Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Program to reward Winchester landlords for smoke-free housing

Is it just a coincidence that the wife comes up with an idea for a new program that also requires a new position be made on the towns already overpaid staff and that her husband gets hand picked to fill that position? 

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
WINCHESTER — A new program seeks to increase the availability of smoke-free rentals in town, while rewarding landlords who comply with the town’s housing standards ordinance. But the future of the ordinance, which has been in place for nearly five months, is in question because of a petition warrant article seeking to rescind it at town meeting in March.
As part of the ordinance, landlords must pay a fee to the town to help offset the cost of an inspection of the property.
Healthy Monadnock officials announced last week they have partnered with the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities to cover the cost of that fee, as long as the landlords prove their leases prohibit smoking in their housing units.
Winchester selectmen voted unanimously to approve the arrangement on Jan. 20.
The smoke-free incentive will be in effect until Sept. 30, said Margaret A. Sharra, Winchester land use administrator and code enforcement officer.
It’s funded through part of a $1.1 million federal Partnership to Improve Community Health Grant, which was awarded in 2014, according to a news release from Healthy Monadnock.
Healthy Monadnock is a community initiative that promotes healthy living in the Monadnock Region. It was founded in 2007 by Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene.
According to the news release, smoke-free policies provide cost savings to landlords on insurance and general property maintenance, while tenants benefit by breathing clean air.
“For the thousands of individuals that live in multi-unit housing, such as an apartment, duplex or condo, many of those units allow smoking in individual apartments and common areas,” the news release said. “This means secondhand smoke can migrate through doorways, cracks in walls, electrical lines, plumbing, and ventilation systems. This not only causes dangerous exposure to secondhand smoke, but can also trigger an asthma episode for those living with asthma.”
The smoke-free incentive will cover the initial cost landlords have to pay to have their properties inspected as part of Winchester’s housing standards ordinance, as long as they can prove the building is a smoke-free environment, Sharra said.
She said Tammy E. Dwyer, tobacco specialist for the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities, contacted her after reading about the housing standards ordinance, and said she might have something that could add to it.
They met and came up with the smoke-free component, Sharra said.
The coalition, which is based at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene, offers smoking prevention programs and provides treatment and resources to people who want to quit smoking.
Dwyer said coalition officials will work with the town to educate residents about the program and the dangers of secondhand smoke, especially in buildings with multiple housing units.
Residents would still have the option to smoke outside, Sharra said, and noted that landlords’ participation in the initiative is optional.
“The outcome of the program is two-fold,” she said. “It gets people living in healthy, smoke-free environments, and saves landlords money while rewarding them for doing something positive.”

An ordinance in limbo?
Winchester’s housing standards ordinance took effect in September 2015, after it was approved by voters in March of last year.
The ordinance allows town officials to inspect rental properties biannually to make sure they’re in compliance with health and safety codes. Officials are also able to require landlords to fix any problems they find during an inspection, according to the law.
A petition article appearing on this year’s town meeting warrant asks voters to rescind the ordinance. The selectmen voted 4-1 to recommend voters not approve this article.
Resident Larry R. Hill, a local landlord and member of the planning board who filed the petition, said Monday that he agreed with the warrant article last year, and voted for it. But he later learned the ordinance included a mandatory fee that wasn’t revealed on the ballot.
The inspection fees are $35 for one housing unit, and $50 for a house. Inspection of each additional dwelling unit is $20, as set by the selectmen in accordance with state law.
Re-inspection fees if inspectors found a problem start at $15 per unit the first time, $35 per unit the second time, and then increase each additional time after that.
The fees are set by the selectmen, according to the ordinance.
Town officials have said the fees are in place to help offset the salary of a part-time inspector.
Hill said he looked into the ordinance further, and concluded that while the fees would be part of the cost of doing business, it might cause landlords to increase their rents, even if by a small amount.
The ordinance could be considered discriminatory toward renters, because it focuses only on rental properties, according to Hill; as a result, he said, it implies renters are uniquely incapable of realizing the conditions of their dwellings.
“It also may be considered discriminatory as it ignores the safety of homeowners, some of whom are seniors in need of assistance in evaluating their living environments,” he said.
Hill also questions if the ordinance is necessary.
He said he plans to include these concerns in a letter to selectmen he’ll request they read at Saturday’s deliberative session.
In addition, he is asking the selectmen to reverse their decision and recommend residents approve his petition.
Voters can discuss and amend warrant articles at deliberative session before they vote on them by ballot at town meeting in March.
( Yes, they can, but a state law adopted several years ago, states that the meaning of the warrant CAN NOT BE CHANGED )
Sharra said Monday she doesn’t know what the next steps would be if voters opt to rescind the ordinance at town meeting in March, but she’s optimistic they won’t.
Since the ordinance took effect, town officials are finding what they suspected — many buildings have not been kept up to health and safety codes, she said. ( Isn't that the job the code enforcement officer is suppose to be doing? )
The most common problems inspectors ( ? )  are finding are buildings not having proper fire and carbon monoxide alarm systems, and minor electrical issues, she said.  ( Again, isn't this what she's getting paid to do  already? )
While some landlords have complained they don’t want to pay the inspection fees, most of them and their tenants have been receptive to the idea of having housing that is safe and up to code, and to the town being involved in helping them reach that goal, she said. ( nice spin, Margaret )


GOOD LUCK Leroy said...

Leroy, don't know if you are thinking of retiring, but the biggest smoker in the town hall needs your spot for the family business.

enough already said...

That's too funny. The chimney is concerned about second hand smoke and the guy that inspected and then purchased the house on Main Street, that they want to tear down because it's too far gone to renovate, is the town's apartment and house safety inspector. What's wrong with that picture? Maybe at deliberative we can change the name of this town to Fiasco.
And Larry Hill, one of her biggest supporters suddenly has a rude awakening, especially when it hits him in the pocket book. It's okay to screw the townsfolk, just not him. Shame on the BOS for creating this folly and hiring her husband. Wake up people before the whole family is on the payroll. Talk about town welfare.

Say it ain't so said...

We hired a guy for building inspector who couldn't even accurately diagnose his own family building purchase?

shameful conduct said...

Why is it every time there is an article in the paper regarding Winchester, Mrs. Sharra is at the center of controversy again and again. She is either mentioned in a lawsuit or some other dubious scheme. Has she no shame at all? I know first hand that she is not an easy person to deal with at town hall and seems to be involved in so many positions that surely someone else could do besides one person. Why does this continue to go on?

what a joke said...

It goes on because she has friends on the boards and at least 3 of the selectboard are in her corner and allow her to get away with many things in this town. Anyone else that has caused a town to be brought to court so many times would have been fired by now. Look how much the town's legal budget has increased since she was appointed to her positions. That's right, appointed, we can't even vote her out!

Anonymous said...

And the irony of it all is that her husband was hired to do the job she has been supposed to do all along!!!! And Leroy who just rides around in the town car and is seen in Keene and elsewhere, holding court in his office or napping on the job in the town car. Even worse is the smoking deal. Come on folks!!!! Margaret wouldn't need an assistant if she actually worked instead of standing outside SMOKING all day. It is just plain WRONG!!! Is anyone besides Ben Kilanski running against these people????? We can complain forever but until they are voted out by new blood nothing will change.

Concerned said...

The Town Hall, Fire and Police Dept building, Highway garage and any other town owned or operated facilities should be SMOKE FREE ZONES. Yes, not only the buildings but the area surrounding them.

concerned 2 said...

So far its Ben Kilanski and Richard Pratt Jr, as far as I'm concerned, its any one but Stevens and Sepe or Tedford.

WMUR? said...

I would imagine certain town hall employees will be working hard, on our time, to change the way some warrant articles are presented to the voters. And with a room full of employees, friends and family they usually make it happen. One can only hope the news media will have correct coverage so the rank and file voter will be able to understand what happened and exactly what they will be voting on.

Anonymous said...

6:38AM, the biggest voting block in town are the Employees, friends and family and if you doubt this just stop in to deliberative this Saturday. Then check out the room full of voters for the school. Cant blame the employees for looking out for themselves, its just the way it works. Its the underhanded way we run things in this town, and we are not alone, that gets the residents that aren't in the click so angry.

You think you have a say! said...

Yes WMUR said, Even if you do try speaking up your opinion on a warrant article at the town deliberative session and it doesn’t fit into the town’s ruling groups agenda they will signal the town moderator to squash your voice, if you keep talking like last year they will have the chief of police force you to shut up like they did to Bob Davis last year. Good luck trying to get your opinion heard.