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Ashland selectmen agree to reinstall raft at town beach

July 14, 2021
ASHLAND — At their July 12 meeting, the Ashland selectmen voted to restore the raft at the Ashland Town Beach and discussed other issues, including utility poles, electric billing, cable television, broadband, a new telephone system for town offices, and tax maps.

Ann Barney, who is both a Selectmen and the Parks & Recreation Director, asked the selectmen to restore the raft that was a feature of the Town Beach for decades. It was removed in 2007, because it was considered a liability and it also attracted birds who were believed to foul the water. Barney noted that many townspeople wanted the raft

back, with over 200 signing a petition. Some raft supporters attended the meeting to speak in favor of a new raft. Barney reported that she had talked with the Town's insurance company, who said that the municipal liability insurance would not increase if the raft was returned. She was confident that the new raft could be built with donations, at no cost to the town. She had obtained estimates of up to $10,000 from professional dock builders. Lee Bavis questioned the accuracy of the water quality tests made by the lifeguards and volunteered his own expertise in water testing. It was pointed out that the raft served as a goal for beginning swimmers and as a resting place for tired swimmers. After a lengthy discussion, the selectmen voted 3 to 1 (with Barney abstaining) to authorize the Parks & Recreation Director to acquire a new raft for the beach. A public

hearing will be required by state law to accept the raft when it is ready because the gift would be valued at more than $5,000. Barney also brought up the issue of kayakers using part of the beach to launch their craft. She had ruled against that use because that sandy section of the beach was also used by younger children, but she had agreed to bring the issue to the Board. The selectmen backed Director Barney's ruling by consensus.

Town Manager Fred Welch reported on the testing of utility poles owned by the Ashland Electric Department. 440 poles have been tested so far, with 13 found to be defective. They are now being replaced. 560 poles still need to be tested, a job that will be completed this year. This led to a discussion of the slow response by other pole

users, the telephone and TV cable companies, to switch their wires to new poles erected by the Town, as can be seen on North Ashland Road and on one notorious broken pole on Winona Road. Welch noted that the Town has the statutory authority to require these other utilities to switch their wires when necessary.

Welch also reported problems with electricity billing. Parts on the machine that folds and stuffs the electric bills wore out so the machine began stuffing as many as four bills into one envelope. As a result, many customers did not get a bill. He explained that the

machine had been repaired and will be inspected every three months in the future. Customers who are late in paying their bills because of this problem will not be charged a penalty.

The Town Manager explained that the franchise contract for the cable television provider for Ashland expired on May 18. He has been trying every phone number he can, but has gotten no response from the cable company on the issue. In the meantime, the cable company has notified Ashland users of increases in their cable bill, which Welch felt was not legal as they do not have a contract for the Town. He plans to ask for refunds for those price increases. The options for the Town are a new contract with the present company or another company, or providing a Town owned cable system.

The Town will be receiving about $200,000 from the Federal government as part of the stimulus bill, which can be used for water, sewer or broadband. Ashland is proposing to use it for broadband in the downtown and other sections of the community. Grafton County is holding a meeting to consider a broadband "spine" for the towns in the

county. The Town's application must be submitted by August 18.

A new telephone system provided by First Light has been approved by the Selectmen for the Town Hall and the Utility Offices. The monthly cost for both buildings will be $463.90. There will be a single phone number, through which people will eventually reach the various Town departments, save for the emergency services, Police and Fire.

The new tax map project is nearly done. The last component will be an electronic version of the tax maps, which will be available online, so that citizens can consult it in their homes or offices. Chairman Eli Badger pointed out that other information can be added later to the tax maps.

The selectmen recognized local high school student Matthew Jolin, who won the Second Congressional District art contest, with an enthusiastic proclamation signed by all of them. Chairman Badger also thanked the Fourth of July Committee for providing "a very nice Fourth of July" despite the bad weather on the day of the celebration. The

selectmen ended their meeting with a non-public session that involved the Electric Department.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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