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Selectmen seek court approval for Special Town Meeting


June 06, 2012
Selectmen voted unanimously to seek the approval of a Superior Court Judge to enter into a Special Town Meeting to vote on a Town Warrant Article regarding the purchase of a new fire engine during their work session Monday, June 4.

The vote was based on a new recommendation from Town Attorney Walter Mitchell, in view of Budget Committee member Dave Horvath's recent request for an opinion on the legality of the warrant article from the Local Government Resource Center lawyers.

According to Selectman Gus Benavides, Mitchell originally advised that the selectmen could go directly to a Special Town Meeting because the warrant article was for a lease. The additional information, requested on behalf of the Budget Committee, showed opposing legal opinions. According to Benavides, this led Mitchell to reconsider his recommendation to the selectmen.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said he was working with the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, but they did not have their recommendation in time for the Budget Committee vote Tuesday, May 29. According to Dunn, NHDRA officials recommended they seek the approval of a Superior Court Judge, no matter how they decide to proceed.

Selectman Kevin Hayes moved to proceed through the court system to gain approval to enter into a special town meeting given the urgency of the situation, with Selectman John O'Brien seconding.

Benavides said they were trying to expedite the meeting process by not bringing the article before a judge, as the fire apparatus would take 240 days to be delivered.

According to Dunn, since they now planned to go before a judge, the original dates of the deliberative session and vote would be moved back and tentatively set for Wednesday, Aug. 1 for the deliberative session and Tuesday, Sept. 11 for the vote, which, according to Dunn, coincides with the State Primary Election, and would save the town more than $1,000.

Even after the many public hearings debating the condition of the current Engine Four, a 25-year-old Ranger fire truck, they continued to support the lease of a new piece of apparatus.

According to the Selectmen's petition, the truck was scheduled for replacement in the Capitol Improvement Plan, and the National Fire Protection Standards recommend "replacement of any vehicle over 25-years-old."

In the petition, the selectmen explain that although two members of the Budget Committee opposed to the original article convinced Selectmen to change their recommendation on the apparatus article at the 2012 Town Meeting, they continue to look into the Special Town Meeting. They also cited recent information from Shawn Mulchay of Lakes Region Fire Apparatus (LRFA) after town and fire department officials sent Engine Four in for pump repair where the apparatus condition was deemed far worse than originally thought for the 2012 Town Meeting, and led Mulchay to recommend the truck not be repaired as it was not worth spending the time and money to get back in service. During this trip to LRFA, an New Hampshire Department of Transportation officer deemed the truck a safety hazard and not road-worth. Since the pump was out of the truck, at the time, it was not drivable anyway and towed back to the Gilford Fire Station.

Selectmen also said there is not enough budgeted funds in the 2012 budget to repair engine four to the point where it could be back in service.

Town officials consider this an emergency situation, in their petition, because without a fourth fire engine in service, the "Fire Department is unable to provide the same adequate level of protection and service" which put "the general public at greater risk."

Since they truck would take 240 days to be delivered after ordered, they felt they could not wait until the 2013 Town Meeting.

While waiting for the Superior Court Judge decision, Selectmen O'Brien suggested that the Board of Fire Engineers look into fire apparatus used as demonstration pieces that could possibly fulfill their needs as an alternative to a new truck.

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