Sun Shines on Windham Fire Open House and Chili Cook-off

by Gloria Sullivan

Scott Rogers of Windham Police Department and Special Operations, Evan Moore of Windham, Ralph DeMarco Medic from Windham Fire Department and Special Operations. 

On a perfectly sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, the firefighters of Windham opened the bay doors and welcomed the public in for their annual Open House and Chili Contest. 

The fire trucks gleamed in the front driveway of the fire house.  The firefighters proudly displayed their fire equipment they had obviously painstakingly shined and polished for the public display.  There was a sprinkler trailer present to demonstrate how an automatic sprinkler system works.  Periodically, the trailer would fill up with fake smoke and the sprinklers would be set off to douse flames viewed through a large window from the safety of the parking lot.

Free hot dogs, soda, balloons, and popcorn were a crowd pleaser as was the entertainment provided by a young bagpiper who provided a ceremonious sounding background for the day’s festivities.  The firefighters demonstrated the proper technique for operating a fire extinguisher at home utilizing the acronym “PASS” to help remember to Pull the pin, Aim the hose, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the hose side to side over the flames.

In the training room, firefighter Jim Curtin read fire safety-related stories to a room full of young admirers.  Some children were outfitted in complete firefighter apparatus; jacket, pants, boots and helmet, all miniature in size.

Sparky, the resident mascot, greeted children and posed for pictures.  Residents could sign up their 6 to 12-year-old children to be in the Junior Firefighter Challenge and put out actual fires as part of a competition.  In observance of national fire safety month, there was an endless amount of literature, coloring books and well-informed staff ready to educate the visitors on what they can do in their homes to make them safer.  Newer style Tot Finder reflective stickers were available, and residents were instructed that the stickers are to be placed on the lower corner of their child’s bedroom door for best visibility in the event of an actual fire.

Outside was more equipment; a Bearcat armored vehicle, recently utilized in a hostage situation in Pelham was an impressive sight.  The Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, represented by Scott Rogers of the Windham Police Department and Ralph DeMarco, a medic liaison from the Windham Fire Department, displayed some weaponry and were ready to answer all questions about the vehicle or their responsibilities with this special team.  They encouraged visitors to take a free gunlock and to tour the armored vehicle.  Rogers explained that his special training requires eight hours per month, and a physical agility test must be passed twice a year.  The team is on-call 24 hours a day and consists of police officers, doctors, negotiators, and medics.  Rogers added that the team was very fortunate to have acquired the armored vehicle as it was originally destined for Iraq.  The vehicle was purchased for $168,000 with Homeland Security funds.  The Special Operations Unit serves the towns of Derry, Salem, Hudson, Litchfield, Atkinson, Londonderry, Windham, Pelham and Raymond.

A mobile command unit and storage trailers from the Southeastern New Hampshire Hazardous Material Mutual Aid District were on display for the public to tour.  Fire Chief McPherson stated that he felt it was important to show the community where their tax dollars go.  He explained that the town pays $6,000 in yearly dues to belong to a regional Hazmat team.  The mobile command unit is equipped with sensors used to alert the team of the presence of radiological, biological, PID volatile organics, or blister agents.  Don Worthington, Team Leader of Technical Team, explained how these vapor analyzers are used where there is a large gathering of people, such as a Red Sox game.

The vapor analyzers could also be utilized in the event somebody was trapped underground or if there were an explosion the air quality could be monitored closely and the team would work in conjunction with the Special Operations Unit.

Back in the firehouse, judges Steve Short of Liberty Mutual, Selectman Bruce Breton, and residents Chuck Nickles and Art Pesaturo filled their chili bowls and tasted with careful and diligent effort.  They clamored around the six crock pots and eventually chose Firefighter Lieutenant Jay Moltenbrey as the first prizewinner.  When asked if there was anything he could tell us about his winning recipe, Moltenbrey just shrugged and explained how he uses all healthy meats like chicken sausage and ground chicken.  He also stated that there are some other ingredients that he could not reveal.  Terri Kurgan, wife of six-year veteran Firefighter Gary Kurgan, won second place with her unique beef stew-style chili.  She explained how she has previously won first, second and third place in past years competitions and felt that she needed to change things up fearing that this was her year to get bumped out of the competition.  Nancy Charland of the Windham Planning Department entered the competition for the first time and took home third place.  She explained how she used a vegetarian recipe and just added hamburger.

Following the competition, the crowd was invited to sample all the chili and asked to put a donation for the MDA in a nearby boot, placed on the chili table.  The crowd eagerly clamored around the crock-pots for a taste of the various entries.

Child tries an extinguisher.

Second PES Fun Fitness Fundraiser is a Scorching Success

by Karen Plumley

Second grader Madison Burke manages the stepping-stones on the obstacle course at the PES Fun Fitness Fundraiser on Friday afternoon.

Friday, October 5 was a special day for students of Pelham Elementary School because for the second year in a row they enjoyed participating in the PTA-sponsored Fun Fitness Fundraiser.  This year the event took place during one of the hottest fall days in recent memory, and students were sweating it out and depleting water supplies.  Several unscheduled trips to the grocery store were required throughout the day to keep up with the high liquid consumption.  A total of approximately 75 gallons of water was consumed throughout the day.

Despite the heat, however, students seemed to truly enjoy getting outside and being active.  The Fun Fitness event is the only significant fundraiser that the Pelham Elementary PTA sponsors during the course of the year, and the money raised goes to school supplies, buses, and enrichment programs for the children such as field trips, evening events for the family, and special guests.  In years past, the PTA has raised money by selling products like gift wrap, but felt that this new approach to fundraising would be more in keeping with the efforts of the school to promote a healthy, active lifestyle among the students.  Response from students, teachers, PES administrative staff, and parents has been overwhelmingly positive.  The day is truly an effort of immense proportions, and the PTA recruited more than 60 parent volunteers to help out.

“I feel the entire Fun Fitness event was quite successful.  With over 95 percent of the students participating, the PTA achieved its goal to help the students enjoy being physically active.  We wanted to provide them a healthy opportunity to do their personal best,” stated Fun Fitness Chairperson Jen McPhee.  The students were allowed to choose from a list of activities to participate in that included bike riding, walking/running, obstacle course, basketball, and scooters/roller blades.  Each grade was given a time slot throughout the school day to do the Fun Fitness activity, with fourth grade starting around 9:30 a.m.  Students gave up their outdoor recess period to participate.

The obstacle course was a new event for this year replacing last year’s jump rope activity.  It seemed to be very popular with the older grades, although students participated at all grade levels.  In fact a total of 25 percent of all students signed up for the obstacle course, tied for top event with the bikes.  (Last year, the bike event was the most popular with nearly half of all students donning their bike helmets.)  PES Physical Education teacher Tony Buldoc designed the course, and he was on hand throughout the day to demonstrate it to students and help direct the “traffic.”  Included in the course was a zigzag running section, an army crawl, bean bag toss, “tires” (hula hoops), balance beam, rolling mat, potato sacks, jump ropes, horizontal ladder, hurdles, stepping stones, and a Frisbee throw.  Adjustments were made for each different age group so that the children would all enjoy a little bit of a challenge and a whole lot of success. 

The students helped to raise money by securing sponsors who had the choice of giving a flat donation or a donation per lap of the chosen activity.  As a special incentive, the top student earner in each grade will be receiving a brand new bicycle.  Money earned from this year’s Fun Fitness Fundraiser has not yet been tallied, as donation forms are not due back until October 19.  The focus for the kids is not really on the fundraiser, however.  Fun Fitness day is all about the fun and challenge of physical activity.  “The real reward was watching the children’s faces and seeing how proud they were of what they accomplished.  Although it was a fundraiser, the children were the real winners,” enthused McPhee.

Nicole, a Pelham Elementary third grader, dons her helmet and gets ready to do laps around the school at the PES Fun Fitness Fundraiser on Friday, October 5.

How Long Does ‘No Mean No?’

by Diane Chubb

There seems to be a common misperception among some town officials in Pelham regarding the meaning of New Hampshire RSA 32:10 I (e) - otherwise known as the “No Means No” provision of the Municipal Budget Act.

RSA 32:10 I (e) states, in part, “[I]f the meeting ... does not approve an appropriation contained in a separate warrant article, the purpose or article shall be deemed one for which no appropriation is made, and no amount shall be transferred to or expended for such purpose.”

What this means is that once the town has voted not to approve funds for a specific purpose, other monies may not be used to fund that project. 

But how long does this last?  NH RSA 32:7 states that “All appropriations shall lapse at the end of the fiscal year.”  This is known as the “Lapse Rule.”

After the fiscal year in which the funding was denied has passed, the slate is wiped clean.  The project may be funded through a town vote, or an item may be included in an overall budget.

The 2005 Edition of The Basic Law of Town, Village and School District Budgeting, published by the New Hampshire Local Government Center, states that under the “lapse rule,” no town meeting can be bound by the votes of prior town meetings. 

“If it weren't for the lapse rule, votes taken in one year could interfere in some binding way with the following year's budget.”  (page 33)

This issue has come into play in Pelham at the Pelham Library.  In March 2005, the Library Trustees put a warrant article on the ballot requesting funds for benefits for a full-time Children's Librarian position.  Prior requests for this position had failed, so in March 2006, the request was for benefits only. 

The town voted not to fund a benefits package for the fiscal year 2006. 

Debbie Laffond was hired in September 2006 to replace outgoing Children's Librarian Barbara Sobol.  Sobol was a part-time employee.  However, Laffond worked 40 hours a week, the result of combining 2 existing part-time positions.  She was not offered benefits.  This resulted in no additional cost to taxpayers, but added desperately needed supervision on the second floor of the library.

At that time, Pelham’s Finance Director, Janet Gallant, and Town Administrator, Tom Gaydos, suggested that by hiring a full-time (40-hour-per-week) children’s librarian, the Pelham Library was in violation of RSA 32:10 I (e), the “No Means No” provision of the Municipal Budget Law.

The budget committee, in reviewing the library budget for 2007-08, noted that Laffond was working full-time hours.  From their comments, it seemed that some members believed that “no means no forever” – or at least until the failed warrant article finally succeeds with a “yes” vote.  That is, the “the purpose” requested in the failed warrant article may not be funded by any means in succeeding fiscal years, other than by a warrant article approved by town meeting.

During the presentation of the FY 2007 budget request in September of 2006, one member of the budget committee stood up, and shaking his finger at Pelham Library Director Sue Hoadley, stated that she was “defying the will of the people” by increasing the children’s librarian hours.

Hoadley believed that the library was in compliance with RSA 32:10 I (e), because it had not expended any funds – public or private – to purchase health, dental and life insurance for the children’s librarian. 

However, the town argued that when the library's warrant article failed, voters were not only rejecting the funding for a benefits package, but were also turning down a full-time children’s librarian – forever or until they approved a new warrant article.  This would suggest that the failure of the warrant article would have an impact on library staffing and funding in 2007 and future years.

Hoadley contacted Sandra Rourke of the Department of Revenue Administration.  Rourke agreed that the law applies to actions taken by voters in the current fiscal year - but it does not apply to future budgets.  Thus, the library was not violating the law with its 2007 proposed budget or future budgets.

Moreover, the Municipal Budget Act does not have jurisdiction over management of the library, particularly when there is no money involved.

RSA 202-A:6 states “The library trustees shall have the entire custody and management of the public library and of all the property of the town relating thereto.”  “Management of the public library” includes staffing.  It is up to the library to decide how to staff the library with the funds appropriated to it.

This year, during the library's budget presentation to the budget committee, their disapproval was more subtle.  However, based on the overall comments, the message seemed to be, “How many times do we have to tell you people you can’t have a full-time children’s librarian?”

Yet under RSA 32:7's “Lapse Rule,” this should no longer be an issue.  It is a new fiscal year. 

Hoadley contacted Rourke from the DRA again.  Her response was, “My answers haven't changed from last year ... a budget is for one year only.”

The Library Trustees then sought an official opinion from the DRA regarding this specific situation.  A letter from Barbara Robinson, the Director of Municipal Services, verified the prior information received from Rourke, citing all relevant RSAs. 

Copies of the official opinion have been provided to the budget committee and the town officials who had questioned the library's actions. 

Ledge Road Blasting Halted Again

by Barbara O’Brien

The developers of a business park located off Ledge Road in Windham have again voluntarily agreed to stop blasting at the construction site.

On Monday, October 15, Bruce Marshall, attorney for Meadowcroft Development and Precision Blasting, told selectmen that blasting will be stopped until water test results are received from a dozen area residences, as well as two bore wells drilled on site.

The blasting permit that had been issued to Precision Drilling and Blasting by the Town of Windham expired on Thursday, October 11.  As a result, on October 15, representatives of the developer and the blasting company came before town officials to seek a renewal of that permit.  Permits are issued for a 90-day period and can be renewed unless there is just cause not to do so.  After listening to concerns of town officials and residences, however, Marshall approached the podium and said his clients were willing to postpone seeking that permit renewal until December 1.

Residents first came to selectmen several weeks ago, complaining of contaminated water, as well as alleged structural damages to their homes.  At that point, blasting was halted temporarily until the situation could be reviewed.  Subsequently, two independent consulting firms were hired to study seismic activity caused by the blasting, as well as the quality of water at these homes.

Although the studies have not yet been completed, according to the specialists conducting the studies, preliminary data shows there is apparently no correlation between the blasting and the reported damages.

Dr. Gene Simmons, of Hager-Richter Geoscience, Inc. of Salem, New Hampshire, said his role has been to examine the blasting procedures being used and to determine whether or not they conform to state and local regulations.  “And they do,” Simmons said.

In addition to working as chief scientist at NASA’s manned spacecraft center in Houston, during the Apollo landings on the moon, Simmons was also professor of geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for 24 years.  He is currently vice president and chief geophysicist for Hager-Richter Geoscience, Inc.

The blasting company provided him with excellent documentation, Simmons said.  He also said seismographic equipment was all placed properly during blasting.  “The blasting company has complied with all state and town ordinances in an excellent way,” Simmons said.”  According to Simmons, the vibration levels recorded during blasts were all quite low and there was never an amplitude greater to or even equal to the allowable level of two inches per second.  “The blasts did not produce sufficient energy to cause cracks,” he said.

Tim Stone, of Stonehill Environmental, a hydrogeologist and well consultant, said water testing is ongoing and will continue through the weekend of October 26 and 27, after which residents will be interviewed and asked for any documentation they might have of earlier water tests.

The major problem found thus far, Stone said, is the presence of arsenic in well water; a circumstance which he described as naturally occurring, particularly in this part of the country.  He also cited one example of a well on Haverhill Road having a slightly higher than allowable level of nitrate.

“This is a fairly complicated procedure,” Stone said.  Once the test results are received, he will see if there are any trends that stand out as being unusual.  “We will see where it goes from there,” Stone said.

According to Stone, wells can be affected by seasonal fluctuations, as well as nearby septic systems.  To date, Stone said, he has seen “no hard and fast data” confirming changes in well water from before the blasting began until the current time.  Usually, he said, the impact of contamination on wells is transient and doesn’t travel far through the groundwater.  It would be unlikely, he said, that there would be any impact beyond the immediate area.

Selectmen wanted to know how the complaints being received could be explained if they aren’t being caused by the blasting.  Stone said that’s where the interview process comes into play.  “It really is a puzzle we’re putting together,” he said.

Three area residents spoke during the meeting, each reporting incidents of houses being shaken by blasts, as well as problems with their well water.  “We’re not imagining this stuff,” one resident of Haverhill Road said.  “We have documentation.”  “This blasting has caused our earth to move,” said another resident of Haverhill Road.  “God didn’t do it,” she added.  “People are playing games with us.”  “Something happened in our neighborhood and people are getting sick,” she said, adding that the town owes it to these residents to get to the bottom of the problem before allowing the blasting to continue.

The town’s current blasting regulations are scheduled for review during the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, October 29.  Water test results are expected to be complete by the end of November.  It is anticipated that selectmen will again discuss the issue during their Monday, December 3 meeting.

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