P/sunny
74°
P/sunny
Hi 83° | Lo 62°

Lawsuit Spices Up Charlestown Races

Town Meeting is Tuesday, March 12, with voting on the town warrant and Fall Mountain School District warrant from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m,. at the Silsby Library/Municipal Building.

Charlestown — The race for Selectboard at Town Meeting this year has a little added suspense that takes it beyond the standard promises to listen to the voters and hold the line on spending.

Former Selectman Doug Ring, who is being sued by the town, wants to retake the seat he lost last March. In his way is incumbent Brenda Ferland with political newcomer Ray Buisson the third candidate for the three-year term.

The backdrop for the contest is legal action filed by the town against Ring that is now in Claremont District Court. Court documents state that the town gave Ring a $6,000 deposit in January 2012 for a new $9,000 pool cover for the outdoor pool that he was to order from his business, Ringscape Pool and Spas.

The town says Ring cashed the check but never placed the order with the Stratham, N.H., supplier and did not return the money. The town wants triple damages to include the deposit, attorney fees and the extra maintenance costs because debris got in the pool last fall before a different cover was purchase and installed.

Ferland, along with board members Steve Neill and Arthur Grenier, voted earlier this year to take Ring to court.

Because of the ongoing litigation, Ferland declined to comment in detail on the case.

“But I think it is important for people to know he did take the money and didn’t produce the product he was supposed to produce,” said Ferland.

Ring acknowledged in an earlier interview with the Valley News that he cashed the check but said he tried to work out a payment plan last summer and blames the town for letting the situation get to this point.

“That issue could have been taken care of in June but the Selectboard didn’t want to go with it,” Ring said in a recent interview. “I guess we’ll settle it in court.”

Town officials have said all along they would accept any money Ring wanted to send.

Ring said voters need to separate his candidacy from his business.

“One has nothing to do with the other. They are separate identities.”

If elected — he served one, three-year term before being defeated — Ring said he will bring a fresh perspective to the board on budgeting and stop the annual increases of 3 percent or more.

The year’s proposed operating budget is up 2.6 percent, and last year the increase was 1.2 percent.

“I think we need to do a better job of planning ahead,” Ring also said. He opposes the two “big ticket” items on this year’s warrant: an ambulance and truck for the transfer station. “We’re not in a position to buy those.”

Ring said change is what he is hoping for with the board.

“I feel the voters, whether they choose Ray or me, are ready for a change. I think voters see that (the need for change) and will make their judgment at that time. That is my real goal, to completely replace the board.”

Last September, Ring filed a complaint with the state Attorney General alleging wrongdoing and unethical behavior on the part of the Selectboard and Town Administrator Dave Edkins regarding the awarding of contracts, among other things.

“We were never contacted by anyone in the Attorney General’s office about the letter,” Edkins said this week. “We’ve not heard anything further on it.”

Ferland said the budget has not been going up 3 percent.

“What 3 percent is he talking about? That shows he does not understand the (budget) process or how it works,” Ferland said.

“I feel I’m going to bring to the board experience and knowledge and I think that is important because I have been part of keeping budgets at reasonable increases.”

Ferland, who is a former state representative and has been on the Selectboard about 10 years, also said the town is facing important issues with lawsuits from TransCanada and Fairpoint and she wants to help resolve them.

“Ray has no experience and Doug missed a lot of important meetings. He does not provide value when it comes to budgeting,” she said.

Buisson, who works at Jiffy Mart in town, did not return several phones calls.

The proposed $4.6 million budget for the fiscal year that began Jan. 1 breaks down to an operating budget of $3.74 million and water and sewer budgets of $488,722 and $326,586, respectively, both of which are supported by user fees, not tax dollars.

The operating budget is up 2.6 percent or about $98,000.

Edkins listed legal fees, up $20,000 to $30,000, increases in the town contribution to the state retirement system, health insurance and more money for health agencies and nonprofits as reasons for the increase. There is also $42,000 for a full-time assessing clerk.

“The last three or four years we have had two, full-time and part-time help,” Edkins said. “We really need to get back to full staff (and rely less on part-time.)”

Also on the warrant are three articles that would put $25,000 each in capital reserve funds for property reappraisal, highway heavy equipment, and the Silsby Library/ Municipal Building.

Article 6 seeks $20,000 for heating system upgrades at Town Hall. The five annual payments on the lease/purchase agreement for a new truck for the transfer station would be $29,400 annually and for the ambulance in article 8, payments would be $25,600 for five years, also with a lease/purchase. The new $175,000 ambulance would replace one bought in 1994 and would be partially funded with a $55,000 donation from the Charlestown Ambulance Attendants Association.

In all there are $150,000 in separate warrant articles, a decrease from last year’s $198,000 in requests.

Edkins said non-tax revenues and decisions by the Legislature can all have an effect on the tax rate projections so he could not say at this time what impact the proposed spending would have on the current town tax rate of $7.85 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The rate increased $1.16 last year.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com