Sunday, January 31, 2016

In Winchester, sticking points are few, but lengthy

The only things that change year after year in Winchester is the date and time .. same old overspending, putting burdens on the old and disabled and families with children..

 By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
WINCHESTER — All but three of 32 articles on the warrant will make it to the town meeting ballot untouched following a five-hour deliberative session Saturday. The articles voters amended dealt with how much the town gives to the E.L.M. Memorial Community Center, bringing back the community’s budget committee, and whether to continue having a housing standards ordinance adopted at last year’s town meeting.
In addition, voters unsuccessfully attempted to make amendments to the town’s proposed 2016-17 operating budget of $3,567,376, a warrant article seeking to establish and fund a legal-fund-capital-reserve account for the purpose of opposing the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, and a petition article seeking to raise $50,000 for enrichment programs for local children and teenagers as part of ACCESS (All Children Cared for, Educated, Supported and Successful).
Roughly 80 people attended the meeting at Winchester Town Hall, tempered by a 10-minute break and a 30-minute lunch.
Despite some protest, residents first took up warrant article 20, which asked voters if they want the town to have a budget committee, at the request of town Moderator Denis V. Murphy 2nd. Murphy said he expected the article, inserted by petition, to be contentious, and wanted to get it out of the way.
According to the warrant article, the committee would include three at-large members appointed by the town moderator, and one person each from the selectmen and school board, appointed by their respective board.
Last year, town meeting voters approved a warrant article, which was backed by selectmen, to abolish the budget committee. The committee had existed since 1935, and was in charge of setting the town’s annual operating budget for voters to approve.
Without the committee, the selectmen set the budget this year with the help of a four-member financial advisory committee appointed by the board.
Resident Richard Horton served on the budget committee in the past, he said, and found it an important part of how the town functions.
However, he opposed the article because it didn’t make clear that the committee’s members would be elected.
“The political process allows people to choose who goes on a public committee,” he said.
Resident William A. “Bill” McGrath said he interpreted the article and what Murphy was trying to explain about it to mean the moderator would appoint the three committee members for the first year, if the article passes. After that, voters would elect the committee members, McGrath said.
After some back-and-forth with the town’s attorney, Barton L. Mayer of Concord, Horton moved an amendment that the moderator would appoint the three committee members for the first year, and have voters elect them for the following years.
Voters passed the amendment, and then the amended warrant article, by voice votes.
Discussion lasted for about an hour on a petition warrant article asking voters to rescind the town’s housing standard ordinance.
Deputy Moderator Kevan D. Whippie read the warrant article, and as soon as he finished resident Margaret A. Sharra moved to amend it to say that voters would vote to continue the ordinance.

 Gotta keep hubby employed to do her work for her

Sharra, the town’s land use administrator and zoning code enforcement officer, said town meeting voters overwhelming approved the ordinance last year, and it’s needed.
“We have a lot of substandard rental housing in town, and in order to improve the town and have residents live in good and safe housing, inspections are necessary,” she said. “We need the ordinance. Without it we can only inspect a property if we receive a complaint, or we’re invited by the tenant or landlord.”
Some landlords attending the meeting questioned the ordinance, saying they were concerned it was putting an unfair burden on them to upgrade their buildings, some of which are decades old, to meet current fire, health and safety codes.

"Lots of substandard rental housing in town"  Really?

Resident Bill Devino gave a lengthy presentation about the problems the ordinance was causing a property owner who was elderly and lived out of state, but was a former resident.
Devino said when the property owner learned of the new ordinance, he and his daughter, who helps handle his affairs, contacted town officials to set up an inspection.
While the inspector found the home had been well kept, there were some minor problems, and noted the lack of an interconnected, hardwired, battery backup carbon monoxide and smoke alarm detection system, Devino said.
In addition, the inspector said some rooms needed wall switches even though the pull chains on the light fixtures were in fine functioning order, Devino said.
Further the property owner was only given 20 days to fix these problems before a re-inspection based on the letter he received from the town, Devino said, and that is an impossible deadline to meet.
Installing a hardwired fire and carbon monoxide system alone would be cost prohibitive for the property owner, in part due to the work that would be involved with the house being over 100 years old, Devino said.
“It has certainly caused an 87-year-old man who was once a proud resident of town mental anguish,” Devino said. “I’d say scrap it and start over with all the rules on the table so that everyone understands.”

Resident Bridget E. Pearce spoke in favor of keeping the ordinance, saying tenants sometimes fear their landlords will retaliate against them, if they report a problem with their residence. It’s time tenants have rights and not just landlords, she said.
 “The problem we face is we expect people to do the right thing, and time and time again we find that is not happening,” she said.

Tenants do have rights and there is already a state law in place to help them in all rental matters, all they have to do is report the problem(s) in writing..

Sharra’s amendment eventually passed by a voice vote, as did the amended warrant article.

Resident Andrew Wallace wasted no time in proposing an amendment to a warrant article to establish and put $15,882 into a fund that would pay for the town’s portion of legal expenses for being a member of the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition.
The coalition is a group of 15 towns, including Winchester, fighting the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
Wallace proposed the amount be zero, saying not everyone is against the pipeline.
James Wallace, who seconded the amendment, said the pipeline could potentially bring jobs to the area and $700,000 in tax revenue.
“We have the third or fourth highest tax rate in this town. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the county,” he said. “I think we need to look at ways for people to keep their homes and lower taxes. This has the potential to lower energy costs, and it’s something to bring the tax rate down.”
Resident Brandon Day agreed, saying residents shouldn’t be fighting something that could be added to the town tax rolls.
It’s important that a group of people that wants to oppose the pipeline not have those who support it pay to fight it, he said.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, is proposing the 419-mile interstate pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from the shale fields of northern Pennsylvania to a hub in Dracut, Mass.
Along the way, the pipeline is proposed to travel through 18 communities in southern New Hampshire, including the Cheshire County towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Opponents of the pipeline countered the arguments from the Wallaces and Day, saying Kinder Morgan has a history of saying a pipeline would bring in so much revenue to the town, but when the company receives the bill, its officials file for abatement.
In addition, resident Susan L. Durling, co-founder of Winchester Pipeline Awareness, said her research has shown the values of properties that have natural gas pipelines going through them decrease, which puts the burden on a town’s other residents to make up the difference.
Further, compressor stations, like the one being proposed in neighboring Northfield, Mass., can cause health problems, including increases in asthma attacks and exacerbating symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she said.
Resident Peter J. Eisenstadter said the arguments being presented about the pipeline were important and relevant, but it shouldn’t be up to a small group of people at deliberative session to decide for voters at town meeting.
“I say leave the money as is. The town can still vote it down, but it leaves the choice to the voters. To me that seems more democratic,” he said.
Debate on the amendment lasted about 30 minutes before it was voted down in a voice vote. The warrant article will go to the town meeting ballot as originally written.

Town meeting is scheduled for March 8 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Winchester Town Hall.

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.


eyes wide open said...

How long are we going to continue putting up with conduct that places a financial burden on both the town and it's residents year after year by a person who is driven by her own personal agenda? From numerous court cases for violations of personal rights and town and state regulations to now a position for her spouse that pays $39,000 a year for 28 hours of work, approved and appointed by her friends on the Board of Selectmen. This is a disgusting show of nepotism to say the least. Is this not a conflict of interest to amend a warrant that would possibly do away with an unneeded position to that she pushed for and then her husband was chosen to fill? This same person who could not see that the property they were purchasing on Main Street has and I quote " numerous issues that are cost prohibitive to repairing", is now going to inspect others property for code infractions. You have to be kidding.
Remember, this is strictly voluntary and if landlords don't participate, we'll be supporting this venture fully, now year after year. Another thing to think about is the added costs as mentioned above to upgrade fully functioning systems that are grandfather in and meet the safety standards, though not new building codes. These costs will be passed onto to tenants, raising rental costs or landlords will will weigh the costs against lost revenues and stop renting, causing more issues.
Tenants have a bill of rights to protect them and landlords know their duties and keep their rental properties in safe and decent shape already without being told, otherwise they wouldn't be able to rent them.
The only family this position and salary are helping is the Sharra's.

VOTE NO in March, we don't need another Code Inspector if someone will just follow up on any complaints she receives.

As for the pipeline bring jobs to the area and $700,000.00 in tax revenue, I think James Wallace is having pipe dreams and would like to know where he got this dollar amount from? There will be NO local jobs, all positions will be filled by company, unionized employees and as mentioned in the article by Susan Durling is correct, this Kinder Morgan company takes towns and counties to court seeking tax reductions all across the land. They lie and make promises they have no intentions of keeping, after all it's a business in business to make huge profits. Their safety record speaks volumes as to what they care about most and it sure isn't their employees or people affected by their projects.

VOTE YES in March to support not only your fellow citizens whose homes and lives will be affected but also those of people of NH in our surrounding towns. This pipeline benefits no one but greedy cooperate enterprises from far outside our state.

Anonymous said...

What the Hell eyes wide open, most of our selectmen and their friends enjoy tax reductions without going to court. they give it to themselves..WTF just look locally.

are we really that stupid? said...

I find it highly suspect and quite concerning that the people who have asked to be allowed to tear down a historical building on Main Street, one that the State of NH placed on a list of buildings to save, all because in their opinion it is too costly to repair. That they didn't consider this before purchasing baffles the mind and leads one to believe, after the dealings that went on over a proposed Dollar Store, there is much more going on here than meets the eye. I am wondering how two obviously unqualified persons are our Code Enforcement Officer and Building Safety Inspector when it is obvious they have no clue what they are doing. I believe we have been hoodwinked by our dubious Board of Selectmen and Ms. Sharra into adding an unnecessary position to the town's employment and someone who obviously isn't knowledgeable enough to make these decisions that will ad a financial burden to property owners. I agree an implore anyone with common sense to vote no on continuing this charade.