Fire Department Open House Again a Hit!

by Lynne Ober

Brandon Portillo was dressed as fire chief for the Junior Litchfield Fire Department.

Riding in a fire engine was the highlight of the day for many attendees at the annual Litchfield Fire Department Open House.  This event was again a great time of fun along with learning.  The weather was brisk, but sunny.  Many community members dropped by to watch and participate.

After the operating budget failed at the polls, Fire Chief Tom Schofield and selectmen discussed whether the event should be cancelled, but, after reviewing how few tax dollars were spent, there was a wholehearted approval to keep the event, and it was obvious that the community was delighted.

Inside the fire station you could learn about CPR and how to use it, learn about blood pressure and get your blood pressure checked, or try to put out a fire.  Firefighter Dave Cady ran the fire booth.  Participants learned how to use a fire extinguisher and then were able to use one with electronics as they tried to put out a small house fire.  Some could, and some failed.  All learned how to put out a fire and how to use the extinguisher to get the maximum output.  A chimney sweep was on-hand to discuss how and why a chimney needed to be cleaned.

The Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts provided and cooked the food.

“We really appreciated their participation,” said Schofield, “and you can see by the line that others do too.”

In addition, there was an opportunity to hold a fire hose and squirt water, and the kids really enjoyed getting to squirt some fire prevention foam.

“We are using Class A foam which is 99 percent water, but really foams up,” said Schofield.  “We don’t run the hose under much pressure so that even a small child can easily point and shoot.  They just love it.”

There was a bounce house that drew a crowd from the younger set.  Others walked around and looked at the wide variety of equipment on display.

“It’s an opportunity for us to answer questions and to get to know some of the community members,” said Deputy Fire Chief Paul Allard.  “I always enjoy working at this event.”

“We try to mix in some education with the food and fun,” grinned Schofield.  “It’s also a good chance for the community to meet us.  So often we only see people who are under duress, so this gives us a positive opportunity to meet our neighbors.”

Everyone had an opportunity to shoot water into the woods.

Eighteen-month-old Brady Walsh from Litchfield would like to thank his town’s fire department for the Open House they had Sunday, October 11.  He had a blast!

Hudson Sets 2009 Property Tax Rate

by Gina M. Votour

The Hudson Board of Selectmen has approved that Hudson’s 2009 property tax rate be set at $15.36 per thousand.  This is a 3.75 percent decrease from 2008 in which the figure was $15.96 per thousand.  At this rate, the savings per average single family home is about $182.

As a means of achieving this number, a total of $600,000 will be drawn from the town’s surplus budget of $4,982,570.  The remaining surplus funds of $4,382,570 represent approximately 7.7 percent of the projected Fiscal Year 2010 gross appropriation amount of $56,896,551.

The option of using surplus funds as a means of reducing taxes has been employed in past years.  As a result, the town’s surplus balance has steadily decreased over the past five years, exemplified by comparing the 2005 balance of $7,247,060 to the current total of $4,382,570.

Last year, several board members provided examples of how a steady depletion of surplus funds over time may not be beneficial to the town in the long run.  Selectman Richard Maddox stated that having a higher surplus fund amount gives the town a better bond rating, should an emergency arise.  Also at this time, Selectman Shawn Jasper revealed that the town could be in trouble if the surplus percentage retained was to ever go below 5 percent of gross appropriation.

Before the board took a vote during their October 13 meeting, Jasper indicated that “the problem with using surplus is that you then have to use surplus again the following year to keep the tax rate from rising.  The tax rate is now $15.96.  If we use nothing [no surplus funds], the tax rate [still] falls by 40 cents.  My recommendation actually would be to go somewhere in the middle.”  Jasper again pointed out that it is best to always have at least 5 to 7.5 percent of surplus remaining.  For the most part, the other selectmen agreed with this line of thinking.

For 2009, an amount of $1.2 million was originally budgeted from surplus for tax rate purposes, the same figure that was used to reduce taxes in 2008.  However, with the town also down $900,000 in revenue compared to last year, the selectmen chose a lower surplus figure of $600,000 in order to retain a higher surplus fund balance.

School Superintendent Randy Bell also appeared before the board that evening in order to provide input on the school segment of the tax rate.  Bell reported that this portion is actually down by about 92 cents, largely due to the reception of $1 million in state adequacy aid combined with the fact that a bond issue was paid off. 

A motion to use $600,000 worth of surplus funds therefore passed 5-0, allowing the town to budget this same amount for next year’s surplus withdrawal if need be.  Consensus was also achieved to authorize the Finance Director to further reduce the tax rate should the town receive more state revenue than estimated from the Department of Revenue Administration.

Superintendent Cutler to Retire

by Lynne Ober

Dr. Elaine Cutler in her office

The retirement of Dr. Elaine Cutler, Litchfield’s superintendent, on June 30, 2010 will be a great loss for the community.  When she came to Litchfield as the interim superintendent after the departure of Cathy Hamblett, Cutler immediately warmed to the community.

“We just live ten minutes down the road and found Litchfield to be a great community with strong New England values.  I’ve really enjoyed my time with the school district,” smiled Cutler.

Under her guidance, the school district has installed a district-wide communication system designed to notify parents of school district news.

“That system was important last year during the ice storm,” said Cutler.  “We were able to use it to notify parents about the warming shelter at the high school and other ice storm-related news.  I enjoyed working with the fire department during this crisis.”

In fact, that strong community involvement is the foundation of Cutler’s tenure with the school district.

“I wanted to foster a stronger town/school district relationship,” she said.

Both Elaine and her husband have been very involved in the community.  They attended the 275th celebration, the Lions Club barbeque, and numerous other community and school events.

“We have really enjoyed getting involved in Litchfield,” said Elaine.

The School Board will have completed revamping all of the school district policies between the time that Cutler came and her announced retirement.

“That was a necessary step, as many policies no longer reflected what was happening in the district and others were mandated by changes in laws,” said Cutler.

Emergency procedures have been developed and implemented.  Communication with the community and with parents has been improved.

“I’ve really enjoyed writing my community columns that have appeared in the Hudson-Litchfield News and have, on numerous occasions, had parents and other community members say that they enjoyed reading them and learning about the [school] district,” stated Cutler.

When the state mandated kindergarten implementation, Cutler and the school board worked on implementing this program in a fiscally responsible manner.

Cutler has brought strong continuity to the district with her strong work ethic.

“The goal is always to make things better and to work cooperatively with the community.”

“Dr. Cutler has been a wonderful addition, not only to the school district but to the Litchfield community as a whole,” said long-time school board member Cindy Couture.  “She has immersed herself in community celebrations, emergency management, as well as every facet of education, as someone who truly enjoys and cares about young people.”  Couture paused and then issued the sentiment that came from others, “She has been a pleasure to work with and will leave a void that will be difficult to fill.”

Concern over Representation Leads to Removal Motion

by Lynne Ober

At the most recent Litchfield School Board meeting, there was a lengthy discussion about the behavior of the school board representative to the budget committee and several questions about the appropriateness of that behavior.

Every governing board in a New Hampshire town operating under the Municipal Budget Act has a seated, voting representative to the elected budget committee.  This representative is tasked with representing his/her board.  Selectman George Lambert represents the selectmen, and school board member Jason Guerrette represents the school board.

The discussion began after Guerrette made his report to the school board about the most recent budget committee meeting.  Immediately after Guerrette’s report, school board chairman Dennis Miller, who had previously been a school board representative to the budget committee, expressed concern about Guerrette’s behavior at the October 1 budget committee meeting.  He expressed concern with Guerrette’s representation of the school board’s position at budget committee meetings and was also concerned that Guerrette was actually expressing ideas that were not the board position and doing so during the ‘School Board Report to the Budget Committee’ section of the meeting, which gave the immediate impression that Guerrette was expressing the school board’s opinion.

Miller moved to remove Guerrette as the school board representative to the budget committee for the remainder of the year.  School Board member Cindy Couture seconded for discussion purposes.

Guerrette appeared to be very surprised at the action and immediately rebutted Miller’s comments.  Guerrette contended that while he was charged with representing the school board’s position he had a right as a citizen to represent his own position and give his own opinion.

Couture stated she was also concerned that some of Guerrette’s comments made at the October 1 budget committee meeting were not representative of the board’s position. 

Guerrette again contended that he can have a personal opinion.  He also offered the position that he was capable of also representing the board.

When the Hudson~Litchfield News asked Guerrette if he had given his opinion during the ‘School Board Report to the Budget Committee’ and if he had notified the budget committee that he was giving his opinion and not the board’s, Guerrette at first refused to respond, but when told that others had commented and this was his opportunity to give his side, and provided an e-mail supporting his right to express his opinions, stating, “I have an opinion, just as every other member of the BC.  They can express theirs and I can express mine.”  However, he also noted that he would make a better effort to distinguish between his opinions and the board position in the future.

A review of the budget committee meeting showed that Guerrette did fail to indicate when he was giving his opinion instead of the board’s opinion.  This is the point that both Miller and Couture wanted to express to Guerrette.

At issue was a very preliminary board discussion about kindergarten and the ongoing usage of the portables.  At the September 30 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler broached the topic of kindergarten construction versus ongoing portable usage.  She pointed out that the state would only pay for the portables for three years and that the board might want to consider the possibility of kindergarten construction using state funds as well as earned impact fees.  She indicated that the town would have to assume the cost of the portables after three years, and since the state will pay 75 percent of the cost to construct a four-classroom kindergarten building then the board might want to consider that.  Cutler pointed out that using impact fees to fund the remaining balance would keep the costs off the shoulders of taxpayers.

Business Administrator Steve Martin told the board that the current annual cost is $72,000 for the portables.

Cutler said she was not looking for a conclusion, but just wanted to open the door to the discussion as there will be only two more years of state payments and then Litchfield must bear the brunt of payment for the portables.

Martin also reminded the board that the state has already notified the Litchfield School District that no state aid will be paid to Litchfield in support of any construction done on the Griffin Memorial School site.  At that meeting, Guerrette was not happy with that suggestion and commented that classrooms can be added to GMS without state aid.  He added that with the decreasing enrollment, room may become available in the building in the coming years.

At that school board meeting, no action was taken and no consensus was agreed upon.  There was, however, a great deal of discussion.  Guerrette carefully presented his personal opinion on his preferred option for solving this issue, which he also presented at the school board meeting, but did not fully discuss the entire board’s comments or the other options.  School board members were concerned about this lopsided reporting and about the fact that it was not clearly stated by Guerrette that this was his opinion.

There was also contention over an invitation that Guerrette issued to the budget committee to attend the school board meetings and participate.  Guerrette also rebutted this item and commented that budget committee members requested the principals be present at the budget committee meeting during the presentation of their budgets.  At that point, Miller indicated that a formal request would be required from the chairman of the budget committee.  Guerrette then contended that he could and would represent the board’s position at each budget committee meeting.

There was more discussion, and Guerrette was finally told to remove himself from his seat at the budget committee table and offer his personal opinion from the floor, just as any other resident would do.  He was specifically asked to present the school board’s position from his seat at the budget committee table.  While the board did not disagree that Guerrette could offer his own opinion, they did agree that they wanted it made clear when he was offering the board’s position and when he was offering his personal opinion.  Guerrette indicated that he would do that.  At that point, Couture said she would withdraw her second so that the board did not have to vote on the removal motion.

In communicating with the Hudson~Litchfield News after that meeting, Guerrette wrote, “If I hear something in a public meeting, I have every right and duty to ensure the entire public knows it.  The SB [sic] would have me sit on my hands and tell no one of any information that was said in an open public meeting unless very specifically asked about it.  I do not believe they would ask me to not be truthful, but, on the other hand, I absolutely believe they want to have me not offer information that is public and open but is opposite their agenda.”

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