Town Council, School Board, legislators discuss gas tax, 101, more
Friday, September 27, 2013
History may have been made on Sept. 19 as the members of the Bedford Town Council, school board and state legislators gathered in the McAllaster Meeting Room of the library to discuss how to best serve the needs of the town.
The state retirement system, gasoline tax and the latest plans to widen Route 101 were among the topics discussed.
“We have three boards but they don’t talk to each other,” said Town Councilor Jim Scanlon. “The Town Council and School Board should be able to tell the Legislature what we need for help, and the Legislature should be able to ask us for help. I thought of the idea (to hold a joint meeting), but everybody said they would come.”
Route 101 widening
Plans have been made to widen Route 101 from Wallace Road to the intersection of Route 114 through the addition of a travel lane in both directions.
Town Manager Jessie Levine reported she recently with officials from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to review the plans and that the process has been delayed a year.
As it stands now, the project will go out to bid in fall 2016, with construction to follow in fall 2017.
State Rep. John Graham said he felt the town was “staying on top” of the process but was concerned about the possibility of further delays. He encouraged everyone to attend the GACIT hearing scheduled for 7 p.m., Oct. 2 in the Town Meeting Room where the state’s 10-year transportation plan will be reviewed.
Town Councilor Bill Jean pointed out that there are 56 properties affected by the widening project, including a tree at the Bedford Village Inn that he said is completely within the right of way. Jean said the town plans to take a proactive approach to negotiating with the businesses and property owners before the DOT contacts them.
In response to a question on the project’s effect on wetlands, he explained that the challenge was not so much mitigation but drainage issues, and that the town would have to purchase easements for drainage.
School Board Member Cindy Chagnon voiced concerns about the widening project and the potential construction of a new bank at the corner of Route 101 and Nashua Road, near Bedford High School.
“If we are going to widen (Route 101), why are we still letting people build so close to the edge of the road?” she asked.
Chagnon and other attendees also spoke about the way education is changing.
“You need to be analytical and (teach) non-fiction writing,” she explained. “What can you do with what you know, not just reciting facts. We have had phenomenal luck with profoundly affected special ed kids and iPads. The tablets engage both their right and left brains. We can see big improvements happening in the primary grades. These kids are soaring with iPads,”
State Rep. Dave Danielson said that people should be looking for long-term educational planning.
“We should look at things way out in the future and lay the groundwork now,” he said. “Not just five years from now but 20. What is the most effective way to teach kids now? What classroom models are likely to change? What should be change?”
State retirement system
“We have one of the worst retirement systems in America,” said state Sen. Andy Sanborn. “We have been promising an 8.5 percent return on the retirement fund for decades. We’ve brought it down, but every one percent less adds a billion dollars to the unfunded balance. If we change (the system), we have to cover the unfunded balance within seven years. This is one of the biggest concerns I have for the state.”
Town Councilor Bill Dermody called the system archaic, and that something needs to be done about the rising costs of funding the retirement plan.
“We are all taxpayers around this table,” he said. “The School Board doesn’t have money, the town doesn’t have money. It’s up to the taxpayers, and we were presented with the bill. Bedford can’t afford a surprise $2 million bill for retirement. That is money that could be put into the local town and school budgets.”
The session was informational only, and no votes were taken. At the end of the meeting, everyone agreed it would be useful for the three groups to meet again in January, after the deadlines for filing bills has passed.
“This is an exchange without answers, but we have demonstrated a need for each one,” Scanlon said. “We should go forward from here and communicate. Ask us to use our resources at the local level. We have a need for each other for the benefit of the community.”