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Ready to Retire — Almost; Orford to Elect New Town Clerk, Look at Fire Department Structure

  • Orford town clerk Louise Mack fills out a deposit slip at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Orford town clerk Louise Mack fills out a deposit slip at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Orford town clerk Louise Mack searches her files at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Orford town clerk Louise Mack searches her files at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Orford town clerk Louise Mack fills out a deposit slip at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Orford town clerk Louise Mack searches her files at the town offices in Orford, N.H., on February 25, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Orford Town Meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 11 at 7 p.m. at Rivendell Academy middle school gym on Route 25A. Voters will consider 21 warrant articles. Australian balloting runs from 4 to 9 p.m.

Orford — The organization of the volunteer fire department, the purchase of a new fire engine and long-term infrastructure planning are among the issues Orford voters will consider at Town Meeting.

The proposed $964,000 municipal budget will ask voters to OK an increase of nearly $21,000. But of the 21 articles on the warrant, Selectboard Chairman Tom Steketee anticipates Article 13 will inspire the most debate. It asks voters to discontinue the practice of allowing the members of the all-volunteer force to annually elect a fire chief to serve a one-year term. According to the article, the fire chief would be appointed by the Selectboard and remaining firefighters would be “appointed by the fire chief in accord with such personnel policies as may be adopted by the Selectboard.”

The change, Steketee said, “would bring us into the 21st century and clean things up so the chain of command is clear.”

Of particular concern to the Selectboard, Steketee said, is a lack of accountability for fire department expenditures. Under the current organizational structure, Steketee said, the fire department is not required to report or itemize any of its expenses.

“We get rough ideas of payroll,” Steketee said, but no dollar amounts at all on things such as equipment, maintenance or training.

With Article 2 asking voters to appropriate $45,514 for the fire department, Steketee said, it troubles him that “I can’t tell the town where the money goes.”

Messages left for Fire Chief Arthur Dennis were not returned.

The proposed overhaul of the fire department will coincide with a request to appropriate $380,000 from the capital reserve fund for the purchase of a new four-wheel drive cab and chassis fire engine. The Selectboard has not yet determined a specific vehicle the fire department would buy, Steketee said, but members hope the final price tag will come in under the full $380,000 figure.

“We would rather aim high and be able to tell voters in a year that we came in under budget,” Steketee said. “But that $380,000 gives us maximum flexibility moving forward.”

A relatively modest appropriation of $17,360 is another issue that Steketee expects voters will discuss at some length.

Saying that “maintaining a town’s infrastructure is perhaps one of the toughest parts of town government,” Steketee said, Article 12 would allow the Selectboard to hire Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission to formulate a long-term plan for community facilities and services. Steketee acknowledged that the cost for such a plan could be done for less money if some of the work were taken on by volunteer committees.

In this instance, however, Steketee said, “I think having outside eyes take a look at this will be helpful. Doing it this way also ensures that we get it done before the end of the year.”

Town Clerk

After 15 years of service, Louise Mack is preparing to step down as town clerk. She will continue to serve the town as tax collector, which is a job she can perform in the comfort of her own home. But Mack, who turned 80 on Feb. 15, said she is ready to retire, especially as town clerk responsibilities come increasingly dependent on computers and other advanced technologies.

Orford voters will choose between Deborah Hadlock and Ruth Hook to take Mack’s place.

A 30-year resident of the town, Hadlock has been working alongside Mack as deputy town clerk since last July. As a result, she said, “there should be no interruption in service if I win the election.”

Under Mack’s guidance, Hadlock said, she has been certified to handle vehicle registrations from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. She has also received state certification with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, vital records and dog licensing.

“I never realized how involved the town clerk job is,” Hadlock said. “But Louise is a great teacher.”

Ruth Hook, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Selectboard last year, is also on the ballot for the job of town clerk. As one of five people who applied for the deputy town clerk position, Hook said, she hopes voters will not overlook her qualifications simply because she was not chosen for the job.

“I realize that I will have a learning curve,” she said. “But I have 30 years of business experience ... and I have the confidence to do the job. I’m a fast learner, and whether or not you have received some (prior) training, you still have to learn the job,” Hook said.

If voters automatically assume the current deputy clerk is the de facto best person for the job, Hook said, they risk overlooking a pool of equally, if not more, capable applicants.

“Five people were interested in being deputy clerk,” Hook said. “Who’s to say that one of them wouldn’t make a fine town clerk? How many didn’t even bother to put their names on the ballot because they assumed they didn’t have a chance to win?”

The fact is, Hook said, “Many people have the qualifications, but they’re not able to receive the training they need until they’ve actually become the town clerk.”

A native of Orford who has served on the Budget Committee for two years and has attended as many Selectboard meetings as she could over the last year, Hook said, she comes from a family where community involvement is a tradition.

“I’m trying to be a good Orford citizen and do my part for the community,” she said.

Selectwoman Anne Duncan Cooley has put her name forward for another three-year term on the Selectboard. Her first term came with some unexpected challenges, Cooley said, from the surprise of being sworn into office mere moments after her election to assisting with damage control after Tropical Storm Irene.

With three years of experience on her resume, Cooley said, she hopes to continue serving on a Selectboard that has become more proactive in its approach to managing the town’s business.

“You have to take care of the day-to-day things, but we’re trying to improve things rather than just maintain the status quo,” she said.

Of her two colleagues on the Selectboard — chairman Steketee and Selectman John Adams — Cooley said, “We don’t always agree, but we respect one another. We trust each other. It’s a good working relationship.”

Justin Adams, owner of Connecticut Valley Lawncare and Cooley’s contender for the open seat on the Selectboard, declined to comment on his candidacy.

P. Chase Kling and Robert O’Donnell are on the ballot for a one-year term on the Planning Board.

Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-737-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.