December 12, 2018WOLFEBORO — The Board of Selectmen delved into its draft list of warrant articles on Wednesday evening, Dec. 5, working through requests focused on preparing for infrastructure projects or equipment replacement and clarifying financial details and grant possibilities along the way.
It expects to vote on each of the warrant articles and approve their order on the Town Warrant on Wednesday, December 12, and pass it along to the Budget Committee by Dec. 13.
After the board got to the bottom of the list during the Dec. 5 meeting, Chairman Linda Murray asked members to go through it once more to pare it down, stating that the total appropriations this year are $423,000 over the total for last year and met immediate resistance.
Selectman Dave Senecal protested that the warrant represents what residents want. He said that the municipal portion contributing to the tax rate comes back to the community to protect its interests and said that not everyone realizes that it is only one part of the total tax responsibility. In his view, the school portion, the largest piece of the pie, is where the problem lies. He was not interested in going through the warrant again after spending an hour and a half on it.
Selectman Dave Bowersk, referring to himself as the "loyal opposition", agreed the warrant reflects what residents want and said that the improvements the town has made in recent years are what attract people to the town. He wondered what the increases are compared to the inflation rate and agreed to have that information for the next meeting. He also commented that the town's tax rate is in the lowest quartile in the Lakes Region.
Selectman Brad Harriman said, "Voters like to see progress in protecting assets. I'd hate to see us go backwards."
Murray persisted, noting that this year there are 12 capital reserve accounts, compared to seven last year, and said that federal changes in tax policy (limiting deductions in property or state dividend and interest taxes for those itemizing on Schedule A to $10,000) are causing her to worry that some warrant articles could go down. She said she would go along with the majority of the board.
Selectman Paul O'Brien commented that in his opinion, the town needs to do a better job funding depreciation of assets and said capital expenditures protect assets. He took issue though with Senecal's criticism of the school costs, pointing out the town can do a better job on reducing its operating costs, particularly in the area of energy expenditures, and noting that the school system has reduced its energy costs by 10 percent.
"Why can't we do that?" he asked.
Murray said the town has been slowly moving forward in repairing infrastructure, and is gradually reducing its energy costs, but in her opinion, right now the board needs to lower some of the capital reserve amounts, and consider taking an extra year to do a project. The library project will be factoring into the tax rate in 2020, eventually followed by a public safety building.
All that said, Harriman broke the impasse with the suggestion of postponing the Townsend Brook Dam project, listed on the warrant at $95,000 to next year. O' Brien followed up with questions on timing of grant funding and the environmental impact of a delay. Town Manager Becky Merrow responded with information that the FEMA grant application process begins in July, with results in the fall. If eligible, the grants can cover 50 – 70 percent of the costs. The board decided to remove it from the warrant for the time being.
The board then went on to reduce the Wastewater Treatment Plant Capital Reserve Account article of $175,000 by $50,000 with that amount to come from the unassigned fund balance/surplus, which represents the proceeds from an insurance settlement claim.