Warner approves solar array, fire station plan, budget… and idea of demolishing 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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Main Street view of site where town leaders want to put a new fire station

Warner residents learn about solar array, fire station plans

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – About 30 residents gathered at the MainStreet BookEnds store Thursday (Feb. 23) night  to hear about two ideas that will be considered by voters at the annual town meeting next month. One is a proposal to build a solar panel array to mitigate the town government’s electrical bill. The other would move forward plans to build a new fire department station on Main Street.

Selectman Clyde Carson, speaking for his board and its energy committee, said that the solar array facility would include 380 panels and be built on an acre of land adjacent to the transfer station off Main Street. (At last year’s town meeting, a similar proposal narrowly missed the two-thirds majority needed for approval.)

Carson noted that the town’s Village Water District, which provides water and sewer service to approximately 200 customers, installed a similarly sized solar facility last year and is already reaping the benefits.

“It powers the wastewater treatment plant and the wells there,” he said of the project. “They use a lot of electricity.”

Now there’s even more reason to seriously consider the solar array option, Carson explained. Under the state’s original 2012 “net metering law,” solar power users who generate more energy than they need can transfer that excess back into the regional power grid, which provides electricity to communities throughout New England. The user gets a check back from the company that can be used as a credit against his electrical bill.

“But in 2013, what made this really attractive is that the state instituted ‘group net metering,’” the selectman said. “That means I can put in a lot of solar panels in one location and I can feed anything excess back into the electrical grid, and use (the value of that power) to pay for other places.

“And there are number of town buildings around the town,” he noted. That means the solar array facility can provide power for the transfer station, and pay for electric power used at the Pillsbury Free Library, the highway department’s facility and the police station, Carson said. (The proposed facility has been sized to provide – or finance – electrical energy for all the town buildings.)

The energy committee worked hard to keep the cost of the new solar project “tax neutral,” Carson added. “It will not increase the tax rate. In fact, we’ll be getting more revenue.

 

“It’s served its purpose, but it’s past its useful lifespan now.”

Anthony Mento, Warner resident and project manager with Sherr, McCrystal, Palson Architecture, who is working with town on new fire station proposal

 

 

The project’s $338,530 construction costs will be funded using a low 2-percent interest, 12-year loan from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority, and a $65,000 grant. Projections are that the facility will provide power for the transfer station and about $60,000 in additional revenue the first year it’s operating. (The town’s total annual electric bill is approximately $30,000, Carson said.)

Earlier in the meeting, Anthony Mento, a project manager with Sherr, McCrystal, Palson Architecture, Inc., of Concord, and a Warner resident, reviewed information related to the fire station project. He explained the need for a new facility because the current Main Street building is simply inadequate for a modern department.

“It’s served its purpose but it’s past its useful lifespan now,” he said. “There are lots of requirements that we fail miserably on… It’s not code-compliant, not ADA-accessible, and on and on…” In addition, the building is too small to house necessary equipment, particularly modern trucks and other apparatuses.

Since last year’s town meeting, a committee has been working on moving the building plan forward. Mentos said the group has been working with North Branch Construction of Concord to deal with some of the most important issues including noise pollution, traffic and longevity.

The tentative plan currently call for constructing a facility that would be approximately 11,00-square feet and would include offices and meeting space (for emergency management and training, as well as fire department personnel), a kitchen and a garage space for all the department’s apparatus. The one-story brick building, which would be on a 4-acre parcel at the southern corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road, will look somewhat smaller from the main road because its longest length will run north-south.

Early estimates are that the energy-efficient station will cost approximately $2.5-million or less but this year the selectmen are only asking for $100,000 to be raised in taxes. The money will be used to move engineering and design work forward, with an eye towards presenting a building proposal to voters next year.

Both the solar array project and the building proposal have the support of the budget committee and the selectmen. Voters will consider them at the town meeting on March 14.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Feb. 28, 2017.

Ray Carbone can be reached at raycarbone@yahoo.com


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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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