Board of Selectmen Meeting Minutes & Agendas

Sep 24, 2018

Board of Selectmen Minutes - September 24, 2018

5:00 PM

Present:  Town Manager Andrew Dorsett, Chairman Schuyler Sweet, Vice Chairman Franco Rossi, Selectperson Carrie Gendreau, Executive Secretary Ceil Stubbings 

Others Present:  Chad Fillion (Channel 2), Owen Smith (AT&T), Andy Smith, Brien Ward, Ron Bolt (Energy Conservation Committee), Peter Cooper (Energy Conservation Committee), Rudy Gelsi, Ralph Hodgman, Bob O’Conner (Energy Conservation Committee), Linda Massimilla (State Rep), Chief Paul Smith (Littleton PD), Robert Blechl (The Caledonian), Justin Roshak (The Courier), Joe Kenney (Executive Counselor), Brad Bailey

Pledge of Allegiance

Littleton Police Department - COPS Grant Application - This item was passed over.  School Resource Officer

AT&T Presentation
Kenney explained that there had been quite a bit of discussion on this thing called FirstNet.  This was established in Washington several years ago.  The whole premise of it was to try and build a communication system for our first responders.  AT&T was awarded the contract.  It is a nationwide six point five billion dollar contract.  Over the twenty-five year period of the contract, they have invested forty billion dollars for the next twenty-five years.  New Hampshire was edging its options as to whether they were going to go with AT&T.  They were convinced to join in.  There will be forty-eight towers built up north.  With that in mind, there is potential for commercial activity on those towers.

Owen Smith (AT&T) provided a comprehensive overview of the project.  AT&T has been meeting with the state since January 1st.  We have had quite a bit of feedback and a lot of questions from non-public safety entities.  The thought those questions should be answered in an environment like this.  They hope to sit with the Regional Planning Commission and more groups like this, including the chamber.  There is a benefit to what we are doing for public safety.  He has been with the company for twenty-nine years.  He covers, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.  In all of those years, we have been pushing to get a better network in the northern part of New England.  Finally, it is here.  We have worked with the state and first responders to find out where we need to increase coverage.  The bulk of it is from the White Mountains right up through the Canadian border.  We typically spend twenty-five million on our network in New Hampshire every year.  Currently, we cover about eighty percent of the geography.  We have about three hundred and forty towers with a plan to increase the amount substantially.  Sweet advised the public could ask questions later in the meeting. 

Town Manager’s Report:

Statistical Revaluation
In 2015 Littleton underwent a full statistical revaluation. Positive market changes since this last revaluation demonstrated assessed values to be growing in disparity from sales values; properties were, and still are, consistently selling for higher than assessed values. The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), utilizes sales reporting that reflects the difference between assessed and actual sales values by an indicator called the Sales Ratio. It's a kind of health indicator of our assessment data, the sales ratio was dropping quickly, indicating that the data was rapidly becoming out of sync with the market, which then can impact the Town's tax rate, creating an artificially high tax rate. To proactively address the issue, we began exploring ways to resolve this in 2017. We determined that a full statistical revaluation in 2018 would help to keep the sales ratio healthier and assist in keeping the tax rate stable. The reevaluation is now complete and our contracted assessor is currently conducting hearings, which enable property owners to explore new values.

The gross assessed value of all Littleton properties in 2017 was $821,954,899, the revaluation has increased this to $919,726,581. These values are preliminary only.  Many factors impact this growth including; strong real estate sales, economic conditions leading to reinvestment into a parcel, and new construction. This figure will have other intervening variables impacting the tax rate such as credits and exemptions which the voters have previously adopted such as; veteran’s exemptions, current use, charitable exemptions, senior credits/exemptions ext. With that said the increase in value should have an impact to lower the tax rate this year.

Previously the growing disparity in Sales Ratio created an ever-growing discount applied to all parcels including significantly large taxpayers and Littleton’s total value was decreasing.

The revaluation will likely result in the NHDRA establishing a sales ratio close to 100% resulting in utilizing assessed values of parcels potentially resulting in a decreased tax rate due to the inclusion of the higher value of parcels. Please keep in mind that further variables impact the tax rate including those receiving current use, credits, and exemptions among others.

Andy Smith talked about the housing and commercial markets in Littleton.  Smith said he receives a lot of calls when property owner’s values go up.  He provided statistics from a national graph from year to year.  Values have gone up an average of six percent on the national side.  Another graph he used is how the assessment is impacted by the price of sales.  Lower priced homes have gone up nine percent.  Lower and middle eight percent.  The higher value homes went up five point seven percent.  The last study he did was by region.  The west coast, went up almost ten percent.  New England is five point one four percent.  The average for the last five years has been about five and six percent.  The last graph he presented was for New Hampshire and that was for eight point four percent.  Smith also provided a report from the National Realtors Association.  The increases have become larger over the last four years.  Lastly, he provided a breakdown for Grafton and Coos Counties.  In 2017 residential homes in Grafton County went up two point five percent.  Coos County went up four point nine percent.  The average for both counties for the last three years is somewhere around five percent.  Commercial sales have gone up.  There has been good activity on the meadow. 

Ammonoosuc/Saranac Project
Dorsett provided an update on the sewer replacement of this project is now completed and will now be moving forward with the above ground work. Road and parking reconfiguration, hardscape, and base coat paving begins now. Final landscape plantings and topcoat paving will take place in 2019.

Green Street Paving
Dorsett advised that as previously discussed Green Street was originally included in the Ammonoosuc/Saranac River District project and is considered a heavily used free public parking lot for the Western downtown area. We also took the opportunity to connect a broken link in pedestrian movement. This project is now complete thanks to Bill Sargent and DPW crew’s prep work. Sweet asked that the record show the selectmen appreciate the extra effort of the Highway Department crew. 

Sub 5 Project
Dorsett said his project has been in planning since 2016 with a number of challenges including a rising construction cost market, NHDOT stormwater restriction is now underway. On September 21st we utilized our funders Notice to Proceed and awarded the 1.9 million dollar project contract to JA McDonald. The scope of the project had to be amended to bring the project within budgetary constraints. If savings occur throughout the project removed portions may be reestablished. Construction is to begin by the end of the month on Union Street but will not be completed in 2018, Union Street will be completed by May of 2019 and coordinated is being coordinated with NHDOT to meet their paving schedule of Union Street for 2019. Side streets will be under construction in 2019. All work will be coordinated with dispatch and impacted abutting parcel owners during road closures.

Old Business: 
Agenda Policy
Rossi said he would go first since he asked for this to be on the agenda.  He spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and he expressed his concerns at the last meeting.  Rossi said the last meeting is about as good of an example about why this policy is in place.  He thinks that if they follow the policy more strictly, we will have better luck with the implementation of the policy.  In looking at the policy there are a couple of changes he would put into the policy.  But it does not change the issue of getting things on the agenda that we would have public comment on.   He does not think they are ready to take any action on this.  But, just as a heads up his position on this is that we should be adding some language that would give the chairman the discretion to lengthen or shorten the public time allotment. Also to make provisions for getting items on the agenda and it is after the Wednesday deadline, that the Town Manager had the discretion to get it on the agenda if he determines it is an urgent enough matter and needs to be placed on the agenda.  Other than that he is comfortable with the agenda as it with his recommended changes.  It will need to be reviewed by the Town Council to make sure it is legal.  Gendreau said she agreed with Rossi.  Littleton is a Town that is transparent and open.  She feels it is important to have that space and if something does come up it should be at their discretion. 

Sweet read the requirements for scheduling appointments from the agenda policy.  If someone has something of an urgent nature that needs to be on the agenda they need to contact the Town Manager or the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen.  Sweet said that as the Chairman, given the recent atmosphere, the policy as it is now will remain the same.  If someone wants to address our decision they can do so under Public Comment. 

New Business:
Energy Conservation Committee Presentation
Ron Bolt, Peter Cooper, and Bob O’Conner presented.  Bolt said the entire committee was present and announced the committee is still looking for new members.  No experience is necessary.  Their focus this year has been on education and information sharing.  Peter Cooper provided a comprehensive review of the work and committee has done to date along with a listing of the committee’s priority recommendations.  The documents of their report will be posted on the Town’s committee webpage. 

October Meeting Dates – October 8th is Columbus Day Town Office Closed
There will be no BOS Meeting on the 8th.  A meeting will be scheduled if required.

Board of Assessors:  None

Public Comments:
Jerry LeSage wanted to answer a question regarding the Senior Center in relation to the Energy Conservation Committee’s report.  The Senior Center leases the building from the Town.  All the upkeep and maintenance is done by the Senior Center.  The Town does not pay for those things.  Sweet said the Town has put money into the building in the past.  Bolt wanted to add some clarification on this topic.  A couple of years ago the Town went through lighting upgrades in the Town buildings including the senior center.  The Town did not pay for the upgrades to the Senior Center.

Ralph Hodgman told Andy Smith that since 1970 to the present, Grafton County’s population has increased 35,000 people.  Littleton’s population has increased less than 1,000.  It has gone down 600 in the last 47 years.  Hodgman asked Smith if he contributes to the housing market not bringing in new residents.  Smith said it is a pretty broad question.  He does not think he can point to anything in Littleton’s tax platform that is abnormally negative to the Town.  Smith said that if you look at most of the small Town’s in northern Grafton County, none have actually declined in population.  The amount of people that we serve in Littleton has grown tremendously.  We serve anywhere from thirty to fifty thousand people on a daily basis.  Hodgman said you would think people would be moving here due to the job situation.  Smith said he could not answer that.

There were a few more questions regarding the AT&T First Responder Project.  Someone had asked if they could build a matrix on how the build-out would be.  They were also asked if they would be releasing any kind of press releases in the future. It is important for us in the North Country to know when those services will be available.     Owen Smith said that as they do build out, the network team has put together mapping that is predictable.  Until we get the site up and running we don’t know what the signal is going to look like.  When the service is available we will promote it.  Someone else asked who would maintain the towers.  Smith said AT&T will maintain the equipment on the towers.  Typically the towers won’t be owned by AT&T. 

Brien Ward said he had read in the paper the state had said we were seventeen percent under-assessed.  That was phenomenal news.  Those who received their tax bills aid it was not news to them.  When you look at the tax base, it is pretty much like an aircraft carrier.  Ward said in the last three years the market has shifted and on average everyone’s home has increased about $25,000 on average.  The good news is that is accelerating.  Ward said he hopes this growth is sustainable.  He hopes everyone will look at their property and get the information.  Ward shared the Charitable Foundation announced the scholarships given to Littleton Students.  The class of 2018 received over $240,000 worth of scholarships.  We also have very hard working kids.  Since the conception of the community service program, our kids have done over 130,000 hours of service. 

Rossi had a question for the AT&T representative.  He had noted that .7% of the population would not be covered.  To come up with a number like that he thinks they have already figured out where the cell towers will be.  It tells him that .7% is going to be in the North Country.  That amounts to about 25,000 people that will not be covered.  Rossi asked if the plan has already been set, or is it a moving target.  Owen Smith said it is a little bit of both.  Smith said the figure is for a period of five years.  We have made a commitment.  We are never going to get to 100% with this technology. 

Ron Bolt mentioned the cost of recyclables going down at the transfer station.  He suggested the board listen to some ideas of Brian Patnoe who runs the transfer station on some solutions to the problem.

There being no more comments.  Sweet asked for a motion to adjourn.  Gendreau made the motion.  Rossi seconded the motion.  Motion passed 3-0.  The meeting adjourned at 6:25 PM.