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Charlestown Petition Seeks Office Addition

Voting on the Town Meeting warrant will be by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 11, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., in the community room of the Silsby Library/Municipal Bu ilding

Charlestown — Security, convenience, space and improved accessibility are why resident Albert St. Pierre is urging voters to approve a petition article at Town Meeting for a $450,000 bond to build an addition off the Bakery building, which houses the Selectboard’s office, and connect it to the nearby Silsby Library building.

The addition, which the Selectboard opposes right now, would allow all of the town offices, including the town administrator, to be moved into one location on the same floor.

Having the town clerk’s office in the same location as other town offices provides convenience to residents, St. Pierre, the town moderator who gathered signatures for the petition, said.

“All public services would be in one place. One-stop shopping.”

The addition would provide an entrance on Main Street and include bathrooms and an elevator in the hall connecting the buildings. Once inside, residents would go to the right inside for the town offices, left to the library or take the elevator downstairs to the community room beneath the library.

The most important improvement would be in the area of security. “The main thing is (addressing) security,” St. Pierre said.

The departure of the police department two years ago from below the library to a new building on North Main Street has created increased security concerns for both the town clerk’s office and library upstairs, he said.

Librarian Sandy Perron said when the library is open at night there often is no one downstairs, which is where the entrance is, as well as the handicap access ramp and elevator, and the bathrooms.

“It is only my staff here and it is difficult to safely monitor downstairs,” Perron said.

With the addition, everything, including the library entrance, would be on one floor.

The clerk’s office has similar safety concerns, said Town Clerk Deb Clark.

“We have only one way out of here,” she said, noting they are not able to see anyone in the common area outside the office until they leave.

More storage space for the town clerk’s records, space for preservation of town records, complete handicap accessibility, space for the recreation department and confidential meetings are other benefits St. Pierre envisions with the addition.

The addition would be about 2,500 square feet on each floor, including the hallway in between.

The estimated tax rate impact of the bond would be 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the first year, which translates into $34 in taxes on a $200,000 home. The tax impact would decrease each year, dipping from 16 cents the second year to 8 cents in year 20 of the bond.

The plans are the same ones that were defeated by voters in 1997, and St. Pierre said nothing has changed in terms of the design. He gathered 30 signatures to place the article on the warrant.

St. Pierre said he has obtained some general estimates for the work and is confident the project can be completed for $450,000.

The Selectboard and Finance Committee oppose the article.

Selectboard Chairwoman Brenda Ferland said that while the board agrees with the concept, it opposes the project for two reasons, the first being financial.

“The interest payments would total more than $200,000,” Ferland said. “We could not support that. We nickel and dime our budget and didn’t give raises this year.” Ferland also said voters have put money away in a fund to raise about $100,000 for repairs to the library’s masonry and said it would make sense to do the projects together.

“Maybe if there were a package deal with a bond, it is something people could live with it.”

Town Budget, Selectboard Race

The proposed operating budget of $3.8 million for the fiscal year that began Jan. 1 is up $82,000 or 2.2 percent from last year. Overall spending, which includes appropriations in separate warrant articles, is increasing about two tenths of 1 percent or $7,000, with $75,000 in separate appropriations compared to $150,000 for last year.

Town Administrator Dave Edkins said the increase covers higher costs for health insurance, New Hampshire Retirement System payments and property and liability coverage for the town.

“Basically, it is things that we really don’t have control over,” Edkins said.

The budget also includes capital spending of $228,471, which is up $44,000 from last year. Edkins said the increase is to buy a small truck for the highway department.

Edkins does not estimate the budget’s impact on the town tax rate of $8.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation prior to the vote. “You don’t know because we won’t know the revenue side of the budget until the fall so whatever number I say is just a guess.”

Also part of article 6 are the water fund budget of $546,078 and sewer fund budget of $352,888, neither of which affect the tax rate because they are paid by user fees.

The default operating budget is $3.76 million, or about $50,000 less than the proposed budget.

Incumbent Steve Neill, 61, who is seeking his sixth, three-year term on the Selectboard, is facing a challenge from Jack Berquist.

“I care about the town,” Neill said when asked about his desire to continue serving. “People know me and know I am a fairly conservative when it comes to spending. I have a lot of support and people seem happy with what I am doing, for the most part.”

Neill co-owns Charlestown Cornerstone, an excavating company. If re-elected, one of the projects he wants to see finished is a new well off Lovers Lane for public water supply.

“It should be up and running this year,” Neill said, adding that the permitting process takes time.

Berquist, 61, retired last year after 30 years with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

This is his first run for office. “Working seven days a week, I did not have the time,” Berquist said. “I’ve also been a fireman for 28 years.

“Now that I am retired I have time to devote to the community. I think some priorities in town need to be looked at with new blood. I think I’ll bring different ideas to the board.”

Also on the warrant are three zoning articles that were developed in the wake of the Planning Board’s approval last year for a new Jiffy Mart with a Subway restaurant and gas pumps on Main Street on the site of a historic home that was dismantled and moved. The building is under construction.

Article 2 would establish a new zone, A-2, on North Main Street bordered by Sullivan Street to the south and Bridge Street to the north, with the goal of preserving the area’s historic character.

If approved, development in the area would be restricted to residences, home occupations, professional offices and some businesses such as a bed and breakfast, insurance or real estate.

Article 3 would place the new Jiffy Mart and Sumner House restaurant into the business zone of central Main Street and out of the current Zone E, which is mixed use. Article 4 would allow existing, non-conforming signs to be replaced or changed so long as their overall size does not increase.

Article 10 would replace the Heritage Commission with a Historic District Commission.

Edkins said the current commission is advisory only, but a district commission would have regulatory powers. If voters approve the creation of a Historic District Commission, Edkins said, the commission would first have to write a historic district ordinance with boundaries and other conditions and bring that back to voters for approval next March.

Three other articles ask for $25,000 each to be placed in reserve funds for real estate reappraisal, highway heavy equipment and repairs to the masonry at the Silsby Library.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.