Members present: Winston Sims, Andrea Polizos, Jay Jacobs, Les LaMois, Harry Wolhandler
Meeting opened at 7:10 pm
The group agreed to remove the item related to the disposition of Paton lands and otherwise agreed with the proposed agenda.
Minutes of January 3 Meeting
Members decided to postpone approval until their April Meeting.
Report from Select Board Representative
Regarding the disposition of the Paton land, Jay Jacobs updated the group that correspondence had been sent to the owner stating that the town cannot take ownership of land until a deed is conveyed. The Select Board is working through that process.
Discussion of Meeting February 28, 2018
Andrea Polizos explained why she would change her vote on the Warrant Article and vote against it at Town Meeting. She appreciated the discussion that night and insight received separately from Brett Thelen of the Harris Center regarding the value of town contributions to conservation efforts, particular how such contributions leverage grant opportunities. She also stated she could envision how the available money could be spent down depending on projects and opportunities ahead and that she is uncomfortable with the unknown. On the separate topic of culvert design, she plans to meet with Henry Underwood of SWRP.
Jay Jacobs requested to explain his absence from the meeting, which stemmed from his frustration over the raising of issues, such as invasive species, prior to the meeting, that had no relevance to the proposed Warrant Article and caused great confusion on the matter. He also expressed frustration over the misrepresentation to the Planning Board by the HCC Chair of the HCC members and their positions that resulted in the opposition by the PB that ensued. Les LaMois agreed with Jay about the irrelevant issues repeatedly raised and the potential position the HCC was now in of having to ask voters at Town Meeting to vote down their own article.
Discussion ensued on the relevance of research on the amount of money other towns spend and where Harrisville stands in comparison, with Jay noting Harrisville is the only town which contributes 100% of Land Use Change Tax Funds and, even if the Land Conservation Capital Reserve Funds went back to Harrisville’s General Fund, Harrisville’s conservation reserves would still be very well funded compared to other area towns.
Harry Wolhandler expressed frustration that the Chair had not introduced any of the information brought to light at the February 28 meeting in the year prior, when the HCC was considering the matter. He also thought most attendees at the meeting were ambivalent but that the HCC should consider it further before returning the funds. Harry recommending asking the town at Town Meeting to vote down the motion given that more information has surfaced, including 1) that the LUCT funds are only allowed to be used for land purchase while other environmental needs may need funding; 2) the HCC has two different funds, one of which is only available through Town Meeting, the other available year-round; 3) the HCC would like one more year to the consider matter and to make a recommendation, whether to consolidate the funds or propose something else. Harry added he would like to see environmental remediation as something LUCT funds could support. In stating that he wasn’t sure the majority vote should be the one that carries on the matter, given the thoughtful consideration by many in the minority, Harry clarified that the HCC had considered more immediate, shorter-term needs and the Planning Board had a longer-range view. Ultimately, Harry recommended leaving the fund as is for now.
Returning to a comment made by Andrea about concern for the unknown, Jay explained that towns maintain capital reserve funds for the known and to plan for what is going to happen. To set money aside for no known reason, he explained, was unfair as it is taking money away from taxpayers and goes against the principal of fair taxation. For Harry, the idea of a $100,000 cap on the fund, raised at the February 28 meeting, resonated.
Winston stated he didn’t see it as taking money away from taxpayers but as setting it aside for something the town has shown great interest in over the years. Considering the idea of easing restrictions on the LUCT funds, he referred to a document from the NH Municipal Association which states, the term reserve fund now commonly refers to both capital reserve funds and expendable trust funds. If so named, agents may authorize expenditures from the expendable trust fund at any time without further appropriation by the legislative body (Town Meeting) but only for the purposes for which the fund was established. Winston clarified that the LUCT funds can only be used for land acquisition or easements or expenses related thereto. He continued with the document, citing, expendable trust funds are most often used as maintenance reserve funds to ensure that money is available in situations such as equipment or building failure. Unlike capital reserve funds, which are usually established to fund a particular project several years down the road, expendable trust funds are usually established to address immediate needs that may arise during the year… If immediate access to reserve funds is needed, then it is advisable to name agents (usually the selectmen) to those reserve funds in order to ensure that expenditures from those funds can be authorized without waiting until the next meeting of the legislative body.
The group further discussed the current restrictions on each of its funds, how the funds might be used to manage development and promote conservation, and potential language to ease the restrictions. They agreed to discuss this further in the coming year.
Proposals for Town Meeting
Subsequently, Harry Wolhandler moved that the Conservation Commission, in light of the additional information brought forth by the Planning Board and others, ask the town to vote down our Warrant Article. Andrea Polizos seconded. The vote was 4-1 in favor, with Jay Jacobs opposed with the reasons cited above. Jay added he felt he represented both his individual views as well as the views of the Select Board which had proposed the same Warrant Article in 2017.
Funds for control and eradication of invasives
Harry thanked Winston for the internet links he supplied on these topics and requested information and resources regarding early intervention rather than late-stage or worst-case scenario situations. All agreed it was a topic for further discussion following Town Meeting.
During the conversation on potential costs related to environmental threats, Winston asked Jay his thoughts on the best way to address expenses, whether through a capital reserve fund or other means. Jay responded that he wouldn’t recommend a capital reserve fund given that they traditionally are meant for known expenses but that he is confident the town residents have always been generous, and would continue to be, in supporting environmental interests.
Hazardous materials management
The group discussed oversight of the use, storage or disposal of hazardous materials, including oversight by state agencies as well as the relevant language in the town ordinances, particularly the shoreland overlay ordinance.
Meeting adjourned at 8:20 pm.