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Sunapee to Mull Funding for Firefighters

Sunapee Town and School Meeting, Tuesday, March 12, Australian balloting, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sherburne Gymnasium.

Sunapee — After more than 100 years, members of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire department may be getting a little extra reimbursement for their efforts.

An article on this year’s Town Meeting warrant would appropriate $55,000 in compensation to be awarded based on a point system. It would replace the current pay of $1 an hour for calls, in-house training and meetings.

Fire Chief Dan Ruggles said the dollar per hour figure was set in 1904. In the past year, the chief said 10 of the department’s 42 volunteers made over $100, a few more made $80, and the rest a lot less. He estimates his out-of-pocket expenses were in the neighborhood of $5,000. The department responded to 351 calls last year and 372 the year before.

Ruggles said firefighters have accepted the low pay because taxpayers always supported appropriations for good equipment, which was more important.

“Now, times have changed. Guys need the reimbursement. Gas prices are going up and they need that money to survive,” Ruggles said.

Furthermore, the criteria for training requires a lot more time in the classroom.

“This will encourage more of them to take the time to get more training for fire fighting, EMT or paramedic certification,” he said

Under the point system, each point is worth $10 and points are earned for calls, certification and training, Ruggles said.

“They get a flat rate for calls and it goes up the more training they have,” Ruggles said.

As an example, Ruggles said a call up to an hour is worth one point. Though the income will range for all firefighters, Ruggles said the point system with the $55,000 appropriation would allow firefighters to earn at least $10 an hour.

Also on the warrant is a second attempt to gain approval for a bond to build a new library as well as a three-way race for two Selectboard seats.

Last year, a $975,000 bond to help finance construction of a new $2.7 million library failed to gain the required 60 percent majority by four votes. That same article will appear on this year’s warrant.

Voters did pass a related article last year for $1.7 million that combined money from a capital reserve fund, a capital campaign fund and private donations.

Library Trustee Peter Urbach said supporters have about $900,000 in cash and pledges toward their goal of $1.3 million.

Urbach thinks the success of the fundraising will spur residents to support the bond for the library, which would be built on the corner of Sargent Road and Route 11.

“Of the $900,000, about a third of the pledges are contingent upon the bond passing,” said Urbach, who has been part of the struggle to get a new library for more than 10 years. “We are counting on the town to approve the loan.”

Incumbent Selectboard members Emma Smith and Fred Gallup are facing a challenge from Veronica Hastings, whose husband, Shane, is already on the board.

Hastings, a cardiac critical care nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said she wants to help keep Sunapee fiscally sound and will look out for the taxpayers.

“My big priority will be fiscal responsibility and helping people of Sunapee not be taxed out of their home. I’m concerned about rising taxes and burdening people with more taxes they can’t afford,” she said.

But Hastings was quick to add that her experience this year on the Budget Advisory Committee showed her that the town departments “run fairly tight budgets” and she did not see overspending.

As for possibly serving alongside her husband, Hastings said she does not expect a lot of disagreement.

“My husband and I see eye-to-eye on most things, that is why we’ve been married 25 years. We are pretty like-minded.”

Smith, who retired 10 years ago from Colby-Sawyer College where she was director of parent relations, is seeking her fourth, three-year term on the board.

She said the current board works well together and has been productive in term of serving residents and meeting their needs.

“I think the board has accomplished a lot by bringing everyone together,” Smith said. “When we get questions we do our best to answer them and get back to people.”

Email and phone messages left for Gallup were not returned.

The proposed $6 million budget in article 12 includes the water and sewer expenses, which are supported by user fees, not tax dollars.

Town Manager Donna Nashawaty said the $4.5 million operating budget, which is partially funded by property taxes, is up around 2 percent or $60,000.

Also on the warrant are nine separate articles adding money to existing capital reserve funds including fire apparatus, $115,000; highway and transfer station equipment, $137,300; and $25,000 each for town bridges, town buildings, and conservation commission.

Article 13 appropriates $200,000 for the 2013 paving program and would be added to the $100,000 in the budget for the same purpose.

If the budget and all warrant articles with appropriations are approved, the amount to be raised by taxes would increase $350,000, or 10 percent. Nashawaty estimates the town tax rate would increase 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and increase town taxes on a $300,000 property by $102 to $981.

“That assumes no increase in property value (grand list) and there are always property increases,” Nashawaty said.

If the library bond is approved, the tax increase for the bond would not take effect for at least another year, or perhaps longer depending on the fundraising campaign.

There are eight zoning related articles that would amend existing ordinances, including article 3, which proposes to reduce the overlay district on shorelines from 300 to 250 feet, to be consistent with the state definition.

The school budget of $10.7 million is down about $3,000 from last year. Higher costs for the New Hampshire retirement system and health insurance were offset by reductions in debt service and out-of-district special education costs, School Administrative Unit 85 Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said.

Also on the warrant is a three-year teachers’ contract, with the first year added cost of $115,794, and a $270,000 appropriation to enlarge and renovate the high school art room.

“It is a small space and we want more room for pottery wheels and the kiln,” Minnihan said. The renovation would add a little more than 600 square feet and bring the total square footage to about 1,600.

Article 8 would appropriate $50,000 for engineering for a proposed road from the elementary school to the safety complex. If approved, the board would bring a proposal for construction to voters next year.

If all school articles pass, the district estimates the local school tax rate would increase 37 cents, or $111 on a $300,000 property.

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