Engine 3 Permanently Parked

by Lynne Ober

Engine 3

For the past two years debate has raged on whether to build additional capacity for the Pelham Fire Department or not.  To date nothing has passed through the voters.

Now Pelham is beginning to feel the effects of this benign neglect.  “Time has not been good to the fire department,” commented Board of Selectmen Chairman Victor Danevich.  “As the town has grown, our infrastructure has not.”

It is not a surprise to any Pelham resident that the fire department does not have room to park their vehicles in covered space.  Many of their vehicles sit behind the fire department and are clearly visible when one drives through the center of town.  On a number of occasions Selectman Ed Gleason has noted that having vehicles sit outside takes time off of their normal life span.

Now Engine 3 is permanently out of service.  Danevich commented that “this was due to rust and years of just ‘getting by’ maintenance.”

Engine 3 – leaking tank.

With most of Pelham not on town water, the loss of Engine 3 is a significant issue because Engine 3 carried water to fires where there were no pressurized fire hydrants.

Asked to comment on the loss of Engine 3, Danevich remarked, “In short, we waited too long and ‘time’ got the best of us.”

Fire Chief Michael Walker told selectmen that “several problems erupted” with Engine 3.  The worst of those was the possibility of the brakes releasing when the pump is engaged and the RPMs are increased.  The pump was also making a horrendous amount of noise, and staff feared that it was at the point of catastrophic failure.

Walker asked Ron Cote from New England Fire Operatives to examine Engine 3 and make a recommendation.  After a thorough examination of all systems, Cote recommended parking the vehicle because it was too dangerous to operate.

The tank on Engine 3 was so rusted that it was leaking more than 500 gallons of water a day.

Walker told selectmen that he has permanently taken Engine 3 out of service.  That leaves a significant hole in the fire department’s capacity to fight a fire, and Walker wanted to discuss options for filling that hole.

He had developed five options that he wanted to discuss with selectmen.

  • Borrow a pumper truck from Goffstown who had one to loan.  Walker said the truck had only half the capacity of Engine 3, which has a 1,500-gallon tank, and was significantly older.  Pelham would be responsible for any maintenance, repairs, or damage during the time that they borrowed the truck;
  • Purchase a new replacement truck on an emergency basis;
  • Hold a special town meeting to get voter approval to purchase a truck now;
  • Add a line item to his budget for the truck replacement rather than proposing a warrant article; or
  • Rent a truck from a manufacturer 

When Town Administrator Tom Gaydos asked what the cost of renting a truck would be, Lieutenant Ray Cashman reported that he had contacted one manufacturer and had been offered a 1979 truck with a 1,000-gallon tank at a monthly cost of $2,100.  The town would be responsible for insurance and liability on the rental engine.

Engine 3 rust under steel tank. This photo shows the rust caused by the leaking tank.

Gaydos asked Walker to explain why the option of “do nothing” was not being considered. 

Walker explained that doing nothing would cripple the tactical operations of his department and that the town would have to totally rely on outside assistance for fire suppression.  According to Walker, any fire requiring water would have to wait for a pumper truck from another town to arrive.

Selectman Jean-Guy Bergeron asked if Goffstown was charging a rental fee for their pumper truck with the 750-gallon tank or were just asking for repairs and maintenance to be paid by Pelham.  Walker confirmed that no rental fee was being asked.

Cashman noted that the Goffstown truck was six years older than Pelham’s.

Selectman Ed Gleason questioned the capacity of the loaner truck and asked the chief if it would be adequate.  Walker cautiously said he hadn’t had an opportunity to look at the truck and to start it, so he couldn’t really answer.  Gleason offered that the money in the budget to repair Engine 3 could be diverted to repairs on the loaner engine if Walker decided to use it.

Selectman Tom Domenico questioned the ongoing safety of residents and was concerned that the loss of capacity was a fire safety issue.  He asked if the chief saw replacing Engine 3 as an emergency and when Walker answered “yes,” Domenico said selectmen should consider the options sooner rather than later and wanted to talk about how to get this in front of the voters.  Domenico favored a lease/purchase option.

Selectman Hal Lynde wanted to know the cost and the length of time needed to procure a replacement truck.  Walker explained that he had initially said $325,000, but believed that the $350,000 figure in the CIP plan was more accurate.  He felt that he could have a truck within six months of approval.

Lynde discussed the options and said that he favored holding a special town meeting to get voter approval.  After a lengthy discussion period, it was clear that selectmen wanted to get voters involved in the process and did not want to proceed without voter approval.

Walker said that bid specifications had gone out and he was expecting them back.  The price would be good for 60 days, but he also stated that he’d gone as far as he could without direction from selectmen.

Other problems with engine 3.

Lynde moved to authorize the town administrator to ask town counsel to petition for a special town meeting, provided that the time line is sufficient to allow that town meeting to occur on the same date as the November state-wide election, for the purpose of a single item which is the acquisition of a new fire truck either through purchase or a lease/purchase agreement.  Bergeron seconded the motion.

The motion passed 3 – 2 with Lynde, Domenico and Bergeron voting yes.

However, since that motion passed, New Hampshire Department of Revenue cited a RSA (Revised Statutes Annotated) prohibiting the town meeting in November. 

According to Danevich, “The timeline DRA responded back (with) was a January meeting.  The original motion was specifically for the November election, if not, it (the motion) failed.”

Engine 3 remains out of service and remains parked. 

Attention has now turned to working with Goffstown on a temporary loaner smaller piece of equipment.  “My main concern is we have substantially less water now showing up to a structure fire with Engine 3 out of service.  I think the Goffstown unit is about half the size of what Engine 3 carried.  In short, we waited to long and ‘time’ got the better end of us,” Danevich concluded.

Grand Opening was a Wet One

by Lynne Ober

From left, Judge Michael Jones, Frederick C. Merriam and Frederick S. Merriam.

Mother Nature did her best to dampen spirits at the grand opening of the Merriam Conservation Area in Pelham, but did not succeed.  Although heavy rains pelted the surrounding area, the grand opening was a bright success.

With about 25 sturdy and wet attendees, Master of Ceremonies Paul Gagnon opened the ceremony with a few brief remarks.  “The parcel was appraised at over $1.4 million and they sold it to the town for $1 million,” explained Gagnon, who thanked the Merriams for their extraordinary generosity.  .

Board of Selectmen Chairman Victor Danevich spoke to the assembled audience.  He recalled the work done by the Conservation Committee in putting a warrant article on the ballot for land acquisition and then working to have it passed.  “With 70 percent voter support, it gave us the monies to purchase and place land in conservation.”  Without that warrant article, the town would not have had the money to purchase this beautiful piece of property.

Danevich also thanked the Merriam family, who actively worked with the town to preserve the land rather than see it developed.  “We accept the responsibility of protecting the land as a conservation area as custodians ourselves,” said Danevich, who closed his remarks by once again thanking the Merriam family, who were in attendance. 

Judge Michael Jones, who spoke on behalf of the family, commented that the Merriams always considered themselves custodians of the property and treated it with great respect.  They wanted it to remain undeveloped for future generations to enjoy.

Deb Waters, who is very active in conservation efforts, spoke, “In March of this year, Pelham citizens voted to designate this property as a town forest.  In doing so, the voters added the Forestry Committee, along with the Conservation Commission, as a group responsible for the care of this property.”

Waters explained that the town of Pelham is a member of the New Hampshire Tree Farm System.  “Consistent with the goals of this program, the Forestry Committee will oversee forest management plans on this property.  The goal of the plan will be to manage the area for wildlife enhancement, long-term sustainability, and passive recreational use.  Using environmentally sound, selective harvesting techniques, the health of the forest is improved, and revenues are generated for stewardship needs.”

Pelham has hired forester Dan Cyr to work with the town in managing all town forests.  Waters told the audience that “under the guidance of our town forester, Dan Cyr, the Forestry Committee is in the process of drafting a management plan for this property.  In the months to come, we will be overseeing a selective timber harvest, creating a parking area, laying out new trails, and monitoring the property to ensure safe use for passive recreational activities.”

Then it was time for the official ribbon cutting and unveiling of the sign.  Both Frederic C. Merriam and Frederic S. Merriam participated in this happy occasion.

Both a barbecue and an exploration of the property had been planned for the grand opening.  With a large tarp set up, chef extraordinaire – Bob Lamoureux – cooked for everyone.

A few hardy souls did take an abbreviated tour of the property, but most decided to chat under the tarp and wait for a sunny day to explore.

“It was very wet, but we all had fun – lots of good conversation and a very gratifying kickoff to a great conservation area,” grinned Waters. 

The conservation area is located on Sherburne Road and consists of 110 acres of protected land.  The Conservation Commission purchased the land in 2005.  Approximately two miles of walking trails traverse the property.

Overnight Trip to Battleship Cove

On Friday, September 22, the cub scouts from Pack 266 in Windham, had their first overnighter of the year.  They got to spend the night on the USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove at Fall River, Massachusetts. 

USS Massachusetts was built in Quincy, Massachusetts at the Fore River Shipyard of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.  The ship was launched on September 23, 1941 and holds the record as the heaviest ship ever launched in Quincy.  "Big Mamie,” as her crew knew her, was delivered to the Boston Navy Yard in April 1942, and was commissioned the following month.  She went joined World War II in November, 1942.

The cub scouts took advantage of the half day of school, and arrived early to experience life aboard ship, including fire drills, knot tying instructions, a question and answer time - with someone who actually worked onboard during the war, and watched The Incredible Mr. Limpet as an onboard movie.  (Even sailors got to see movies!) 

Battleship Cove is the world’s largest floating naval display.  We had a great time!  

If you have a boy interested in joining cub scouts and in grade T-4, email cjscaron@adelphia.net, to find out how.

Town Reval Completed in Windham

by Barbara Jester

The average taxpayer in Windham could see his or her real estate taxes go up by as much as $1,000 this year if the town tax assessor’s predictions hold true.

Selectmen listened to the news during their Monday, September 25 meeting with town assessor Rex Norman.

According to Norman, the revaluation of all property in Windham has now been completed.  The town revaluation was scheduled for 2005, but was ultimately delayed until this year.

The just-completed assessments will be used to set the 2006 tax rate; a process which should be done by mid-October.  The annual tax rate for each municipality is set by the State Department of Revenue Assessment.

While the actual tax rate is expected to decline, that does not mean that real estate taxes will dip.  To the contrary, Norman said taxes on the average homeowner (with property assessed at approximately $400,000) could rise between $800 and $1,000 for 2006.  There are two reasons for this jump, Norman said.  The first reason is that property value has seen an increase of 50 to 60 percent in just the last year alone.  “Property values in Windham have doubled in the last few years,” he said.  The second reason for the increase in taxes is that residents will need to start paying for the new high school.

Norman projected that the 2006 tax rate for Windham should be in the neighborhood of $16 per $1,000 assessed property valuation.  On real estate assessed at $400,000 that would mean a 2006 tax bill of $6,400.  Although the tax rate for 2005 was higher by $3.46 ($19.46 per $1,000 assessed valuation), real estate was also assessed at a lower value last year.  One resident attending the meeting said her valuation showed an increase of $100,000.  Another said his valuation jumped by $110,000 from the previous assessment.  Norman said that the total valuation of Windham now stands at $2.1 billion; an increase of about 40 percent over the prior valuation of the town.

Selectman Margaret Crisler asked Norman if he was taking the current “softening” of the real estate market into consideration.  “I am,” he said, but went on to explain that the assessment of property is based on state law, which sets April 1, 2006 as the target date for determining property values.

Norman encouraged residents to take the time to review their property cards at town hall.  “We can look at assessments on a case-by-case basis,” Norman said.  “It really is a moving target” as far as property values are concerned right now, he said.  “People can certainly come talk to us,” he continued.  “There are avenues available to anyone who cannot meet their taxes.”  In order to gain a tax abatement, though, a resident must show that “a hardship” exists.

“The elderly will be hit the hardest,” Norman said, referring to a reduction in the elderly exemption for 2006.

State Representative Mary Griffin asked selectmen to give consideration to the plight of elderly homeowners living in Windham.  “Do you really know what it means to be old?” she asked.  “The elderly can’t even afford to live in this town anymore,” she said.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger asked Norman if a “blanket hardship abatement” could be granted to all the elderly homeowners that qualify for such assistance.  Norman said he doesn’t recommend taking such a step.  “This step is meant for those who are in danger of losing their homes due to an inability to pay their taxes,” he said.  Hohenberger said he is concerned that many elderly residents in need are “too proud” to ask for a tax abatement.  To grant the blanket hardship exemption for those who qualify would mean “small change on the tax rate” for other residents, Norman explained.  The total blanket abatement would amount to about $30,000, Norman said.

Instead of a blanket abatement for the elderly, Norman said it would be better to handle the situations on a case-by-case basis.  “This is meant to be a last resort,” he said.  According to Norman, there are 74 property owners who might fall into this economic, age and/or disability category.  There are also tax exemptions available for handicapped residents, Norman said.

“Elderly housing in town is assessed higher than private condos,” Selectman Crisler said.  “It’s a problem that needs fixing.”

“We have a duty to these long-term residents to help them,” Chairman Galen Stearns said.  Selectmen Crisler, Hohenberger and Dennis Senibaldi agreed with Stearns.  Vice-Chairman Alan Carpenter did not attend the September 25 meeting.

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