Bethlehem Board of Selectmen
Bethlehem Selectmen Office
November 6, 2017
Present: Chairman Moritz, Selectman Glavac, Selectman Boisseau, Selectman Ubaldo.
Chairman Moritz opened the meeting at 6:00 pm.
Peter Roy said he doesn’t like taxes and doesn’t have kids in school, doesn’t use the pool or the recreation department. He said he used the emergency services one time. Mr. Roy said he is willing to pay his fair share and supports this system. Mr. Roy asked about the history of the unassigned fund balance for the past 5 years and how much has been used to offset the tax rate. He also asked how much is due to abatement and was told $75,000 is typically put into overlay but this year $275,000 will be due to potential abatement. Chairman Moritz gave Mr. Roy the Unassigned fund balance history of 2013 – $393,268.00 5% retained, 2014- $417,300.0 5% retained, 2015 – $527,023.00 6.49% retained, and 2016 – $797,629.00 – 9.84% retained. Mr. Roy asked if the Board will continue to add to that. Chairman Moritz said she is very conservative and with loss of revenue coming up said it was a bad idea to use funds to offset the tax rate. She said she feels it was wrong to do that last year and said it is important to keep the tax rate stable. Mr. Roy said the Board has talked about retention of employees and 24 hour police coverage and mentioned that we lost an officer to another town who got $7.00 an hour increase. He said 24 hour coverage is important and wants the fire department to be able to respond. Mr. Roy said a $250,000 cut equals approx. $1.00 off the rate and said the town needs more revenue. He said wishing it will not make it happen and said the town didn’t vote for funds for a new transfer station so feels that demonstrates the towns wants a better deal. He asked where is the better deal.
Chris McGrath said he goes to the meetings and cameras and a trailer were approved for the police department due to money in the budget by not hiring the additional officer but saw in the minutes the approval of hiring another officer. He said that should have been a public discussion.
Andrea said the new lights at the elementary school may not meet the lighting ordinance.
Sandy Laleme said the uncollected taxes and liens for 1st issue is $225,000 and that is counted in the unassigned fund balance and asked the Board if they anticipate a problem. Chairman Moritz said she will get back to her on that.
Chairman Moritz said they have the numbers from DRA (Dept. of Revenue) to set the tax rate and said the municipal rate could go from $5.48 to $8.30. She said revenue is down and last year $300,000 was used to offset the tax rate so it will affect this billing. She asked if they should rip off the Band-Aid quick and not offset the rate or use some to offset to not see such an increase.
Selectman Glavac read the balances of the unassigned fund balance (2013 – $393,268.00, 2014 – $417,300.00, 2015 – $527,023.00, 2016 – $797,629.00) from the last few years and said it was built up to $797,629.00. He said the amount to offset was typically the amount to offset the tax rate by $1.00. He said last year the Board added $270,000 to the fund and was still able to offset the tax rate. He said they Board wanted to bring the % retained in the fund up and they were able to increase it to 9.84%. Selectman Glavac said he would like to continue to build the fund but not opposed to using some to offset. He said he would not want to leave less then what is in there now.
Selectman Ubaldo said they need to keep it within DRA’s % range of 5 to 17%. He also said next year there will be a greater revenue deficit so will see an increase again.
Mrs. Laleme asked the Board what the cutoff point is and said we can anticipate transfer station costs and less revenue. Chairman Moritz asked why it was reduced last year then and Mrs. Laleme said they had revenue at that time and had the highest fund balance in a while. She asked how high the fund has to be for them to use it and asked what the 3 – 5 year plan is. She asked what the plan is for taxes if it is going to increase $3.00 every year because people will have to move. Chairman Moritz said if it wasn’t used last year there would be over a million and the tax rate would be stable. She said it should have been planned for many years. Mrs. Laleme said the transfer station was voted down last year and that votes have consequences. She also said there is a diverse social economic population in Bethlehem and some will be hard hit. Mrs. Laleme said uncollected taxes will increase when the landfill is closed and can’t use BTLA formulation anymore.
Cheryl Jensen said there is a Site Plan Application in for Homeward Suites and the estimated tax revenue is for $385,000 a year.
Jim Martin asked how much tax revenue does Arlington Pay and was told approx. $150,000 a year. He asked how much they have paid so far and was told they have not paid their 1st issue yet. Mr. Martin asked what he gets extra for the extra $1,500.00 a year in taxes. Chairman Moritz said the voters voted in the warrant articles and there is the potential abatement. Mr. Martin asked if there will be a raise in taxes next year too and was told yes. Chairman Moritz said valuation has increased and home sales have increased. She said there is a new hotel coming, have business retention group and volunteers trying to get businesses to move to town.
Selectman Boisseau said there are salary increases to better provide services and said new homes are being built and there is growth in the area. He said people see Bethlehem as affordable and hopefully people will want to continue to move to Bethlehem.
Jeanne Robillard said they have known about decreased revenues for years and to Mrs. Laleme’s point there needs to be long term planning. Ms. Robillard asked Selectmen Glavac and Ublado what the previous Board’s plan was. Selectman Glavac said the previous board did realize and built up the unassigned fund balance and started the transfer station warrant articles to raise money. He said the Board also looked into the deal with Casella because the Select Board thought it was a good idea to provide financial stability for the next 20 years and said it was a gamble to talk with the landfill last year and it got voted down. He said there was a lot of talk of a better deal out there and said maybe there is and would support it. He said it would provide long term financial stability. Selectman Glavac said he doesn’t look at hotel and other growth as either or; he looks at both. Ms. Robillard said the Board had a plan A but no plan B or C and now it is up to the current Board to look at other options.
Selectman Ubaldo said Bethlehem has a long history of expenditures and what people have voted for. He said the Board did come up with an option and said the Hilton will not be an instant fix. He said the high tax rate may be a deterrent to businesses and said a high tax rate is a barrier.
Selectman Glavac said last year the Board added $270,000 to the unassigned fund balance and set the tax rate at 27.46 which is still a high tax rate and is still highest other than Lisbon in surrounding area.
Chairman Moritz said the tax rate is similar to towns with similar valuation and said it would have been $29.00 last year if they didn’t use the fund balance. She said the fund balance is to stabilize the tax rate but last year it was used to lower it.
Julie Seely said the sales sheets for houses don’t say what the tax rate is but tell the dollar amount. She said Bethlehem houses are worth less and asked why that is. She also asked what the expenses and warrant articles are looking like for next year. She said $350,000 in warrant articles passed for the 2017 budget and said if next year will be lower then it makes sense to use some to offset the tax rate.
Roger Metras corrected information about the town receiving more rooms and meals tax revenue with the new proposed hotel. He said it is important to give factual information and said the rooms and meals tax that towns receive is based on population. He also said the hotel has just applied for Site Plan Review so it could be 3 years before they come in and said the tax rate could be $35.00 by then.
Mr. Metras said before the tax rate would increase and was accused of using scare tactics and pointed out when people say the town voted no to the deal it was actually less than 50% of voters that voted and it was a 51/49 split so 25% voted no. He also said people were told there was a better deal to come and said accusing former board of the rise in tax rate is not accurate. He said the former board added over $400,000 to the fund and kept the tax rate stable so they were able to do both. Chairman Moritz said she feels the former board was shortsighted. Mr. Metras said between 2013 – 2016 they added $400,000 and kept the tax rate stable. Chairman Moritz said in 2012 NCES said they would not come back and buy additional property. Chairman Moritz said she is grateful for his opinion and said we don’t know what that population is that voted no due to a better deal. Mr. Metras said people were told taxes would go up $500.00 and was told it was a scare tactic. He said he is in favor of expansion and said the Hilton may not come in. He said there are two options; plan A – don’t discuss deal with the landfill and plan B – discuss deal with the landfill and there are no other options. Mr. Metras said a lot of people don’t have the ability to pay extra taxes.
There was discussion with the Board about how much they would want to use to from the unassigned fund balance to offset the tax rate and what the unassigned fund balance is made up of (assets, uncollected taxes, budget surplus) and is used for catastrophic events or to reduce taxes.
Alan Jackson told people to go to visitor’s center to pick up the Profile publication and see the comparison of tax rates etc. He said there is good information in there and said our school tax rate is high. Mr. Jackson said he is on a fixed income and is scared. Chris McGrath said the houses in Sugar Hill and Franconia have higher values but they have views and bigger lots. He also said the median income for those towns is higher. Mr. McGrath said to fix the tax rate you need to either decrease services or generate revenues. He said people look at tax rates when buying a house. Ms. Seely said she looked at views and lot sizes and they were comparable and said the landfill is fast filling. She said the mailers said they would take 250,000 tons a year but already at 300,000 this year. Alison Caruso said the town did vote against the agreement and said it is a democracy and is based on who voted. She said if you didn’t vote that is your voice. There was discussion about DRA requiring the fund to be between 5 and 17 % and if they left the minimum it would have a balance of $429,000. Selectman Glavac said it takes approx. $250,000 to lower the tax rate by $1.00 and asked if today is the right time to dip into that or do we add to it and dip into it next year and the year after. He said they can only reduce it by a maximum of $650,000 and that is only a $3.00 decrease. Mrs. Laleme said sometimes you have to take the bandage off slowly and suggested they compromise to give people transition time. Sonya Clark said the Chair of the Planning Board recently said he doesn’t know of anything coming up for 2018. There was discussion on how houses are selling in Bethlehem. Dave Wiley suggested easing the bandaid off and increasing by $1.50 to $1.75 to make it easier for a lot of people. Selectman Glavac said if they used $250,000 to offset they would still be adding $50,000 to the fund. Selectman Boisseau asked what the previous Board had in mind for long term % they wanted to strive for. Selectman Glavac said they were looking more at dollar amount and would like to get it to a million and a half. Selectman Ubaldo said the current fund balance without using any to offset is $1,095,405. He said revenues are not getting better and lowering it to $30.00 will not stabilize it because it will go up again next year. Chairman Moritz said the purpose is to keep the tax rate stable and said they could increase fund by $100,000 and the tax rate would be $30.49. Selectman Glavac said he thinks that is a compromise because it is adding to the fund and reducing the tax rate a little (compared to not using any offset). Chris Jensen said he would like to see more taken out of fund balance to offset the tax rate. Mr. McGrath said it is a bad idea to use funds at all and is opposed to it. Selectman Glavac said if you look at the trend from the last 4 years the Board used $300,000, $350,000, $294,000, and $345,000 and they would still be adding to the fund and addressing loss of revenue and planning for future. Ms. Seely said last year there were a lot of capital reserves and offsetting would be appropriate if not a lot this year. Chairman Moritz moved to use $200,000 to offset the tax rate making the tax rate $30.49. Selectman Boisseau seconded. Carried 4-0.
Fire/Ambulance/Emergency Management – Fire Chief, Jack Anderson came before the Board to review his proposed budgets. He said he doesn’t have control over some benefit lines and kept the increase to his budget to $645.00. He said that is very reasonable and said he did a 3% increase in his salary as was suggested. He said there are equipment needs that are not addressed in this budget and will need to spend money this year on equipment. Chairman Moritz asked the Chief if he would have warrant articles and was told yes for the fire truck capital reserve fund and for the safety equipment capital reserve fund. He said he would not be requesting any for the ambulance capital reserve fund this year. The Chief explained his newest fire truck is a 2004 and it is required to have one engine less than 20 years old. Jerry Blanchard asked if he had finished replacing the hoses and was told that will come out of the equipment line. Mr. McGrath asked if the leaking roof is still leaking or has it been fixed and was told the Chief fixed some of them and he will fix the others. The Chief said a new roof won’t fix it. Chief Anderson explained to the Board what the process is if there is a forest fire in another town that our firefighters help fight. He said they can get reimbursed 50% of the expense from the state but said it can drive his budget up if there is a big fire with a big expense. He is suggesting adding a line for forest fire under the emergency management section of the budget. The Chief said he would be looking for the Board’s permission to use funds from his capital reserve fund to purchase 6 sets of protective clothing at $1800.00 apiece.
Conservation Commission – Cheryl Jensen came before the Board to discuss the Conservation Commission budget and said the budget is level at $1,270.00.
Legal – The Board discussed the legal budget and agreed to level it at $50,000.00.
Highway – Road Agent, Brett Jackson, came before the Board to discuss the Highway budget. He said he worked in 3% raises. He said he will be getting rid of 2 trucks and will be getting the new one in a couple of weeks. Mr. Jackson said last year his warrant article was $140,000 but this year it will go back to $80,000. He explained he wants a smaller but newer fleet and said he lost one employee this year that he will not be replacing. He said overall his budget decreased 2%. Mr. Jackson said he will be tight this year due to approx. $40,000 out of his budget due to the July 1st storm. Selectman Glavac said he has been asking how to increase the asphalt line and asked about the difference in using paver. Mr. Jackson said it is working well and explained it cost $102,000 a mile to pave.
The Board discussed the Country Club Benefactors Club purchasing two ball washers for the country club. Chairman Moritz moved to accept $1,979.70 to purchase a ball washer. Selectman Glavac seconded. Carried 4-0.
Chairman Moritz moved to accept $2,507.65 towards the purchase of a ball washer. Selectman Glavac seconded. Carried 4-0.
The Board reviewed a sign permit for Fairpoint to change their current sign due to rebranding. Chairman Moritz moved to approve the sign permit. Selectman Boisseau seconded. Carried 4-0.
The Board reviewed a letter to a property owner about blocking access to a town owned property and agreed to send the letter.
The Board reviewed the minutes from 10/23/17 and 10/30/17.
Chairman Moritz moved to approve the minutes from 10/23/17. Selectman Boisseau seconded. Carried 4-0.
Minutes from 10/30/17 tabled.
The Board discussed taking health insurance costs out of individual budgets and moving them to the insurance category of the budget. Selectman Glavac said it is best practice and the Board all agreed to move the insurance budget lines to one line item in the insurance category.
At 8:42 Chairman Moritz moved to go into non-public session per RSA 91A:3 II due to legal and personnel. Selectman Glavac seconded. Chairman Moritz did roll call with all members agreeing to go into non-public session.
Dann objected to the non-public session.
The Board discussed legal and personnel.
At 8:55 Chairman Moritz moved to come out of non-public session. Selectman Glavac seconded. Chairman Moritz did roll call with all members agreeing to come out of non-public session.
At 8:55 Selectman Glavac moved to adjourn. Selectman Boisseau seconded. Carried 4-0.