O’Keefe seeks direction on Williams Dam Treasurer addresses changes to proposed budget

New Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe seeks more guidance on how Londonderry wishes to pursue the future of the Williams Dam. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The fate of the Williams Dam was the first topic brought up when Londonderry Town and Zoning Administrator Shane O’Keefe asked the Select Board on Jan. 21 to give him some guidance for the next six months to two years.

Board member George Mora asked O’Keefe to help the board “figure out what’s going on with the dam so we know what we do or don’t have to do about it.” Mora said one engineering study should look at what would be required to repair the dam and another should should assess downstream effects if the dam is breached.

Board member Taylor Prouty said a small-scale hydro project also should be investigated, while O’Keefe added that he should also look into the dam’s existing condition, its needs and options as well as costs.

Board member Bob Forbes asked what would be involved in repairing the dam. “Do you want the gate to operate again? It’s still there. It’s still working as a dam. Repair. Does that mean you want to stop the amount of water that is leaking that is actually effective in keeping it from maintaining a higher water level at low water times?”

Board member George Mora suggested the direction for engineering studies.

Mora said that insurance for the dam, which former Town Administrator Robert Nied looked into, would be a good idea to protect the town. But, she added, Nied was unable to get even minimal insurance from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Ameden said he received clarification that there was never any requirement or request that the town get insurance on the dam. Mora mentioned a state inspection of the dam that said it was in poor condition and deteriorating.

O’Keefe responded that if an engineering study recommended fixes or changes, and the town failed to follow through, “someone clearly would have a case that we ignored expert advice” if a bad event occurred. Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie said it is a legal question, “How can the state assume the least amount of liability for the dam? That ought to be answered pretty quickly by our attorney.”

Zoning bylaws, budget changes

Town Treasurer Tina Labeau walks the board through some budget details.

On other issues, O’Keefe told Forbes that he would assist the Planning Commission with rewriting the zoning bylaws. Mora reminded the group that two properties on Middletown Road with long standing zoning violations have high visibility and are a matter of public concern. O’Keefe said he prefers to work informally with owners for voluntary enforcement with some good time frames. O’Keefe said if it comes to requiring a court order, he will come to the Select Board for approval before using an attorney.

He said, “The goal would be to let people know that there are enforcement actions going forward and the town is serious about it. Over time the number of violations would normally drop and the number of permits would hopefully go up.”

Ameden said Nied had started to review town policies, especially the personnel policy. O’Keefe said when looking at policy, he prefers to work with a committee that may include a board member. Town Treasurer Tina Labeau said she has a list of financial policies that can be reviewed.

Also, Labeau also went through the proposed budget line by line, saying there were a few increases as well as some decreases. Employee and administration benefits were the major source of increases. The listers requested an additional $10,000 to help Sandra Clark with inspections this year and to purchase a field tablet computer for inspections.

  • Also, the Transfer Station added $16,000 for an electrical upgrade.
  • Removed was $3,000 in matching funds for an engineering study of the safety hazards of Williams Dam  because Beattie said the FEMA grant he was planning to apply for was not appropriate for this purpose.
  • Labeau said debt service is up $23,000 because of the purchase of a new grader two years ago. She said no purchases are expected this year except for a mower head.
  • The board voted to remove $14,000 for the reappraisal fund since $38,000 remains in it, the town receives about $15,000 each year from the state, and it will be several years before a new reappraisal is needed. Labeau did not yet have a total budget number.

Traffic recommendations, Town Meeting, Candidates Night

After a somewhat lengthy discussion on the report from the Traffic Committee, Ameden said a special meeting was needed to review the report so the board can agree on which of the recommendations to accept. Mora said the board could adopt a town traffic ordinance that could include speed limits on specific roads and sections of roads based on traffic studies and safety audits.

As of now, Mora said enough data is available to set speed limits on Middletown, Thompsonburg, Landgrove, and Springhill roads, should the board choose to do so. Mora also said a final report and audit from VTrans should be out later this week.

  • The board approved the warning for the Town Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, which was to be sent out on Thursday, Jan. 24.  George Mora and Taylor Prouty said they are running for re-election. Candidates Night is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11 in the Twitchell Building. Candidates for office are asked to come speak, though they can still be elected at Town Meeting even if they do not attend this event.
  • Labeau said the fiscal 2018 audit report cited only three issues to respond to, which is lower than previous years. Those included segregation of duties-cash; accounts payable on pre-paid expenses; and authorization of general journal entries.
  • A letter drafted by Ameden to the Southwest New Hampshire District Fire Mutual Aid was approved by the Select Board. The letter requests that the radio links to portable and mobile devices used by first responders be improved. Rescue Squad member Doug Friant said “every single day with every single call, there is a radio that is unreadable. Or it is so scratchy, you can barely make out what is said. It is a major issue not only for the rescue squad but for the fire companies.”
  • The board approved Development Review Board member Dwight Johnson’s request to disseminate a Request for Proposals to hire a consultant to help the Planning Commission revise the town’s by-laws based on the new Town Plan. Johnson said the work is expected to take about a year starting this summer.
  • O’Keefe received permission to put out an RFP for a computer services consultant that he said is needed from time to time. The board also agreed to allow O’Keefe to purchase a new laptop computer and software for a total of $1,000. He said the computer he now uses is “dreadfully slow.”
  • O’Keefe was officially appointed Zoning Administrative Officer for a 3- year term effective Jan. 1 by the Select Board. O’Keefe said state law states this position must be first nominated by the Planning Commission which did so at its last meeting.
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