Online outdoor guide hits snag in funding
LONDONDERRY — A funding challenge has indefinitely stalled the Conservation Commission's plans to complete its online outdoor recreation guide.
During Monday night's Town Council meeting, Commission Chairman Mike Speltz sought the council's help in finding a solution to finish the project.
Speltz said that until recently, commissioners believed the recreation guide could be funded using money from the Open Space Protection Fund.
In 2012, former Londonderry town attorney Barton Meyer advised members that it was OK to move forward with the project under the assumption that the commission would be able to use $37,000 in OSPF dollars as its funding source.
But more recently, acting town attorney Mike Ramsdell offered a different interpretation of the town's policies.
To date, the Conservation Commission has already spent about $9,000 from the fund on the project. That money must now be put back into the account.
"The plan was to develop an online guide to identify all the town's outdoor assets, to let people know what they can do here and where," Speltz said, noting that plans for the online guide have been in conceptual stages for about a year and a half as part of the commission's outdoor recreation stewardship efforts."Unfortunately, now we're being told that the monies can only be spent on open space purchases and can't cover stewardship activities," Speltz said. "So we're in quite a bind now. Our other two accounts are basically empty."
During the commission's Dec. 10 meeting, members unanimously voted to rescind a previous commission vote that would have authorized using $28,000 in OSPF funds towards the guide's completion.
This week Speltz asked the Town Council to either consider adding the project to the coming year's budget or to place a warrant article on the March ballot asking voters to approve a language change on the OSPF policy to specify stewardship among the permitted uses.
However, even if that were to happen, it is unclear whether that policy change would make a difference in the current situation.
"Even if such a warrant were to pass, the policy change might not be retroactive," said Councilor Tom Freda, who is also an attorney.
As of this week, Speltz said the commission had issued a stop order to the contractors working on the online guide. The $9,000 previously spent on the project was used to conduct beta testing for the site.
"Now we're left with no way to complete something I think we all agree was a great idea," he told the council. "There are very little funds there, even in the operating budget, to begin with."
Town Manager Kevin Smith said the Conservation Commission has about $8,000 in another trust account that is used for general operating expenses.
Speltz said there is just over $1 million in the OSPF.
Council Chairman John Farrell said it's time to take a detailed inventory of the Conservation Commission's current and anticipated expenses, with the help of the acting town attorney.
"Based on what we're hearing, it sounds like we need to get a spreadsheet on this $35,000 project and find out what all the moving pieces are," Farrell said. "Once we do that, we can try and figure out which direction to take. Does that make sense?"
Speltz said it did.
"We're dealing with two different problems," he said. "One is that we've already spent money out of a fund we shouldn't have. The other problem is we need about $28,000 to finish what we started, and we don't know where that money is going to come from."
"Regardless, we're stuck with the $9,000 we already spent and the project is at a standstill," Speltz added.
The council and Conservation Commission will discuss the matter further with Ramsdell and at an upcoming Town Council firstname.lastname@example.org