Last Friday the property owner of the clear cut lot on Ledge Hill Road was burning brush piles while it was raining and there was a snow cover. Three days later, the snow cover is gone and it’s a clear day. However, several of the piles were still smoldering when I drove by around Noon on Monday, and there was a lot of smoke billowing up from the lot. I saw that there was no one on the property monitoring the fires so I decided to stop and take a look. It turns out that the old saying “where there’s smoke there’s fire” has some merit: one of the brush piles had open flames.
I called the fire department and spoke to Chief Adam Thompson. (By the way, if you don’t have the FD phone number saved in your phone already, here it is: 603-569-3381.) Captain Caleb Pike responded quickly and thoroughly doused the flames (see video). Caleb also let me know that Adam had contacted the property owner.
The fire was small, but given the wind and the lack of snow cover combined with the brush scattered throughout the lot, it could have gotten larger.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 this evening to deny a hearing to Paul Zimmerman and his associates. Last month the ZBA voted to deny Zimmerman a special exception to the medium-density residential zoning so that he could build a self-storage unit on Middle Road (Route 109A) next to the fire station. The board found last month a self-storage facility would alter the essential rural character of the neighborhood irreparably.
Zimmerman could have appealed the decision, but instead submitted a new application for a special exception. However, the ZBA determined in tonight’s meeting that, based on the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. Dover, 120 N.H. 187 (1980), the new application was not “materially different in nature and degree” from the first application.
The Tuftonboro budget committee held its most recent meeting on November 1. The board discussed a 2% “merit” raise and an automatic 1.5% “cost of living adjustment” increase in salaries for town employees. This is in addition to the 15% increase in the employee-compensation budget line, approved earlier this year. Keep in mind that employee benefits are based on their salaries, so employee benefits will increase whenever salaries increase. Have you had that kind of raise in your own job in the last couple of years?
Steve Brinser, the vice chair of the budget committee, is concerned that the town is raising costs: “We have people in town who for the past two years, they’re on social security, they got zero increase, but we continue to increase the costs to taxpayers, even though their income isn’t keeping pace with the increased costs.”
Carla Lootens, the chairman of the budget committee, replied that not many people in town fall into that category, whereas “so much of our money comes from” waterfront and island properties. She said: “Out of 695 waterfront properties, do you know that 459 of them are owned from people out of state? They pay taxes here.”
Bob Theve, a member of the committee, interjected, “I’m one of those people that, you know, is on social security, isn’t taken care of, and I have an option, if I don’t want to live here—I don’t have to live here. If I don’t like the tax structure, I can go to another town.”
Helen Hartshorn, also a member of the budget committee, stated: “I want to make sure our town employees are making a living wage. I don’t want to see them be under what a living wage is.” Steve asked her what a living wage is, what figure she had in mind. She had no answer. Town employees currently make, on average, about twice as much as the average resident in Tuftonboro. The median full-time income for women in Tuftonboro is $30,962; for men, it is $44,493. Average those together and you get $37,727.50. The average full-time town employee in Tuftonboro receives more than $70,000 in compensation. The fire chief, for instance, receives more than $46,000 annually just for his retirement and health benefits.
Rick Sager, the selectmen’s attorney, recently stated in a Facebook posting that he believes our town budget was “too miserly in the past.” This was in response to former budget committee member Bob McWhirter stating that Tuftonboro has increased spending by more than $800,000 in the past five years.
Do you agree with Steve Brinser we should continue to keep our costs in check so that Tuftonboro has among the lowest municipal tax rates in the state? Or do you agree with Carla that it doesn’t matter if we raise costs because “so much of our money” comes from rich out-of-staters who can’t vote in local elections? Do you agree with Bob that if you don’t like the costs the budget committee imposes on you, you should just move to another town? Do you think that a person bringing in $70,000 in total compensation is earning less than “a living wage”? The 2016 budget appropriation was $3,997,649.00. Does that sound miserly to you?
The next budget committee meeting is November 15 at 4PM at the town offices.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment, confirms that the ZBA has received a new application from Paul Zimmerman for a special exception to medium density residential zoning to construct a storage facility at 181 Middle Road.
Zimmerman’s application for a special exception two months ago and was denied by the board based on their belief that the storage facility would alter the essential rural character of the neighborhood.
Mark Howard, the chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, explained in an email to me that the board will have a meeting on November 22nd and 7PM at the Town House. The first 20-30 minutes of the meeting will be for the board to determine if the new application is “materially different in nature and degree” from the first application that was denied.
At issue is a state law known as “Fisher v. Dover, 120 N.H. 187 (1980)” which prevents an applicant from subsequent applications to a ZBA unless the new application is materially different. This legal rule is more commonly referred to as “One bite at the apple”. When we run into something like this, the advice we have been given by NH Municipal Association attorneys is to hold a public meeting, determine if the new application meets the threshold, then proceed (or not).
If the board determines the new application is not materially different, then they will deny Zimmerman a public hearing. If the application is materially different, then they will immediately open up a public hearing.
A storage facility in the middle of town would seem to be in stark contrast to the wishes of the vast majority of residents who responded earlier this year to the Planning Board’s Master Plan survey, which had a high return rate with 764 households participating.
The Planning Board has not finalized their report from the Master Plan Survey, but here are some of the raw numbers.
Survey takers were asked, “What do you like most about Tuftonboro?” And instructed to select their top three. “Scenic beauty” received the most nods with 22%, followed by “quiet lifestyle” with 21%, and “favorable taxes” with 16% of respondents agreeing.
Tuftonboro residents’ priorities are even more clear when asked, “What are the three most important issues facing Tuftonboro in the next 10 years?” 23% say “property taxes,” 18% say “development pressure,” and 15% cite “loss of rural character” as their top concern.
Yesterday’s election saw a high turnout in Tuftonboro with 84% of registered voters coming to the polls to cast 1,705 ballots. Going into the day there were 1,958 registered Tuftonboro voters, including 60 new voters who had registered since the primary on September 13. By the end of the day yesterday, the supervisors of the checklist had registered an additional 89 voters through same-day registration, for a total of 2,047 registered voters.
Town Moderator Dan Barnard explained in an email this morning:
The votes were counted by nine teams of two and tally sheets were used to reconcile the votes cast. …[T]he final counts were completed around 12:30 a.m. The paperwork required by the State was filled out and sent to Concord; the ballots were sealed per State requirements. The signatures of all three selectmen as well as the Moderator and Town Clerk are required on that paperwork so that took us to 1:15 a.m. Heather and I cleaned up and left the Town House at 1:45 a.m. Heather then went back to her office and notified all the news outlets of the results.
A special thanks to Dan, Town Clerk Heather Cubeddu, the supervisors of the checklist (Anne Hunt*, Marianne Marcussen, and Chris Ruel), and the selectmen (Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, and Lloyd Wood) for running a smooth and successful election day. There were also a number of volunteers who helped out through the day, and although I don’t know their names they also deserve our thanks.
*Anne unexpectedly was not able to work the polls yesterday, so former supervisor Betsy Thornton filled in for her. Thank you, Betsy. Anne still deserves plaudits for her work on primary day and leading up to the general election.
P0st updated to reflect 89 new same-day registrations, not 83. While this is a phenomenal achievement, it did lower our turnout from the 84% previously reported to 83%.
Regarding the issue of public comment at selectmen’s meetings in Tuftonboro, which is supported by many, including the “Grunter” as well as Hector M. Ledoux, I have this to say to the current chair of the Tuftonboro board and her authoritarian rule. Let’s call her Chairman Now.
That has a nice despotic sound doesn’t it? For local government, engaging in public intercourse should be a desirable and pleasant experience. Try it, Carolyn. You might like it. Why I would even bet that Marcussen and Woody would come to enjoy engaging in it also.
This post appeared as a letter to the editor in the November 3, 2016, Granite State News.
At Monday’s budget committee meeting, selectmen’s representative Carolyn Sundquist (term ends 2017) made the case for an additional $1,000 in overtime for the administrative secretary and administrative assistant in next year’s budget. Carolyn suggested that the extra funds for overtime next year would be needed because the selectmen have received a request through the Right to Know law, which she characterized as frivolous and “a fishing expedition,” for all emails to or from the selectmen, the administrative secretary, and the administrative assistant from March 1, 2016, to October 17, 2016.
It’s not clear who made the request for emails. [Update: The request was made by Tuftonboro resident Bob McWhirter.]
Carla Lootens, the chairman of the budget committee, seemed taken aback. She asked, “So we have to pay $1,000 overtime because someone wants…?”
Carolyn quickly said, “No.” That the work for the Right to Know request is part of their “normal work schedule.”
Despite Carolyn’s explanation that there is no connection between the Right to Know request and next year’s overtime request, despite her earlier linkage of the two things, Carla joined Helen Hartshorn, Bob Theve, and Carolyn in voting to approve the budget. Vice chairman Steve Brinser and John Libby voted against the budget, and Tyler Philips abstained.
Carla said that she thought it was a “poor use of taxpayer money” to respond to Right to Know requests.
The Right to Know law does not require any reason be given for a request for public documents, so Carolyn’s belief that the current request is frivolous is irrelevant. It does however show her negative attitude toward the public’s right to know.
In 2015, Carroll County Superior Court ruled that the selectmen — at the time Dan Duffy, Carolyn Sundquist, and Lloyd Wood — had violated the Right to Know law.
The selectmen, and the majority of the budget committee, need to understand that the public’s right to know is neither frivolous nor a poor use of taxpayer money. It is the law.
The video at the top of this post is at 2x speed. To watch at normal speed, see the full meeting video at the 58:52 mark: