is" and OCC is responsible for maintaining "in good repair the roof and exterior walls of the leased premises, the structural beams, and other structural parts" at its own cost and expense and keeping the interior in good condition. The lease also stipulates that OCC is responsible for maintaining the exterior of the premises and for snow removal and lawn care.
Town meeting voters in 2006 approved spending money to put a new roof on the building and in 2007 other improvements because, Merrow said, OCC could not afford to do the work and it was a matter of protecting the integrity of a town-owned building. It was also confirmed that the town's highway department has been doing the snow removal at this building for years.
Additionally, every year, Town Meeting voters have made a donation to the senior program and to the daycare center to help support the operation of the programs. The amount has increased over the years. In 2005, voters gave $15,000 to OCC. In 2012, voters approved $18,000 for OCC and $6,000 for the daycare.
What was not discussed at this year's town meeting but has apparently been "promised to them for years" is a new fence for the daycare playground. A check approved by selectmen last month, reimburses OCC $6,853.98 for installation of a new fence for the playground. Merrow said it does not appear under the lease agreement that the town should have paid this expense. When asked why the fence was funded, Selectmen Chair Kathleen Maloney said, "because it is a town building."
Every fall, as part of the annual budget preparation, representatives from several non-profit agencies present a request to selectmen, asking to be added to the town meeting warrant to allow voters to decide whether or not their organizations are worthy of a donation. There were 19 such organizations on the March 2012 warrant, including Main Street, OCC, Agape Food Pantry, Tri-County Community Action, and Ossipee Preschool. The total amount that will be paid out to the 19 non-profits this year is $119,424.
In review of the Nov. 30, 2009 selectmen's meeting minutes and discussion about a $1,000 donation to Ossipee Preschool, it was noted that the Preschool was planning to use the money towards repairing the fencing for their playground. In response, one member of the audience, Ski Kwiatowski, who would later become a member of the town's budget committee, said he didn't think that taxpayers should be paying to repair a playground fence.
Ossipee Water & Sewer
Much like the town's three separate fire precincts, the water and sewer system in Center Ossipee Village is operated not under the town government umbrella but rather as its own precinct. The Town owns the building on Dore Street that houses the Precinct business operations, records, and garage.
What the town's taxpayers do not fund to help support the precinct operations must be paid for by the system users through their water/sewer bills. Selectmen confirmed that there is no lease agreement between the Precinct and the Town for use of the building.
Voters at the 2006 town meeting approved spending money to upgrade the electrical system in the building and to replace an exterior wall that was in danger of collapse. Then in 2007, voters approved money for other unspecified repairs to the building. The Precinct is overseen by a board of three commissioners and employs office help as well as a manager and a technician. The work of the Precinct also becomes the work of town employees. The precinct sends out the quarterly bills to the system users. The users pay their bills to the Ossipee Town Clerk's office. That office is paid by the Precinct for doing the work of processing payments. Any late-payment fees are deposited to the Town's general fund. If users do not pay their bills, liens can be placed on their property and any associated fees from that are also deposited into the town's general fund.
At the end of Monday's selectmen's meeting, it appeared that selectmen were in agreement with drawing up a lease between the town and Main Street Program. It remains to be seen if a lease agreement is also written for the water precinct and what, if any changes, will be made to the current practice of supporting non-profit organizations beyond what voters agree to at the annual town meeting.