Warner takes innovative approach to saving historic Odd Fellows building

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The town has purchased this parcel at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road hoping to eventually build a new fire station there. (Ray Carbone/photo)

Warner approves solar array, fire station plan, budget… and idea of demolishing Odd Fellows building

Above: The town has purchased this parcel at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road hoping to eventually build a new fire station there. (Ray Carbone/photo)

WARNER – It took more than four hours, but more than 300 residents crowded into the town hall Wednesday for the annual town meeting, and voted to accepted virtually every proposal offered by town leaders and fellow citizens.

The group unanimously approved an annual operating budget of $3,070,486, which is an increase of 1.7-percent over last year’s budget, and will result in a projected property tax rate of $9.82. They heartily supported a proposal to advance plans for a new fire station. They accepted the idea of asking the selectman to demolish the historic Odd Fellows building if recent efforts to sell it to a local building contractor don’t work out.

But perhaps most significantly for many, in a 270-44 secret ballot vote, the residents overwhelmingly approved spending $338,530 to construct a solar panel array nearby the transfer station. The project could defray rising costs electricity costs in municipal facilities and eventually allow the town to generate revenue by selling “excess” electrical power back to the New England grid. Last year, a similar plan narrowly fell short of the two-thirds majority needed.

“I’m going to vote for it, but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

Paul Goneau, resident, referrinng to tentaive plans to build a new fire station.

Solar power is popular with Warner homeowners, according to town leaders, and voters at the meeting trusted their selectman’s claim that the array will have no impact on local property taxes. Speaking for the board, member John Dabuliewicz said that $273,595 of the total costs will be financed with a low 2-percent, 12-year loan the town is taking under the state’s Municipal Finance Act, and the payments will, in effect, be paid from the savings the town realizes from solar power. The remaining $64,935 will come back to the town as a refund from the NH Public Utilities Commission for extra electricity the facility puts into the regional electrical grid, Dabuliewicz added.

But not everyone was convinced. “The way this is being packaged is slightly misleading,” resident John Heaton told the crowd. “Eversource is not a charity,” he added, suggesting that the power company will raise its rates to pay for the income it loses to solar power initiatives. “Solar is expensive,” he said.

But George Horrocks of Harmony Energy Works, which is assisting the town with the project, said that recent jumps in energy costs are not related to solar, but rather to over-estimates about the impact of natural gas in the market. “As rates go up, you’re going to save over a half-million dollars (with the solar array),” Horrocks told the voters.

Resident Paul Goneau, a former chief finance operator with the NH Housing and Finance Authority, expressed concerns about cash-flow issues in the proposal, including the lack of funds for operating costs. But town leaders said there are virtually no costs to operating the passive solar array system.

The meeting then moved on to a plan to add $182,000, including $100,000 in new taxes, to a fund earmarked for the construction of a new fire station at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road. Town leaders have been working on the project for several years because they maintain the current Main Street station is inadequate for a modern department. The new funds will allow engineering and design work to move forward.

Some people were concerned about the final cost of the station, which town leaders currently estimate to about $2.5 million. Bill Balsam of Waterloo predicted that rising construction costs and debt service on a building loan could eventually jump the final figure for to close to $4-million. “I’m going to vote for it,” he announced, “but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

In a ballot vote, the proposal was approved, 159-48.

Later in the meeting, Rebecca Couser, director of the Warner Historical Society, addressed the warrant article she supported that would have the selectmen begin making plans to demolish the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building and bring a cost proposal to next year’s meeting.

Courser said that since contractor Nate Burrington entered into negotiations with the selectmen to buy the building in recent weeks, she proposed amending the article to give the board several more weeks to complete a purchase-and-sale agreement. If there is no deal, she said, the demolition plan should move forward.

A deadline is necessary, Courser said, because previous efforts to sell the building had languished for months without resolution. “I would just like a plan in place in case this (Burrington) plan does not go through in the next few weeks,” she explained.

The amendment passed, 92-25, and the approved article passed in a voice vote.

In other actions, the voters okayed beginning voting on election days at 7 a.m., one hour earlier than it currently occurs, and the selectman announced that an informal poll before the meeting indicated some support for moving the annual gatherings to Saturday mornings in the future.

Correction: The Odd Fellows building measure  approved by voters does not contain a deadline for negotiating a sale with resident Nate Burrington.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, March 21, 2017.

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Warner’s Odd Fellow building is sold – almost


Ray Carbone (11)
Warner takes innovative approach to saving historic Odd Fellows building

At a meeting in the town hall Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen moved a step closer to selling the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building to a local contractor who wants to use it for business purposes.
The three-member board unanimously approved the sale of the historic 72’-by-42’ three-story wooden structure to resident Nate Burrington, the owner of Burrington Builders and Maintenance, “provided both sides can come to a mutually acceptable purchase-and-sales agreement.”
The board took the unusual move of approving an action with a significant contingency attached to avoid holding additional public hearings in the coming weeks. As John Dabuliewicz, a selectman, explained to the small group of people attending the meeting, state law requires an agreement be in place within 14 days of the last public hearing, which would be this Wednesday, March 15.

“You probably have it on you now.”

– Selectman Allan N. Brown, jokingly, referring to the price Nate Burrington will pay  the town for the historic Odd Fellows  building if the two sides reach an agreement.

 

“We didn’t want to do that,” the selectman said, because it’s the same night as the annual town meeting.
The action means that the board can continue negotiating with Burrington and move forward with the sale when both sides agree to all facets of a deal.
But it also means that details about the plan, including the price Burrington will pay and any special stipulations attached to the sale, is not yet been made public.
The selectmen said that their ongoing negotiations with Burrington in recent weeks have been going extremely well. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close,” Dabuliewicz said.
“He’s anxious to get this done,” added Allen N. Brown, another selectman, referring to the local contractor.
Resident Martha Michal asked if the board is considering any tax abatements as an incentive to Burrington taking over the building, or a revisionary clause that would allow the town to regain ownership if the contractor is unable to meet certain renovation benchmarks.
“There is a revisionary clause” in the tentative agreement, Dabuliewicz said, which can be used as “leverage” to make sure the building is not left to deteriorate further, but no tax abatement has been mentioned.

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Anastasia (Anna) Glavas was born in Canada but somehow found her way to small town America. She works part-time in the local schools and at Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum. When she isn't there, she is either at home...

Darryl Parker is an elected official with the Town of Warner (Almoner) and a Director for the Warner Historical Society. He and his wife purchased 1 East Main Street next door to Town Hall in 2014 and renovated...

Joanna and her family have lived in Warner for 14 years. She enjoys her job in Special Education in the Kearsarge District, her Communications and Illustration freelance work, and her volunteer work as a Costume Desi...

Katie has lived in Warner for the last two years and has enjoyed becoming familiar with the small town's atmosphere. Prior to living in Warner, she lived in Henniker, NH. Katie is an alumni of New England College and...

Ray Carbone was born in Virginia and grew up in the New York City area. But he moved to New England in the 1970s and he's he never left.
Ray's byline has appeared on a variety of media platforms including National Pu...

Vince was born in New Mexico, raised in California and then moved to New Hampshire in 1993. He became a resident of Warner officially in 2001. Vince has coached soccer in the WYSA program for many years. Now that...

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