Selectmen’s Meeting for October 17, 2016

Present were Guy Pike, Joe Kowalski, Elissa Paquette, Carla Lootens, Betsy Frago, Christie Sarles, Adam Thompson, Andy Shagoury, and Gordon Hunt.

Minutes from previous the meeting were approved with minor corrections.

Chief Thompson presented fire department statistics highlighted by his arriving on crutches with a broken Achilles’ tendon acquired while off duty. He will be on light duty for eight weeks.

Chief Shagoury encountered computer issues and was unable to give a police statistics update. He did, however, announce a drug take-back day at the transfer station on October 22 from 10am-2pm.

Gordon Hunt and Christie Sarles presented the proposed library budget for 2017. Total budget $204,502 from $199,492. Approved by Selectmen 3-0.

Executive salaries were approved at $95,819 with a 2-1 vote. Selectman Lloyd P. Wood moved to add $1000 to the overtime line since our secretaries had so much extra work. Carolyn Sundquist disagreed as the work was in their job descriptions. She lost. 2016 budget was $87,970.

The Town’s insurance budget was approved at $60,916. This is up about $18,000 since the refunding of over charges has expired.

The Lang’s Pond Road project is almost done and looks good.

A letter is being sent to the Steinmans (the people who had the stones placed in the Town’s right of way on Brown Road). Discussion revealed that the Road Agent has concerns with being able to keep the road open!

Public input was interesting. Guy Pike referred to selectman’s chair Carolyn Sundquist’s statement questioning what the public might say that would change the Budget Committee members’s minds on votes? He commented that Max Ledoux’s questioning of the board of selectmen’s authority to sell property had apparently resulted in the board changing their mind. Carolyn Sundquist replied that “that was taken out of context.” (Watch the full video and decide for yourself if there’s sufficient context.) Guy Pike then suggested that before the board consulted with Attorney Sager in the future they should seek legal advice! Blank stares followed.

Elissa Paquette asked about the Selectmen’s being restricted in the selling of town-owned properties. Carolyn Sundquist responded that the 2003 Town Meeting was presented with a warrant article to rescind a former vote to give the selectmen pertpetual authority to sell and it passed. Elissa asked who the selectmen were at that time. Carolyn replied Susan Weeks, Rick Chellman, and Bill Stockman. Carolyn also said she didn’t know why the then-selectmen put the warrant article before the town!

Those are the highlights. Administrative secretary Karen Koch’s excellent minutes will chronicle the mundane details.

Candidates’ Forum at Moultonborough Lions Club

Tuftonboro’s incumbent state representative Glenn Cordelli and challengers Gary Chehames (also from Tuftonboro) and Paul Puntieri (of Moultonborough) will be attending a candidates’ forum at the Moultonborough Lions Club on Friday, October 21, from 6:30 to 8:30.

When asked about the forum, Cordelli said,

I am approaching 1,000 doors that I have knocked on in this campaign. I believe it is important for candidates to get out and talk to people so I look forward to a positive discussion of the issues and responding to the negative attacks.

Chehames, speaking for himself and Punturieri, released the following statement:

Gary Chehames and Paul Punturieri are candidates for the two District 4 representative seats open in the NH House. In the past years, legislating solely by ideology has led to serious consequences for our District 4, New Hampshire, and Carroll County. Gary and Paul believe the benchmark for making legislative decisions should be based upon the needs of the citizens they will be elected to represent. To keep New Hampshire moving forward, they will accomplish this by being reasonable, collaborative, and using a common sense approach to governance. Feel free to contact Gary at Chehames@gmail.com and Paul at PPunturieri@yahoo.com for more information.

The Lions Club is located on 139 Old Route 109 in Moultonborough, NH.

Selectmen Set Tax Rate at $10.43 for 2017

Meeting yesterday morning at 9 AM, the selectmen set the tax rate for the coming year at $10.43 per $1,000 assessed property value. That’s a $.04 increase from last year. The tax rate would have gone up $.10 but the selectmen took $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance to offset the increase. (Another way to keep the tax rate steady — or even lower it! — would be to lower spending.) The town portion is $2.91, up $.02 over last year. The selectmen took no input from members of the public before or after their vote on the tax rate.

Selectmen to Meet at 9AM to Set Tax Rate

On Friday, October 14, the selectmen will have a meeting at 9 AM, when most residents are unable to attend due to work schedules. That is especially troubling because the selectmen will be setting the tax rate for the coming year, something that will affect all taxpayers. The selectmen will also be reviewing budgets for:

  • 4210 Police Department
  • 4324 Transfer Station
  • 4194 Transfer Station Building
  • 4312 Highway Department
  • 4240 Building Inspection
  • 4150 Financial Administration-Tax Collector portion
  • 4442 Direct Assistance

At the October 4 budget committee meeting Direct Assistance was a topic of discussion. Board member Tyler Philips expressed his belief that it was “stupid” to reauthorize $35,000 for Direct Assistance for next year when so far this year the town has spent approximately $1,200 (of the $35,000 that was appropriated).

According to last year’s town report, in 2015 the town appropriated $45,000 for Direct Assistance, but the actual amount spent for that year was just $4,890.

What happens to the money that is appropriated for Direct Assistance but not spent on  Direct Assistance? It remains in the general fund where it is then spent on other things in following years, instead of on people who are in need. If we are appropriating money for people in need, then it’s my opinion that that money should be used only for people in need. If it is not spent on that purpose, then the left over money should be returned to the taxpayer in the form of a credit on property tax bills.

Watch the Videos

Tom Beeler, the editor of the Granite State News, agrees with me that the Tuftonboro selectmen are making it difficult for residents to attend their meetings, but he’s ideologically opposed to me so he’s reduced to quibbling over the definition of “hectoring,” all while patting himself on the back for “asking questions to clarify information for our readers.”

Did the Granite State News ask the selectmen if they were legally authorized to conduct an auction of town-owned properties that was scheduled for October 15? The answer is no, the Granite State News did not. I did. And the answer again was no, the selectmen had not received the legally required authorization from Town Meeting to sell the properties. The auction has been cancelled. No thanks to the Granite State News, Tuftonboro is not at risk for costly law suits as the result of an illegal auction.

Tom suggested readers “watch the video.” I agree. I have made videos of meetings available at tuftonboro.net. You can watch the videos of public comment for June 6, September 26, and October 3. Bob McWhirter, Sue Weeks, and I repeatedly asked questions of the selectmen about the property auction. The selectmen stonewalled and refused to answer. Tom criticized my tone of voice.

Watch the October 3 video and listen to Carolyn Sundquist’s tone of voice. When Elissa Paquette asks a question, Carolyn is all answers. When anyone else asks a question, Carolyn shuffles papers distractedly and refuses to engage; she shows irritation and appears impatient and even contemptuous. Compare this to the exchange between selectman Lloyd Wood and me on October 3. Rather than glare at me mutely as Carolyn and selectman Bill Marcussen did, Lloyd actually engaged me in conversation, and we had a pleasant, amicable exchange.

Tom in particular may want to watch the video of October 3. Lloyd confirmed that, contrary to Tom’s assertion two weeks ago, it is unconstitutional to allow one person to speak but not allow others. Tom was wrong when he dismissed the question of constitutionality as “fashionable.” If his reporter, Elissa, had stayed for the whole public-comment portion on October 3, rather than leaving after she asked her own question, she could have quoted Lloyd, who said, “It’s a first amendment issue.” Once more, no thanks to the Granite State News, Tuftonboro is not at risk of costly lawsuits as a result of the selectmen’s actions.

In scheduling the meetings in the day, the selectmen seem to have their own convenience as a priority. And their attitude at meetings gives the impression that they’d rather town residents did not attend or get involved. But while stonewalling and shutting down legitimate questions, they have repeatedly (albeit unintentionally I’m sure) put the town at risk for costly law suits. They illegally usurped the cemetery trustees power, they engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and they almost conducted an illegal property auction.

If you think that transparency and accountability is a good thing for our town, please let me know in the comments below. I’m collecting signatures for a warrant article for Town Meeting that would require the selectmen to have their meetings at 6:30 PM when more people could attend.

Note: This post was submitted to othe Granite State News and should appear as a letter in the October 13 edition.

Selectmen Cancel Auction of Town-Owned Property

The selectmen have called off the planned October 15, 2016, auction of town-owned property because they do not currently have the authority to sell tax-deeded properties, and therefore the auction would be illegal. Only the legislative body of a municipality (i.e. Town Meeting) can authorize the selectmen to sell such property, through a warrant article.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association web site states:

The governing body only has authority to sell if the legislative body (usually the town meeting) has given them this authority by passing a warrant article in accordance with RSA 80:42 or RSA 80:80.

The authorization expires after one year, unless the warrant article states plainly that the authorization is granted “indefinitely, until rescinded.”

Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, explained in an email to me this morning:

The Selectmen were given authority in 1994 at Town Meeting. The Selectmen now have learned since your inquiry that this authority was voted in 2003 to be put as a yearly vote instead effective 2004.

The last yearly vote was done at the 2004 Town meeting with their authority extended until the 2005 Town Meeting. Unfortunately there were no yearly votes after this to extend the authority.

The auction has been postponed until after the 2017 Town Meeting. The date of which will be set depending upon the outcome of the meeting.

This is the third time this year that the selectmen have placed the town in legal jeopardy by not being mindful to follow the law. They previously broke state law by usurping the cemetery trustee’s power to authorize payments for cemetery maintenance. They also engaged in the unconstitutional practice of viewpoint discrimination by allowing questions from Elissa Paquette but no one else.

The selectmen previously have refused to answer questions about the auction:

If the board of selectmen have sold any tax-deeded properties without authorization in the past 11 years, the validity of those sales would be called into question. Anyone who has purchased a tax-deeded property from the town since 2005 might want to seek legal advice.

It’s strange that the selectmen did not do the basic due diligence to make sure that the auction was legal. They could have asked their attorney, Rick Sager, to confirm the legality of the auction. In addition to being the selectmen’s attorney, Sager was the auctioneer that they hired to conduct the auction, from which he would earn a commission on the sale of the properties. This conflict of interest was first raised by Bob McWhirter on June 6th, but the selectmen rejected his concern out of hand. When he asked if they thought it was a conflict of interest to use the selectmen’s own attorney as an auctioneer, Carolyn Sundquist, the chairman of the board, immediately said, “No.”

You can read the minutes from the Town Meetings of 1994, 2003, and 2004.

Zoning Board Denies Special Exception for Self-Storage Facility

In a 4-1 vote, the Zoning Board of Adjustment denied Paul Zimmerman’s application for a special exception to the zoning ordinance. The board determined that Zimmerman, through his agent Jeff Lewis, failed to prove that the project would not change the essential nature of the neighborhood.

The board was unswayed by a new plan presented by Lewis to build half as many units as Zimmerman had originally proposed. Several residents pointed out that there would be nothing stopping Zimmerman or any future owner from adding more units at a later date.

Several residents spoke against the proposed project, while Steve Hunter spoke in favor of the project. Hunter is the current owner of the property and was hoping to sell it to Zimmerman.

Mark Howard, the chairman, was the lone dissenting vote. Alicia Gettman, Tom Swift, Tom Wood, and Bob Theve all voted against the special exception. Wood stated he thought the self-storage facility would change the “rural, residential nature of the neighborhood.” Theve said the project would be “incompatible with the town’s master plan,” citing the “overall future” negative changes to the neighborhood that would occur. Swift said the facility would be “out of character with the nature of the road.”

Zimmerman has until November 4, 2016 to file an appeal if he wishes to do so.

(The Zoning Board members are pictured left to right: Tom Wood, Alicia Gettman, Mark Howard, Bob Theve, Tom Swift. Jackie Rollins, the board’s secretary, is seated with her back to the camera.)

Zoning Board to Vote on Self-Storage Facility

The Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold another public hearing tonight at the Town House at 7PM to decide whether to grant a special exception to Paul Zimmerman to build a self-storage facility with at least 100 units next to the fire station on 109A.

181-middle-road-self-storage

Zoning Board member Bob Theve is also a member of the budget committee, which has a meeting tonight at 6:30 (at the Town Office). Reached on the phone yesterday, Theve said he would attend the budget committee for about 25 minutes and then go to the public hearing.

Whatever the decision of the board tonight, state law allows for an appeal within 30 days (starting the day following the vote of the board) either from the applicant (if the special exception is denied) or from “any person directly affected” (if the special exception is granted). The statute does not define the narrowness of the term “directly affected.” Certainly abutting property owners would qualify.

Selectmen Have No Answer for Questions About Property Auction

The selectmen are conducting an auction on October 15, 2016, to sell town-owned properties. The auction is being conducted by Rick Sager, their attorney. Sager will be receiving a commission on the sales. It’s possible that, as the selectmen’s attorney, Sager might advise the selectmen, either in the past or the future, on which properties to seize for non-payment of property taxes.

The selectmen are refusing to come clean about when and how they determined the final list of properties to be sold at the auction. The meeting minutes do not show any recorded vote, according to town resident Sue Weeks, who raised concerns at last week’s selectmen’s meeting that two of the properties are on roads that aren’t currently maintained. Her concern is that if the properties are sold and developed, the town will be required to maintain the roads, and in the long run the cost will far outweigh any benefit that the town will get from either the sale at auction or the property taxes.