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Suncook Valley Regional Town Assn. MInutes 04/03/2008
Suncook Valley Regional Town Association
Meeting Minutes

Meeting Date:   April 3, 2008
Minutes Prepared By:  Bruce Dyke
In Attendance:  Keith Cota – Town of Epsom – Selectman
                          Lisa Drouse – Chichester Town Organization Committee
                          Bruce Dyke – Chichester Town Organization Committee
                     Jeff Jordon – Town of Chichester - Selectman
    Norm Larachelle – Chichester Town Organization Committee
    Allen Mayville – Chichester Town Organization Committee
               Gordon Preston – Town of Barnstead – Selectman
               Larry Preston – Town of Pembroke - Selectman
    Ed Vien – Town of Pittsfield – Selectman
Location:  Barnstead Public Library Conf. Room
Minutes Approved: TBA

        -    The meeting was called to order at 7:05 by Bruce Dyke

-       Bruce Dyke welcomed the group back for the third meeting of the Suncook Valley Regional Town Association and thanked Selectman Gordon Preston for hosting the meeting.

-       The draft minutes of the January 17, 2008 meeting were reviewed and comments/changes were solicited.  A motion was made by Ed Vien to accept the minutes as presented, which was approved by the majority of the group (Larry Preston abstained).

-       Larry Preston advised the group of the Town of Pembroke’s recent letter to Senator Larson regarding their support of Omnibus Retirement Bill, HB 1645, which could have substantial impacts on local town budgets with respect to NH Retirement Benefits expenses.  Mr. Preston wanted to insure all area towns were aware of the pending legislation and suggested each town’s respective Board of Selectmen contact their local Senator to express their views on this important issue.  Mr. Preston will be forwarding a copy of Pembroke’s letter to Bruce Dyke for distribution to all group members.

-       Gordon Preston updated the group with respect to obtaining a group insurance quote from the NH Municipal Association.  Due to a communication issue with regard to the necessary “Letter of Intent” from one of the interested towns, the process of requesting the quote was delayed until recently.  The issue was resolved and the request for a quote has been submitted.  Gordon also noted that the BCEP, which is considered a municipal entity is also eligible to participate and was included in the request.

-       A representative from each town represented in the group provided a summary of key points/issues from last month’s town meetings:

Chichester – Bruce Dyke noted that Chichester’s operating budget decreased by approx. 3/10 of a percent over last year’s budget and was passed with just one change, which involved removing a planned expense for a replacement police cruiser that instead was to be purchased with detail fee funds from last year’s route 4 widening project. It was also noted that attempts to increase the Highway Dept. budget by $49,500 to address excess plowing related expenses ultimately failed.   The operating budget also included changes to the employee benefits package, which added disability coverage, NH retirement and dental for most employees.  The change also increased the percentage paid by employees toward health insurance premiums.  The new benefits package now makes Town employees consistent with the package offered to school staff.

    With regard to major projects or capital expenses, the Town approved a $200k Warrant to pave Center Rd.  Warrants were also approved to purchase a new ambulance, some highway equipment and new air-packs for the Fire Department.  Most Warrants were funded by capital reserve or special revenue accounts, with the exception of the FD air-packs, which will be paid with new taxes.  

     A brief side discussion occurred with regard to Special Revenue Funds and how they could be used to target certain funds (ie. Ambulance fees) for use toward replacing specific equipment.  

Pittsfield – Ed Vien indicated that his town’s operating budget increased by approximately 1.5% over last year’s.  Of particular note was the Town’s decision to allocate $100k toward an Economic Development Fund.

With regard to Warrant Articles, the Town failed to approve the purchase of a ladder truck for the Fire Department, but did approve funds for a new plow truck for the Highway Department.  The Warrant to make Pittsfield an SB2 town also failed, but approval was given for Pittsfield to contract the services of the Capital Region Development Corp. which will hopefully help attract new business to the Town.

Epsom – Keith Cota explained that Epsom had another disappointing year in terms of success in obtaining a proposed increase to the Town’s operating budget (most of the proposed $400k increase was to address road improvements).  The Town is once again on a default budget which is about 1% higher than last year’s.

        Of the 17 Warrant Articles included for consideration this year, only 4 passed.  Mr. Cota noted the specific Warrant Articles to address salary equity adjustments for the Police Department staff, the hiring of an additional officer and hiring of an additional EMT all failed.   He further noted the morale problem that exists within the Police Dept. due to concerns with salary equity.

        A side discussion took place with regard to potential use of regionalized Police coverage, especially during nighttime hours.  The general feeling among the group was that shared patrols across bordering towns would generate cost savings while still providing a reasonable level of police presence in the area.  Possible arrangements of this nature would have to occur at the Selectboard level of any interested Towns.

Barnstead – Gordon Preston noted that Barnstead’s operating budget was going to a  fraction of a percent lower than last year’s.  In general, he noted that residents concerned with the overall struggling economy were not in a spending mood and as such, major project requests including a new Municipal Building/Police Department failed.  Requests for two new trucks for the Highway Department also failed.

Pembroke – Larry Preston explained that Pembroke’s operating budget was going to decrease by approximately 2 percent, due to aggressive attempts to help offset what was originally thought to be a large school budget deficit.  Although the school budget deficit ended-up being much lower than expected, additional funds were not added back to the Town’s budget.   

-       Larry Preston noted that Pembroke has undertaken a wage study project for various positions in the town and will share that data with the other towns in the SVRTA once it’s complete.  Gordon Preston explained that Barnstead had spent a fair amount of time creating salary ranges for all town positions.  Other towns in the group have done smaller wage studies based on particular positions as specific concerns may have arisen in the past.

-       Ed Vien informed the group of an arrangement Pittsfield has made to install Internet WiFi access in the Main St/Downtown area of his town.  The service will be available in June and it’s hoped that it will help generate additional patronage for business in that area.

-       Gordon Preston followed-up on a discussion point from the last meeting, concerning potential regional training seminars.  In particular, Barnstead is planning to schedule a training seminar regarding NH Labor Laws and wanted to know if other towns in the group might be interested in sending participants to such a session.  The group providing the free session would be willing to conduct it in our area (instead of Keene) if enough interest existed.  It was agreed that most of our towns had locations which could be made available to host such a session.  The session is planned for late May and depending on interest, may be offered at two times (a day session and an evening session).  Gordon will distribute a course overview to the group (via Bruce Dyke) and any town interested in sending people to the session, should notify him ASAP.  

-       Another follow-up to a prior meeting’s discussion involved the possibility of SVRTA Towns working out an arrangement by which various road projects for area towns could be grouped for quoting purposes.  It was believed that a potential group quote involving many area projects may help generate better cost points than would otherwise be obtained by individual towns obtaining quotes for their specific projects on their own.  It was unclear if any such quoting approach could occur for this year, due to timing issues, but the group felt is was worth investigating as a potential for next year and beyond.  As with the “group health benefits quote” already underway, it’s expected that any group quoting for road projects would likely require some sort of formal “Letter of Understanding” or other legal mechanism between the towns involved to be valid.  Ed Vien said he would have Pittsfield’s Town Administrator contact the Dept. of Revenue Admin. To obtain guidance from them on potential ways to approach this issue and report his findinds back to the group.

-       Gordon Preston asked for input from each town regarding their respective 2008 budgets for legal expenses as well as the hourly rate they pay town counsel.  The information wasn’t readily known to everyone at the meeting, but based on the limited info. shared, it appears as though there is a wide range between hourly rates paid to town counsel.   Bruce Dyke said he would collect the data and communicate it to the group separately.  The data will also be reviewed as an agenda item during the next SVRTA meeting.

-       Larry Preston indicated that Pembroke now has its first union representing the town’s Public Works personnel.

-       Ed Vien noted that the State of NH appears to be planning to shutdown the State gas pumps located at the junction of routes 107 and 28.  The timing of any shutdown is unknown, but if that occurs it will impact town’s such as Pittsfield (and Barnstead?) who obtain their fuel for town vehicles at that location.  More information on this topic will be shared as it becomes available.

-       Keith Cota provided the group with a brief summary of the recently released Suncook River Avulsion Study document, which deals with the impact (and potential resolution options) of the shift of a part of the Suncook River’s path through his town, which resulted from spring flooding over the last couple years.  Larry Preston indicated that Pembroke was also interested in this information, since his town is being impacted by sediment caused by the issue in Epsom.  

-       Gordon Preston informed the group of a private grant obtained by the Town of Barnstead regarding milfoil eradication from rivers in the town.  It served as a reminder that private grant money is also available and should be explored for various needs among towns.

-       The next meeting will be Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7pm.  The next meeting will be held at the Pembroke Town Offices

-       The meeting adjourned at 9:05pm.

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