Friends and neighbors,
As I do every year, I send out “Brian’s Picks” by email to all of you because its easier than trying to answer all of the emails and questions I receive individually.
Please remember its your vote. These are only my opinion based upon my participation over the years and involvement on many of the issues. Take everyone’s opinion with a grain of salt.
Town Election Time: Brian’s Picks
Once again we are all faced with the citizen responsibility of voting and telling our “leaders” our opinion. Do we agree or disagree? In most cases we agree with those we elect. They are the ones that have spent time looking into the issues. (At least most of them do, but not all!)
They are average citizens charged with overseeing and directing the paid personnel who run our day to day Exeter government and operations. For average citizens it can be hard to follow everything and sometimes the information we and our elected officials get is once sided or just plain wrong.
Some private citizens like Frank and I and others spend a lot more time following the issues facing our town. Some of these issues have been evolving over years so it takes a great deal of time and a good memory.
Once again this year I presenting an overview of the issues article by article so you as voters may be more fully informed before you vote. Hope it helps you in making your decisions.
Art. 1: Selectman, Treasurer, etc.
There are really only two position where you need to vote. All others are uncontested.
Selectman position: While Dan Chartrand is the only name on the ballot, nobody has to vote for him. He doesn’t deserve a 2nd term. To the contrary, Dan has demonstrated he can’t separate politics from leadership. Failing to listen to others is his #1 trait.
I am recommending to everyone I know to WRITE IN Bob Eastman for Selectman instead.
Bob is a past 3 term Selectman, he voluntarily stepped down after his third term for personal reasons but believes Dan ‘s demonstrated behavior is such a liability to our Town that he has stepped forward and volunteered for this write in campaign. While this is a long shot WRITE IN campaign, we all need to send a message to Mr. Chartrand that his behavior is not going to be tolerated.
If for some reason you don’t support Bob, then just don’t vote for anyone. It’s the same message.
Please WRITE in BOB EASTMAN for Selectman. Don’t forget when you’re in the voting booth!
Treasurer position: Allan Corey is the incumbent and has done a good job for us. He is familiar with how our Town runs and has been involved with other committees so he has the background knowledge. I see no reason to change now so I recommend Allan Corey.
Art. 2: YES- Gives flexibility to the Planning Board on parking arrangements based upon the proposed used rather than having to go with just a fixed, rigid, one size fits all formula.
Art. 3: YES- Common sense revision to Chapter 9 Natural Resources/Wetlands that adds to the permitted use list two actions designed to improve the wetland/buffer thru removing invasive species or removing previously installed impervious surfaces.
Art. 4: NO- While this appears a minimal change, it would have a major impact in a few very limited cases. I don’t know who wrote this and didn’t think it all of the way thru. Planning Department?
Despite the way it is worded, this change is not about septic tanks and leach fields within our 40 and 50 foot buffers. In fact, NH Regulations prohibit fields and septic tanks from being within 50 or 75 feet of poorly drained or very poorly drained wetlands. (See Env Wq 1008.04 and corresponding table 1008-2.) But State Law allows the sealed connecting pipes within these areas.
Our Zoning Ordinance already prohibits ANY septic related activity within the buffer IF an alternative location is feasible.
Therefore based upon State Regulations and our current Zoning language, ONLY a sealed connection pipe could be located within the buffer and ONLY if proven no other option existed. I vote to let the Planning Board make this determination in the few cases it might apply to protected the private property rights of the owner.
Art. 5: YES- This makes sense. Adding a scientific component to the Wetland Buffer waiver process. Finally!
Art. 6: YES- This one is about streamlining a process. Nothing actually changes other than now having only one set of hearings to cover the same issues rather than two separate sets of hearings and approvals.
Art. 7: NO- This is a waste of money in Exeter’s case and as written, very misleading. This is all about the recently revised FEMA Flood Maps and an excuse to add some new restrictions that don’t have scientific backup. Don’t go by the stated “NH Office of Energy & Planning” language. You see, in Exeter’s case, we are removing the dam this coming September. As a result, FEMA is going to have to come back and change the new flood maps to accurately reflect the new reality and lower floodplain.
Some of the language in the actual amendment wording (which you don’t see on the ballot) is actually so bad that when I asked the person who would be charged with enforcement for details, I was told they didn’t have a clue to how to answer some good questions.
Let’s vote NO this year and take the time to get the revised flood maps and come up with better language before we make any mistakes and waste taxpayer monies.
Art. 8: YES! This is one major foundation to the proposed Epping Rd. economic development proposed TIF which is comprised of 4 separate warrant articles, #8 is a zoning issue, 10 a bonding issue and 28 & 29 the required legal authority and TIF “plan. I will break-down all at the end or you can skip back there now if you’re curious.
Art. 9: Undecided. This is a result from the half-way house proposal out near the Exeter Farms subdivision. This is a citizen petitioner zoning article regarding removing “Community Buildings” from being allowed in Residential areas. Below is the Zoning Ordinance definition of a Community Building.
“2.2.20 Community Buildings: A building or structure or group of buildings or structures, owned and operated by the Town of Exeter, or by a nonprofit organization, the primary purpose of which is to provide social and recreational services to the citizens of the community , focused on promoting their health and general welfare.”
First understand that a Town operated structure is not subject to Zoning. So that part is irrelevant. What we are really talking about is “non-profit” ventures. These can range from abortion clinics to child care to counseling centers to food pantries to half-way houses to churches. There really are no limits on what can be called a non-profit.
So what the issue comes down to really is, “how would you feel if someone proposed something next to you in your residential neighborhood?” verses, “Well where do you realistically expect them to go in Town that fiscally makes any sense and that can provide the services to the community?”
Tough one, you decide.
Bonding Warrant Articles:
Art. 10: YES- This is the second TIF article with is a bonding authorization in the amount of $6.8 Million to pay for the expansion of Water and Sewer up Epping Rd. just past Rt 101 to service all of this Commercial and Industrially zoned property. It makes no sense to have a Commercial/Industrial area if it isn’t service with both Water & Sewer, Exeter’s only economic development advantage over surrounding Towns. I’ll get into the particulars at the end.
Art. 11: YES- This is a bond to replace the “red listed” rusting out culverts under Linden Street over the Little River. Got to be done as soon as possible.
Art. 12: YES- This bond is to finally fix the downtown sidewalks. It’s about time? We’ve waited 12 years for this. This plan calls for upgrading from asphalt sidewalks to concrete. Good thing. They’ve unfortunately added a few bells and whistles which have increased the costs but I can live with it. Let’s get it done.
Art. 13: NO- This second downtown sidewalk article is for spending even more money but for $175,000 for “beautification. Sorry, we already have a high property tax issue and other major projects that need funding that have been put off. Crumbing bridges for example. I can’t see spending more money on “beautifying” the downtown sidewalks when people on fixed incomes are struggling with current tax rates. Let’s prioritize people! This is the first of my NO votes to cut half a million of unnecessary spending.
Art. 14: YES- This is a no brainer. We need the offices filled.
Art. 15: YES, or we could vote no and just go with the Default Budget which is $10,000 less. Here’s why. Frank and I both testified against the budget including the full COAST bus funding. Every other town serviced by this bus has been no paying anything towards the service or a reduced amount. Only Exeter has paid the whole requested amount, in effect, using your Exeter Tax dollars to subsidize other towns. The COAST bus service had documented inefficiencies and even their director admitted they had problems which kept getting kicked down the road. The Select Board at the Town Administrations advice voted to fully fund COAST again. At Deliberative a proposed $15K reduction was voted down. (Not enough of us showed up)
Well I have to announce that the COAST Bus organization finally faced reality today and issued a press release ending the Rt. 7 service effective this June.
Now, let’s make sure that the Town doesn’t send them a check for the whole amount and further, use some of the money saved to provide a better and cheaper service alternative for the few riders that used the service and give the rest back to the taxpayers.
Art. 16: YES- Water Budget (But don’t like all the consultant money)
Art. 17: YES- Sewer Budget (But don’t like all the consultant money)
Art. 18: YES, grudgingly. Police Labor Contract. I get almost all of the changes. But I totally disagree with adding ANOTHER “holiday”. This drives up labor costs more than disclosed in the Town’s analysis. This is the second labor contract in a row where we see a claim of limiting “pay increases” but which contain other provisions that increase the taxpayers cost not being advertized.
Art. 19: YES, grudgingly- Sidewalks on Kingston Rd. out as far as Riverwoods. I can see them going out as far as Tamarind Lane, but adding another 2000 feet out to Riverwoods along Kingston Rd is a problem. We already have sidewalks thru the Tamarind Lane subdivision which connect to Riverwoods. If people want to take a walk or ride a bike, it would be a much safer way and cut the cost in half.
But our Town Planner already applied for and has received approval for a $500,000 NHDOT grant leaving us to pay $150 K. I would prefer the State to pay for fixing some roads and bridges in Exeter instead, which would benefit us all a lot more. But that’s not where we are. So, while wasteful, this project will connect Brickyard Park with a sidewalk into Town and farther out.
Art. 20: YES-New Boilers for the Safety Complex. I personally believe we can get the job done cheaper than this and I plan on pressing the Town Administration to doing some competitive bidding for this job. Whatever the end cost, the increased energy efficiency should reduce heating costs and over time we will recoup this expense.
Art. 21: YES- These are the social service organizations getting “reauthorized” for the next 3 years. Please keep in mind that this $113, 895 figure is for only 1/3rd of these organizations to do the math, we spend over $300,000 on this every year.
Art. 22: NO- Simply because this $100,000 figure is misleading. I’ve been attending hearings on this Fire/Police proposal for about 4 years. The total cost is actually a lot higher. Funds in this article are for a communication pod on the Water tower and some other items. However, it does not include all of the other equipment that will need to be changed to work with the new system. The Chief admits that all of the police and fire department personal radios will have to be replaced at about $4,000 each, totaling an additional $100+ thousand. Some of these new radios have been stuck in the budget as an individual line item under “equipment”. I just don’t like it when the Town Administration allows or promotes articles without giving all the facts to the voters up front. Until they give out all the information this is another $100,000 towards the half million dollar cut.
Art. 23: NO- New Street Sweeper. We are being asked to replace a street sweeper. But the age of the current sweeper has suddenly gotten older that it was reported just a few years ago. It must be that Public Works is now using “dog years”. I say this $$267,677 be delayed at least one more year until they get their facts straightened out. Look, we have now saved that half-million in tax dollars! Let’s see if we can find more.
Art. 24: YES, YES, YES- Snow and Ice Reserve Fund for $50,000. Folks, with this winter we’ve already spent the money. Accept it and just vote yes.
Art. 25: YES- Just a matter of housekeeping.
Art. 26: YES- A Snow Go is that giant snow blower that is used to suck up all the downtown snow when the parking spaces are full of snow and need to be cleared so people can park and drive. Costly but necessary item.
Art. 27: NO, NO, NO- This $102,434 expenditure for a new “fire alarm” boom truck I am 150% against. I’ve written on this in the past. The primary purpose is to maintain the antiquated old fire alarm box system which goes back 100 years or so. Everyone now has cell phones and we have 911 which we pay for. Even the consultant we paid to evaluate our Fire Department about 5 years ago recommended discontinuing the system as a waste of money. Why are we keeping this system going?
According to the Fire Chief, its a great make work project for the Fire Department and they get to charge businesses in Town $61,000 in fees for maintaining the system. Excuse me, on this same ballot we taxpayers are asked to spend $6.8 Million to attract new businesses yet at the same time the Fire Department is charging existing businesses $61k in fees for a useless service. He guys, let’s get on the same track.
(Vote no on this last spending article and now we have saved over $600,000 this year. Good work!)
Let’s skip #28 &29 because they are also about the TIF which is at the end.
Art. 30: YES- A lease of Town property out near the Town Dump to allow a new cell tower to improve reception out here. Great! Better service and even better, income for the Town!
The TIF/Economic Development Initiative Warrant Articles
Arts. 8, 10,28 & 29: YES, YES, YES, YES.
Finally to the Epping Rd. economic development proposals. I’m not going to go into all the particulars of the wetland buffer changes, bonding and development issues or the TIF plan itself. But I will just hit the high points.
We are in economic competition with surrounding towns to attract new businesses to keep or lower our property taxes rates. Exeter has the highest tax rate in the area amongst the surrounding Towns. They are attracting a greater percentage of businesses than Exeter, especially those that don’t require heavy sewer and water usage. We have the Water and Sewer plants in place but much of the undeveloped Commercial property up Epping Road is not in the service area. Hence, little economic development. Time is running out for Exeter in this competition as other towns move forward.
Another factor against development has been the overly restrictive or burdensome regulations of our town. Another the issue of regulatory uncertainly because of the mixed actions by our Boards and Commission. In one case they rule one way and in another the opposite. Uncertainty sends prospects away.
The proposed solution is based upon 2 initiatives:
What the new Economic Development Director has done is the fastest and quickest way to spur interest in Exeter. I’m not saying the best. But definitely quicker when you offer “free stuff” also.
First; With installing Water & Sewer to the undeveloped area it speeds up the development and is designed to use “future new” to pay for the improvements which places little burden on the taxpayers. (Let me add one caveat, that’s so long as the ZBA stops granting variances contrary to our Town Master Plan) This is the Bond Article #10.
Second: And with just one correction to our wetlands buffer process there is new added certainty to our approval process with pre-determined set-backs based upon scientifically based criteria. Buffer widths will increase or decrease depending on the type of wetland. Based upon the type of wetlands that exist in the proposed zone, a greater utilization of the area can be achieve resulting in more economic development and higher property tax revenue for the Town.
BE CLEAR: If Art. 8 is voted down, the other 3 warrants are not economically feasible because the assumptions they are based upon the foundation set by Art. 8.
I am very disappointed in those opposing Art. 8 and the whole TIF in general. Even respected environmental figures in this Town are using misleading statements to create doubt and fear. Their charges are unfounded.
Other issues raised have been about how the TIF Plan (Articles 28 &29) is set up. Then it is argued that we should wait a year.
Believe me, if I was laying out an economic development plan I would have done many of the things differently. But due to limited timing, we got what we got.
The only fear Exeter residents should have is the fear of being left behind economically. Time is of the essence in attracting and securing a “critical mass” of business enterprises in Exeter or else we will turn completely into a bedroom community with resulting high taxes.
So my recommendation is to vote for all four TIF warrant articles. Numbers 8,10, 28 & 29.
There is no in between position!
If you believe the environmental claims others are making and are thinking of voting no on Art 8 and I haven’t convinced you otherwise, that’s your choice. But if you do, I must urge, almost insist that you would have to then vote against the other 3. All are interconnected. If you vote down #8, you destroy the economic calculations used in developing and paying for the upgrades to the Epping Rd. corridor.
So these are my recommendations for the Town Warrant. Hope this is helpful to you all. See you next Tuesday on Election Day at the polls.