The purpose of this report is to provide a summary of ongoing projects and to document topics for the Select Board to continue to monitor or work toward completing. It also serves as a report to the residents and taxpayers of Rollinsford and supplements the budget narrative I submitted which is available on the Town website. This report cannot be exhaustive but I hope will provide valued guidance, and encourage public participation in affairs of Town governance.
Stormwater Permit – the annual report for the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 is due by September 28, 2021. The report is many pages long and requires specific information in the Town’s activity related to the permit for the previous year. Going forward the Town would be well served to have an outside engineer or trained dedicated employee manage the many calendar items and projects associated with the increasing responsibilities of this technically-complex Federal permit. It requires several hours per month of dedicated time. The area communities have provided, and continue to be available for, ongoing guidance in helping all the affected municipalities in the region respond to the permit requirements in a consistent manner. The Town would benefit from sending a consistent representative to those meetings.
Nitrogen Permit – this permit technically resides with the RWSD which is not staffed to consistently interact with the partnering communities to make best use of resources there. The Town has a responsibility with the permit to plan to remediate the non-point sources for Total Nitrogen discharge into the Great Bay Watershed. The most effective way to do this is by taking septic systems offline and increasing the service area of the RWSD. The area communities are working together to evaluate and communicate with member communities the costs and associated benefits of potential action items. The Town would benefit from consistent participation in those meetings.
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds –
The Town has received the first payment of $135,000 from the State. The second half will come in the summer of 2021. Before any funds are spent, the Select Board needs to sign the existing (or new) conflict of interest policy as well as create a policies for texting while driving and seatbelt use both pertaining to employees who drive for the Town as part of their employment. Any funds spent require a public hearing for the Select Board to propose a project and its cost and hear feedback from the residents. The funds are highly restricted. The most applicable use for Rollinsford is water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. The RWSD is not eligible to receive funds separately and the Town’s funds were calculated to include the District. However, there is no State or Federal guidance on what portion should be spent on behalf of the District. If the District were to benefit from the funds, it would be reasonable to assume that they would likewise be subject to the policy restrictions imposed upon the Town. Questions about that or use of the funds can be directed to the State GOEFFER office. The Bookkeeper is required to submit reports to the State regularly regarding the expenditure of these funds.
My recommendation would be that the Town investigate using some ARPA funds to extend the RWSD sewer line to the Fire Station. The septic tank at the Station is old and will otherwise need to be replaced at some point with taxpayer dollars. Extending the line would not make financial sense for the District as the benefit of additional users is not significant to bear the cost. If the line were to be extended quickly, it would assist the Town in meeting its Stormwater Permit requirement of creating a vehicle wash station at the Fire Department (and Highway Department both due to be completed by the end of June 2022) which could also be funded with these funds rather than tax dollars.
ARPA funds cannot be used to offset the tax rate directly or otherwise held in “savings”. All funds must be spent on State-approved uses or returned to the State.
The following items are on the respective Town Attorney’s agenda. The following attorneys have corresponded with me and/or the Board over the following matters:
Cable Franchise Agreement – Steve Roberts of Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley and Roberts
The Board has received guidance from Attorney Roberts and might review the guidance prior to holding a public hearing on the proposed changes. The Town is still operating on extensions on the original agreement signed with Comcast in the 1970’s. The Town could opt to wire the Town Hall conference room for cable streaming of meetings though this would require administrative support to manage.
Videos of meetings:
Meetings have been video recorded by the Town for a number of years. This was made easier while meeting remotely because of the automatic recording function of remote meeting software. Now only the Select Board is recording their meetings and those videos do not show all participants. Further, the Zoom platform (as opposed to Google) creates an audio and video file which need to be combined using software. Prior to the use of remote meetings, the Library was processing video meetings for the Town and making them available on the Town website. They not longer have that functionality due to outdated technology. The residents have shown they value the ability to attend meetings remotely. If the Town would like to continue to provide videos, the Select Board might work with a consultant to purchase the appropriate technology to do it well.
Onboarding new Board members:
The Select Board is very new to their role. Board members have trainings available to them through the New Hampshire Municipal Association and Town Counsel. When a new or interim Town Administrator is appointed, it would be worthwhile to conduct Board trainings as soon as possible for the Board to better understand their role, responsibilities, authority, limitations of individual authority and other rules such as those pertaining to government transparency.
Employment Issue – Larry Gormley of Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley and Roberts
A case has been filed. Jon Uraskevich has information on this case.
Land Use Code Violation – Kevin Baum of Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley and Roberts
This code violation has gone back decades. The Town chose to work with the property owner to fix the issue. Tom Clark and I have been working with the property owner and his representatives to compel the property owner to seek compliance through the ZBA. They have filed an application for the September ZBA meeting. After that meeting the Board can expect a follow up statement from Kevin Baum and Tom Clark about any further action necessary.
Tax Collector Compensation Policy – John Ratigan of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella
The Tax Collector is an appointed official. As such, the position is not subject to the personnel policy and is therefore, not entitled to accrued paid sick and vacation time as well as other benefits provided by the policy. This position is subject to annual appointment by the Select Board right after Town Meeting. The Attorney has advised the Town to create a compensation policy to be approved at Town Meeting in March which should outline the expectations for this position in addition to compensation. The law only requires the Tax Collector to be available to the public 2 hours per month. (A similar policy could be written and proposed at Town Meeting for the Town Clerk.)
Southeast Land Trust (SELT) Access to River Road ROW – John Ratigan of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella
SELT would like to access their land via this ROW instead of their ROW off of Baer Road due to a failed stream crossing on the Baer Road ROW. The Select Board has told SELT that the weight restrictions on local roads in the area will stand which would prohibit the use of the ROW. The Town is expecting an alternative proposal from SELT.
To know later:
The Town is lucky to have dedicated volunteers serving on its boards and committees. The Planning Board is a highly technical board which benefits from consistency in its membership so that people learn through experience. Every case is different and the authority and duties of the Planning Board are complex in nature. In the best of circumstances, it would be challenging for the membership to benefit from the confidence of experience due to how few cases the Board hears (as compares to larger, busier communities). Therefore, it would be my recommendation that ongoing training be provided through Strafford Regional Planning and other sources to enhance the effectiveness of the critical Board which makes decisions with long-term impact to the community.
The Town is critically deficient in policy development. While the Board has made some progress in recent years, it has been an ongoing challenge to create the vast number of policies needed to safeguard from liability, remain financially stable, and provide consistent services to the residents. Identified policies include: use of technology, social media, tele-work eligibility, full slate of financial management policies, and an update to the personnel policy. Policies ensure that employees understand the expectations of the Select Board and can be held accountable to those expectations. Without policy, expectations are vague and performance reviews cannot be meaningful.
The Town consistently catalogs equipment and other capital items on the Capital Improvement Plan. Every year the Town seeks approval via the ballot to put money into the fund for future purchases. The State Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) has advised the Town that the fund and plan contain both equipment and capital items. The purpose of the Capital Improvement Fund could be clarified via Town Meeting which would reduce the likelihood of a warrant article being disallowed by DRA. Further, more funds could be created with clear purposes which would enhance transparency regarding the purpose of the funds. For example, we could have a building maintenance fund, vehicle replacement fund, and I would recommend a “Document Preservation Fund”. The document fund could be used to fund the ongoing need to address the increasing burden of paper management and information access problems at the Town Hall (see budget proposal narrative). It could also be managed by a committee which would advise the Select Board in how best to digitize paper processes to reduce the ongoing creation of paper files. Other communities manage document preservation in a similar manner and can be consulted as a model.
The Town owes Wentworth Douglass Hospital a large sum which they agreed to allow the Town to pay over three years. Each payment is due in December and the first one would be due in 2021. The settlement letter is in the assessing folder on the Drive under Charitable>WDH.
Annual Internal Assessing Audit:
At least once every five years the Town is required by the State (DRA) to do an internal audit of all elderly exemptions and veteran credits. The veterans only need to verify that they still live that that address. The elderly exemptions need to verify income and asset qualifications as well as that they live at that address.
The Town’s lease with Green Mountain Power (GMP) for the hydro plant on Front Street expires in the summer of 2022. The Town might consider engaging with an attorney to better understand the implications of any such lease. The current lease is just an extension of the original lease established decades ago with the first lease holder. That time frame will align with the relicensing of the plant through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which was undertaken by GMP on the Town’s behalf. The new license comes with planned costs for GMP which is likely to change the expected payment structure to the Town.
The back lot which was created by the Planning Board several years ago cannot be developed without going to the ZBA or upgrading Shady Lane to a Class V road. The details are on the plan. The owner has repeatedly tried to file a building permit for construction without following one of the two processes required on the plan.
Somersworth and Dover Utilities in Rollinsford:
For any municipality to extend (or further an extension) of utilities into another community requires the permission of the Select Board and likely requires the State Public Utility Permission. Dover went through this process recently to allow Wentworth Greenhouse to hook up to Dover water which was nearby. There is a property on Kelwyn Drive which will seek development and has not started a process.
September 17, 2021