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Board Chair In Orford Has 2 Challengers

Orford Town Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, in the gymnasium at Rivendell Academy. Elected positions will be voted on by paper ballot from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the gym. All remaining articles will be decided from the floor. The Rivendell School District Annual Meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on March 27 at Rivendell Academy.

Orford — A three-way Selectboard race and the fate of the Old Town Hall are likely to be issues at Town Meeting in Orford this year.

Selectboard Chairman Tom Steketee will face two challengers, Ann Green and Ruth Hook, as he vies for another three-year term on the Selectboard.

A self-employed father of three children, one of whom is a senior at Rivendell Academy, where his wife, Gail Keefer, is a French teacher, Steketee said he has “no specific agenda” in mind as he looks forward to serving on the Selectboard for another three years. Rather, the 60-year-old Steketee emphasized a desire to continue “giving back to the community” and to draw on the experience he has gained from having already served on the Selectboard for a total of four years.

“It takes a while to learn to navigate things, constantly dealing with things involving the state, just kind of learning how things need to flow,” he said. “I feel it would be disingenuous to not run after my first full three-year term. If the town will have me, I’ll continue on.”

Green, who served a three-year term on the Selectboard in the mid-2000s, said she also was not running because of any “particular agenda.” A native of the town, the 73-year old retiree has been active in Orfo-d’s civic affairs since she returned to the area in 1999 following a 35-year stint in upstate New York, where she was a social worker. Green has been on the board of the Friends of Orford Libraries, served on the Planning Board and been a trustee of the Orford Social Library for six years. Serving on the Selectboard, Green said, would allow her to more fully reconnect with the town and put her in a position to “continue to manage town affairs in a responsible and open manner.”

Selectboard contender Ruth Hook said her number one goal in joining the Selectboard is “to try to avoid lawsuits.” Hook alluded to the $20,000 that a Grafton County jury in 2011 ordered the town pay to Orford resident Ella Tobleman as damages for a drainage ditch the public works department excavated on Tobleman’s property off Mud Turtle Pond Road in 2008 without first seeking her permission. Hook said, “If people listen to each other, we can sit down and talk and try to avoid these lawsuits. We need to focus on resolving the problem between people. Let’s try to not get lawyers involved.”

Steketee acknowledged that Tobleman’s lawsuit resulted in the town having to pay about $50,000 in attorney fees, in addition to the $20,000 settlement. Steketee said the town would have preferred to settle the issue through mediation. “We didn’t want it to go to court, but there was no relief that way, so it ultimately worked its way through Superior Court,” Steketee said. “Since that time, along with a couple of lawmakers, we have introduced a bill in the Statehouse to change the way that these types of issues are settled, so that it doesn’t go to a jury.”

Describing herself as “basically born and raised in Orford,” the 61-year-old Hook said that she has been self-employed, picking up a variety of odd jobs, since the company where she was an office manager, Green Mountain Studios, of Lyme, was sold in 2005 and relocated to Maine. If she wins her bid for a seat on the Selectboard, Hook said serving the town as an elected official will seem like a natural progression of her lifelong involvement in her community, whether helping her father sell milk and ice cream at Old Home Day when she was a child or serving for seven years on the town municipal budget committee.

Jim McGoff and Lawrence Hibbard are running for two uncontested seats on the Planning Board.

Carl Schmidt, president of the Orford Historical Society, hopes residents will vote “yes” on Article 9, which asks the town to authorize a deal in which the society would raise up to $135,000 for the town to purchase the Old Town Hall on Route 25 A in Orfordville and then rent it to the society at a cost of $1 a year. Schmidt said the historical society is prepared to undertake a fund-raising campaign to meet the costs of purchasing the historic building, which is currently owned by John and Marie Matyka, and renovating it to be handicapped accessible. According to Schmidt, the town’s long-term responsibility for the building would be limited to providing insurance and tending to exterior repairs.

Schmidt said the society currently houses its collection in a room at the town office building, but that the society lacks sufficient space to “display, curate and safeguard a collection of nearly 1,000 donated items.” Schmidt said that the Old Town Hall, constructed in 1859, has been nominated to the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places and that the option to purchase the building, which the town sold to the Matykas in 1996, “is a real opportunity for the town.”

The proposed municipal budget of $942,397 represents an increase of about $8,000 from the 2012 budget of $934,324. As a result, Steketee said there would be no tax rate increase for Orford property owners this year. Steketee said he had asked each of the departments to “try to level fund everything, and they were very good about doing that.”

Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-727-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.