Don’t let him fool you! Fire Chief Jim Midgley may appear relaxed, but he won’t be laying down on the job. With clear goals and strong, sensible convictions, he now occupies the chair he predicted he would 10 years ago, and proclaims that he is here to stay.
Straightforward, candid, and committed, Pelham’s new fire chief, Jim Midgley, now occupies the office that he was destined to possess. In 2000 when Midgley was applying to be a part-time paramedic with the Pelham Fire Department (PFD), Chief Fisher asked him where he saw himself in 10 years. “In your chair, so keep it warm,” he replied without hesitation.
As predicted, Chief Midgley was appointed as the full-time fire chief for the PFD two weeks ago after taking over as the acting chief on January 20. But the original notice he was given about his new appointment was a bit of a shock. He was called to the office and told, “Congratulations, you are now the acting fire chief.” And just like that, without fanfare or any type of transition whatsoever, Midgley inherited the badge, the office, and the warm chair that he so coveted.
Chief Midgley also inherited a building in desperate need of repair in a bad economy, with insufficient space to fit the fire apparatus and equipment required for a full-time department of its size. Additionally, a headache has been brewing in the form of a potential road redesign that could “detrimentally impact the fire station.” “This round-about plan that the town selectmen are looking at now (Option B) will force a new road to come right through the parking lot, and we will have to wall up the front of the station,” Chief Midgley described. This could be potentially problematic if a truck is needed in a hurry from a bay that houses them two vehicles deep.
Despite these challenges, however, Chief Midgley remains positive and has already laid down his goals, expressing confidence that the department is moving in a good direction.
“When I got my foot in the door in 2000, I immediately loved it here (in Pelham). The department was full of old timers with lots of experience. Chief Fisher helped me tremendously, and I was able to finish all my required courses in one and a half years. The department is close-knit, with a great mix of experience and education, striving to go in the right direction with a solid foundation,” expressed the new chief proudly.
Chief Midgley, who has also been a New Hampshire State Fire Instructor for six years, and soon expects to have his own 18-year-old son as a student, described his first goal as fire chief.
“I want to continue to build a solid foundation. This is what the citizens are expecting from us… a core group of the best firefighters and EMS personnel around, well-trained and with solid equipment.”
When asked about one of the most controversial issues facing PFD – a new station – he answered as candidly as one would expect.
“We do need a new station, and I am fully behind it. No one likes to pay more taxes, including myself. So, I will do everything in my power to secure funding outside of the taxpayers,” he stated. Midgley’s track record for fundraising is as solid as his department. He has already raised over half a million dollars for various projects in the past.
One of the ways he plans to obtain funding for a new fire station is by tapping into the $210 million of federal stimulus that has been allotted to the nation’s ailing fire departments. To secure a portion of these funds, Chief Midgley says that a potential building project has to be shovel-ready.
“We receive very high points for a well-thought-out building plan. This is what we are working on daily right now.” Chief Midgley has been collaborating closely with Pelham Town Administrator Tom Gaydos on this and many other projects, and is grateful to Gaydos for helping him get up-to-speed during his mind-numbingly short transition to power.
Politics and planning aside, Chief Midgley is also responsible for the daily department operations, and these include responding to the many accidents and fire emergencies in the area. Recently, the chief and his department came to the aid of the Windham Fire Department to stamp out a huge brush fire that scorched 15 wooded acres. The efforts of about 14 departments were required, and even with all-hands-on-deck, the fire still took nearly eight hours to squelch.
What is the best part of acquiring the post of Pelham Fire Chief? According to Midgley, he no longer has to say, “We should be doing this … It is now my department, and we are pretty much all thinking the same way. Morale has improved and the direction is clear. My officers are exceptionally productive. I will do the best I can to provide the best services to the community with the money that is afforded to us,” Midgley said. Then, in the straightforward manner that may become his trademark, he added, “… and I’m here to stay.”
Cars drive on Sherburne Road beside the high water.
Pelham residents may be feeling a little nervous driving down Sherburne Road lately. With the increased rain of spring, water has been creeping up onto the pavement, beginning to cover the shoulder of the road.
Nevertheless, officials are remaining calm, stating that the higher water is nothing to worry about.
“It’s a clogged culvert,” said Town Administrator Tom Gaydos. “The state just told me that they don’t want to unclog it because it’s going to flood properties downhill. So they’d rather just see it trickle over the road rather than flood the properties down below.”
Sherburne Road is a state road, covered under the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT). The water level has been higher than usual for the past few weeks. Should the water cross the street and cover it entirely, the department would step in. Until then, they will simply keep a close watch over it.
“We are aware of the problem,” said a representative from the NHDOT. “Residents don’t have to be concerned about it. We are aware of it, and they have been keeping an eye on it.”
Sherburne Road runs east-west between Mammoth Road in Pelham and Dracut Road in Hudson and borders along conservation lands. And, according to Gaydos, this may have contributed to the water situation.
“I think it probably occurred mostly because of the activity of the beavers there,” he said. “I think the beavers are the ones that kind of clogged up the culvert in the first place.”
For now, the state will not take any action that could jeopardize properties downhill. However, Gaydos also asserted that nearby residents did not have any reason to worry about safety or health concerns due to the higher water.
“There are no concerns that I’m aware of, unless someone drives off the road and goes into the water,” he said.
It was not a unanimous decision, but three of the five Windham selectmen voted in favor of sending a letter to New Hampshire State Senator Robert Latourneau, encouraging him to support legislation (Senate Bill #179), which would allow expanded gambling at Rockingham Park in Salem.
“This is a way for New Hampshire to capture millions of dollars,” said selectmen’s vice chairman Bruce Breton. It was Breton who proposed writing the letter to Latourneau. Breton also said that the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, of which Windham is a member, is in support of expanded gambling at Rockingham Park. He also said a number of Windham residents are employed at the Park. Breton said he is concerned that Rockingham Park might not be able to survive the current economic situation without being allowed to expand its gambling facilities.
Voting in favor of writing a letter to Latourneau were selectmen’s Chairman Galen Stearns, Charles McMahon, and Bruce Breton. Voting against penning the letter was newest selectman Ross McLeod. Selectman Roger Hohenberger abstained from voting, saying he didn’t feel sufficiently educated on the issue to make a decision for the entire Town of Windham.
McMahon, who also serves as one of the state representatives to the New Hampshire Legislature, said Senate Bill #179 is currently tabled, but he feels that it will be brought up again for discussion within the next several weeks.
“If expanded gambling doesn’t take place,” McMahon said, “Rockingham Park will likely just become another mall or housing development, and the revenue it generates will disappear.” According to statistics provided by McMahon, Rockingham Park generated about $230 million for New Hampshire between 1933 and 2008. Just during 2008, the facility contributed about $2.4 million toward education, he added. “Rockingham Park is definitely a tourist draw,” McMahon said.
Locally, according to McMahon, Rockingham Park donated $51,000 in charitable revenue to the Windham Baseball/Softball League during 2008. McMahon said he supports the concept of expanded gambling at Rockingham Park and would like to see town officials participate in getting the proposed legislation through the process needed for it to become legal.
“We should support the viability of Rockingham Park,” McMahon said, adding that he feels there is no place else to go in generating revenue for the State, other than a broad-based tax. “The State of New Hampshire has no problem selling booze on I-93 or raising taxes on cigarettes,” McMahon said.
“This is needed drastically,” Breton said. “It will create thousands of jobs in the local area. It’s a revenue issue for the entire area. Rockingham Park has been a good neighbor to Windham for over 100 years,” he added.
“Rockingham Park has been a good neighbor,” Stearns said. “I would hate to see them go out of business.”
“This is obviously a good source of revenue,” Hohenberger said, “but I have an issue sending a letter of support where there are pros and cons. There are a lot of negatives to gambling.” Listed among the drawbacks to gambling were increased crime, a higher number of suicides, as well as a greater number of divorces and other negative effects on families.
McLeod was the only selectman who was adamantly opposed to board members supporting expanded gambling. As for writing the letter to Latourneau, McLeod said, “It’s just too far out there,” adding that he doesn’t believe it’s within the Windham selectmen’s purview to express an opinion on behalf of townspeople on such an issue. “It should be the decision of Salem’s selectmen,” McLeod said. “It’s a Salem issue. If we support this, we’re setting the stage to support revenue generating (concepts) statewide,” he said.
After the majority of selectmen voted to approve writing a letter of support for expanded gambling to Senator Latourneau, McLeod said that he wants that letter to reflect the fact that the board’s vote was not unanimous. “I do hope Rockingham Park is successful, however,” McLeod said.
Every year, boards re-organize following the March elections. Pelham selectmen have completed their re-organization. Residents who wish to talk to a specific committee liaison should keep the following list handy as it will be in effect until after the March 2010 elections.
Selectman Hal Lynde will continue in his role as liaison to the High School Building Committee and the Forestry Committee. Lynde has also worked on the Context Sensitive Solution Committee and will continue this work.
Selectman Ed Gleason will replace outgoing Selectman Victor Danevich on the Council of Aging and has accepted the position of Nashua Regional Planning Commission Commissioner. Gleason will also work as Lynde’s back-up on the Context Sensitive Solution Committee.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Haverty will continue to work with the Planning Board and Selectman Doug Viger will be his back-up on this board. Haverty will be the liaison to the Pelham Citizens Council.
Selectman Doug Viger will continue as Budget Committee Representative for the selectmen. Selectman Bill McDevitt will be the back-up to this committee. Viger will be the Hazmat Director for the town and will represent selectmen at the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Selectman Bill McDevitt will continue to be the liaison to the Library Trustees and will represent the town at the Merrimack Valley Water District along with Town Administrator Tom Gaydos. McDevitt has been a strong supporter of the Sherburne Hall Committee and will continue to work with them.
After the Capital Improvement Plan Committee resigned, the Planning Board decided not to appoint new members to this committee. In the past, selectmen have had a liaison to this committee but no one was appointed. If the Planning Board re-invigorates this committee, selectmen will appoint a liaison.
As unemployment in the region continues to decline and the recession continues to take its toll on local residents and businesses, Windham selectmen are worried about how declining revenue will ultimately affect the town budget.
Selectmen discussed the first quarter status of the town’s 2009 operating budget during the board’s meeting on April 27. The first quarter budget ended on March 31.
Assistant Town Administrator Dana Call told selectmen that the first quarter of the year is “typically pretty quiet,” as not much spending takes place until after the annual Town Meeting held in early March. “The standard items (in the budget) are running in line with what is expected,” Call said.
Regarding the cost of fuel used by the town, “There’s good news on all fronts,” said Call. Costs for heating oil, propane, and vehicle fuel are all down from what was projected last year when the 2009 budget was formulated. Budgets for these items were based on last summer’s costs, when oil and gas were at an all-time high. “We expect to have a healthy balance at the end of the year in these areas,” Call said.
There has also been a savings in town personnel due to ongoing vacancies, according to Call. Vacancies cited include jobs not filled in the town clerk’s office, police department, planning department, and highway department. As for the money saved due to vacancies in the planning department, a significant portion of that savings was offset by former Planning Director Alfred Turner buying out his earned time. Turner resigned after 12 years as planning director, effective March 31 of this year.
Call said she also expects to see savings in solid waste operations, as single stream recycling continues. Single stream recycling began in Windham this past September. As for revenue generated by recycling, the amount of money being earned thus far this year is down. “It’s a significant hit,” Call said, explaining that recycling fees are down as the result of single stream recycling. However, the upside is that there is less cost to the operating budget for the transfer station because of single stream recycling, she added.
Another area where revenue is down is for building permits. Building permit fees collected during the first quarter of this year totaled $10,294, compared to $34,353 at the same time in 2008. Interest earned on deposits is also down for the first three months of 2009. Call said the town is currently earning a lower percentage of interest (.83) on deposits than was the case during 2008. For the first three months of 2009, the town earned a total of $16,485. This compares with $47,048 earned in interest during the first quarter of 2008. Although the collection of fees for building permits is down so far this year, Call said that “overall, town-generated revenues are in line with what was expected.”
According to town officials, there is more concern over a loss of incoming revenue from State coffers.
Selectmen’s Vice Chairman Bruce Breton said he is very concerned about this downward trend and fears it will continue. “We can’t control revenue,” Breton said. “We can only control spending. And we need to do that before it gets too late. We can’t wait until next fall (during the budget planning season for 2010),” Breton said.
Lowest Gas Prices in Pelham and Windham
New Hampshire Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com