Selectmen’s Thoughts on the Annual Town Meeting

Democracy at work in a small town

By Andover Board of Selectmen

Herbie Barton (standing, right) addresses Town Meeting on March 8, 2016. Photo: Larry Chase

Herbie Barton (standing, right) addresses Town Meeting on March 8, 2016. Photo: Larry Chase

I hope that the “high energy and emotions” we experienced at our recent Town Meeting was cathartic in the sense that we can all see that if people speak out on an issue, they have the power to make a difference. Everyone who wanted to speak to the Noise Ordinance warrant article was given his or her time at the microphone, and the article was subsequently voted down.

This was certainly an example of democracy at work at the small town level.

Two days later, however, Andover, Hillsboro, and Salisbury were featured unfavorably in the editorial of the Concord Monitor:

“… Throughout the area, the traditional sounds of congenial town meetings were drowned out by angry voices and bitter accusations (Andover, Hillsboro, and Salisbury were noted) … While we don’t expect civility to make a comeback overnight, there is an obvious path forward. It involves listening to opposing viewpoints dispassionately, calmly assessing the argument’s merits and shortcomings, and offering a thoughtful response in a measured tone. The person with whom you disagree shouldn’t be seen as a threat but a neighbor with a different perspective.”

I was disappointed to see Andover featured in a negative light, and I hope that we can turn around and have a more congenial and respectful Town Meeting next year.

And now, on to business.

The Andover Selectmen welcome Dave Blinn as our newest member. Dave was sworn in on March 10, and he will cover the remaining year of a three-year term. We look forward to getting to know Dave and working with him as we begin a new year.

We say goodbye to Duncan Coolidge, who worked diligently during his term to resurrect a much-needed Capital Improvement Plan Committee. Duncan plans to continue his work in other town organizations, such as the Andover Lions Club and the Andover Community Association. Thank you, Duncan, for your dedication and the many hours you put in.

Although the polls in Andover were not particularly well attended, Town Meeting itself was. Many people showed up to argue the pros and cons of the proposed Noise Ordinance (Article 11), which was moved to the beginning of the meeting.

Chief Laramie explained the need for a more detailed and enforceable ordinance than the one we currently have. Most of the people who spoke against the proposed ordinance felt it was too restrictive for a small town. Others were concerned that they could be fined or arrested on a first offense. Chief Laramie explained that the ordinance would be enforceable similar to a speed limit: enforcement would be determined at the officer’s discretion, based on the severity or the frequency of non-compliance.

In the end, the ordinance was voted down by a clear majority. The Selectmen and Police Chief would still like to have an enforceable noise ordinance, so we will work with community members to find a solution that is more workable for one and all.

Several areas of the operating budget were discussed at length.

Planning and Zoning now has a budget that clearly delineates necessary expenditures such as file conversions, postage and dues, seminars, notices and legal expenses. Extensive work on the Master Plan and the research necessary for addressing applications to the Planning Board has overwhelmed their resources.

To help better serve the public, a Planning and Zoning Coordinator will be funded at $14,040, which is the bulk of the increase in this department. Previously, money and work time was taken out of the Town Administrator’s office budget to cover some of these requirements.

Building expenses were up, mostly due to a custodian to be hired part-time to cover the Town Office, the library, and the police department, and more money being added to the building repair and maintenance line. The library portion of the building needs new insulation in the walls and ceiling, and the vault needs a ventilation system.

Information Technology

Information Technology (IT) is so all-encompassing that we have created an accounting category that includes all office equipment from the postage meter and the copier to the computers and the computer network. Also included this year are the annual fees for software support for tax collection, Town Clerk functions, assessing, and accounting. Most of the increase in this area is due to an increase in the contract with Mainstay (IT support) and Comcast Internet fees.

People often ask us why our IT support costs so much. Our network and its security are required to comply with state and federal regulations, and this requires specialized knowledge and abilities and, thankfully, that is part of the service provided to the Town by the IT company.

Our current IT company provides consulting, engineering and support services for the network, equipment, software, and the staff. It also provides a flat-cost service plan for our network that includes many services such as scheduled, on-site proactive maintenance; system audits; and extensive reviews of the network, as well as unlimited responsive support for issues and questions, both remotely and on-site.

Discussion of the Highway Department centered on labor. Last year the Road Agent and Selectmen presented the town with a three-year pilot program, hiring two part-time workers and purchasing a truck with plow and sander and other maintenance equipment. The Highway Department would take over the maintenance of Town properties, including the beach, the cemeteries, and Blackwater Park. We have found this arrangement to be very efficient, and the cost savings have been significant, at more than $100,000.

Everyone seems to agree that the cemeteries, park, and Town Hall grounds are looking great. Town Meeting approved the Highway Budget, which included two full-time employees instead of two part-time employees. We expect to see continued increase in value for the cost of the labor as we did this past year.

We once again have Cemetery Trustees, and that budget includes the usual maintenance of all cemeteries and projects in three of them. The projects include an interior roadway in the East Andover cemetery; repair of the pipe fence at the cemetery behind the church in East Andover; and hedge trimming, repair and extension of the water line, as well as tree work in Proctor Cemetery.

Single Stream Recycling (SSR) is a cost that has gone up $20 per ton since January. There was lengthy discussion about the best course of action, and a motion was made, and defeated, to reduce the SSR disposal line by $6,000.

The Selectmen explained that we would be separating out glass, which can be disposed of for $30 per ton as compared to $74 per ton for SSR or $68 per ton in the hopper. Even as it stands, SSR only costs the average taxpayer between $4 to $8 a year for the convenience of not having to sort recycling.

With the start of semi-annual tax billing, the Town has not had to borrow money to get through the billing cycle. In anticipation of this, but remaining cautious, the budget line for the Interest on the Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) had been decreased from $12,000 to $5,000. There was a call to cut the line item to zero, but on the off chance that we will have to borrow money, we are required to have an amount in that line.

The total Operating Budget passed was $1,612,904.

Capital Reserve Funds and Expendable Trust Funds were presented and voted on in two blocks, Articles 3 and 4. Voters passed the amount of $262,976 to be placed in Capital Reserve Funds for revaluation, ambulance, highway equipment, highway special projects, police cruiser, Transfer Station, and bridge rehabilitation.

The Highway Special Projects Fund will be used for resurfacing Monticello Drive and Shaw Hill Road and upgrading shoulder drainage on Old College Road. The Bridge Rehabilitation Fund is to be used on our red-listed bridges, including Kearsarge Mountain Road Bridge and Hall Farm Road Bridge.

The Lawrence Street Bridge Fund, which was not included in the warrant articles, currently has $200,002. The remaining funds needed to complete the project in 2023-2024 (when federal and state funds become available), can be raised by taking out a bond. The Town will be reimbursed for 80% of the cost.

The total project is estimated at $2.5 million, according to DOT this year. The Town’s portion of 20% would be around $500,000, plus an estimated 3% annual inflation.

For the Expendable Trust Funds, voters approved $20,000 to be placed in funds for forest fire labor, Town buildings, and technology.

Warrant Articles 5 and 6 were passed, authorizing the Selectmen to enter into a three-year lease for a Ford F550 forestry truck in the amount of $47,066 and to appropriate $33,160 for equipment to outfit the truck for forest fire suppression. The first year’s lease payment for the truck will be $15,687.

Presently, fire fighters are using their own trucks to bring equipment into forest fires. The Town or the Fire Districts do not cover damage to the fire fighters' trucks, and their insurance companies are no longer willing to cover this type of damage. There was discussion about purchasing a used truck for this purpose, but the argument for needing a new truck under full warranty in an emergency situation won the day.

The truck will be maintained by the Fire Department, sparing the Town these costs. The Fire Department and the Highway Department will be able to call on this truck for use in emergencies such as a downed power line, when a smaller vehicle is more maneuverable and costs less to mobilize than one of the bigger engines.

Article 7 was also passed, to appropriate $30,000 to outfit with road maintenance equipment the 1990 Ford L8000 truck sold to the Town for $1 by the Fire Department.

Article 8 asked for $25,000 to replace the shingle roof on the Town Office and Andover Public Library building. The project will go through the bid process.

Estimates were received for both shingle and metal roofs, both coming in around $25,000. A shingle roof would require the removal and disposal of the current shingles, whereas a metal roof could be installed over the current shingles. A motion was made, and passed, to amend the article to have the roof replaced with a metal roof only.

Article 9 addressed the Morrill Hill Road Bridge, which is back on schedule to be replaced in 2017. The $179,888 to be placed in a Capital Reserve Fund for this bridge was previously raised and will come from the unassigned fund balance, where it has been for the past year. This is also a project that will receive 80% reimbursement from the State.

Article 10 gives the Selectmen permission to enter into a 25-year lease with the Andover Snowmobile Club for the lease of a portion of the land at White Oak Sand Pit. The Club wishes to build an equipment building with a small meeting area. This will be similar to the lease the Town has with the Horseshoe Club at the old (old) dump site on the west side of Monticello Drive.

Article 12 was a petitioned warrant article dealing with the purchase of a small piece of land and a building abutting the White Oak Sand Pit. As the property was recently purchased by another abutter, the article was tabled.

The total amount to be appropriated by the warrant articles is $566,711, with only $386,823 to be raised by taxation, as the $179,888 for Morrill Hill Road Bridge Capital Reserve Fund was previously raised.

Thank you to all those who came out to participate in the Town Meeting process. Please keep in touch with questions and concerns during this year, and don’t forget to attend the Budget Committee's public hearings in December and January. These hearings are an excellent opportunity to offer suggestions and voice concerns before the budgets are finalized.