Residents share concerns over new enforcement policies and tax exceptions at Gorham's Annual Town Meeting

By Kirstan Knowlton

GORHAM — Originally scheduled for Tuesday, heavy snow and blizzard like conditions forced the town to postpone its annual town meeting until Friday. With fewer than 100 residents in attendance, opinions still ran strong when it came to topics like code enforcement and tax exception.

One of the biggest topics for contention started right out of the gate with Warrant Article No. 3., which proposed that the town adopt the provisions of RSA 48-A Housing Standards.

According to the warrant, provisions would be in place to insure that all dwellings in the Town of Gorham are kept fit for human habitation and would allow the municipality to establish an ordinance to enforce the standard under the provisions of RSA 48-A:3, II.

During public comment, resident Jay Holmes expressed concerns over creating policies that could give the town control over resident’s private property. Budget committee member Robert Demers, also agreed, saying that it should be up to the landowners to take care of their property without specific enforcement from the town.

“It’s up to the landowners, we shouldn’t support it,” said Demers.

Town Manager Robin Frost explained that currently the town did not have anything in place specifically dealing with single-family dwellings. The article, if approved, would create a way for the town to address excessive trash build up and other hazards that would pose a risk to neighbors.

The article was in response to several complaints that had been made about certain properties, and without specific provisions in place, beyond sending letters recommending that action be taken; the town’s hands were basically tied.

Resident William Scolere spoke about his personal experience with a neighboring property that had been neglected and, even after several attempts by the town to correct the situation, there had been little to no improvements.

“It’s my neighbor Bob Demers, and I’d like some teeth to do something about it,” said Scolere.

Warrant Article No. 3 passed with the majority of the vote.

Next on the warrant, Article No. 4, generated some discussion as well, with Budget Chair Michael Waddell looking for clarification about who would be eligible for the tax exemption and if there would be a loss in tax revenue.

The article would provide commercial and industrial property owners an exemption on new construction or renovations. The property owner would pay full taxes on the existing structure — the exemption would apply only to the value of new construction.

The exemption will be for five years and would decrease every year. The first year the exemption would cover 90 percent of new valuation, 75 percent the second year, 50 percent for the third year, 25 percent for the fourth year and 10 percent for the fifth and final year. Subsequent years will be assessed at the full rate.

Frost explained that the proposed article was taken directly from state law, and if passed it would not generate a loss in tax income, because the exemption only applied to tax gains that would be created based on the renovations made to the property.

The initial vote to pass the article was too close to call with just a show of hands, and an official standing count was taken. The article passed 36 to 32.

The budget for the general municipal operations as presented in Warrant Article No. 9 for $3,926,467 received a request by Waddell to be amended to a lower amount of $3,850,467.

The proposal called for the removal of $40,000, which was set aside in the event that the town manager form of government was eliminated, and $36,000, which needed to placed back into the Recreation Revolving Fund.

Selectmen Patrick Lefebvre also made a motion to designate a portion of the shifted funds to cover the First Impressions Study through the University of New Hampshire and to hire someone part-time for economic development.

A short discussion was had on the timeliness of Lefebvre’s proposal, and when it came to the final vote, Lefebvre’s motion was not supported, with Waddell’s reallocation of funds passed as amended.

During the meeting, residents also questioned the plan to repair and pave roads, especially areas out in the Stony Brook development.

Waddell cited a figure of $3 million to cover all 20 miles of road within town, and while he supported the $100,000 addition to the Road Resurfacing Fund he acknowledged that there needed to be other options.

“It’s a work in progress for the board of selectmen,” said Waddell.

The remainder of the warrant articles was passed with little discussion or no discussion, and the meeting adjourned around 9:30 p.m. The 2016 annual report is available online by going to www.gorhamnh.org.