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March 15. 2014 9:29PM

Groveton backs 'Plan B' for town office project

GROVETON - Groveton voters approved a "Plan B" for converting the former Groveton Paperboard office building into a town office building, in case the first plan approved at last year's Town Meeting doesn't turn out to be the best option for the town.

Plan B actually involved three articles on this year's warrant, and they generated the most discussion at Saturday's Town Meeting.

Last year, voters approved $217,000 to renovate the former paper company office into town offices. Of that amount, $150,000 was to come from a combination loan/grant from USDA Rural Development. Selectmen told voters then that they expected to be in the new offices by the 2014 Town Meeting.

Saturday, Selectman Michael Phillips said the process has been much more cumbersome, lengthy and complicated than they had anticipated. The architectural plans have been completed, but the subcontractor dealing with structural issues has recommended improvements that would cost an additional $60,000, more than Phillips, an engineer by trade, believes are needed.

In retrospect, Phillips said, it was probably a mistake to hire an architect, but selectmen did so believing the USDA money would pay for that.

Plan B started with voters approving the discontinuance of the RBEG Relief Fund. This is Housing Authority money selectmen said the town has had for 30 years, and the federal government has urged them to repurpose it.

Next, voters approved putting $73,949 into the Municipal Office Building Capital Reserve Fund. This amount is made up of the money from the previous article, money the town got back as part of a settlement with the state regarding the health insurance trust and money given the town by Green Steel, the company that dismantled the former paper mill.

The next article asked voters to raise and appropriate $143,000 for the renovation. That money is to come from the $73,949 in the previous article and any money left from last year's article. This option would only be taken if the town can't hire a contractor to do the proposed work as was planned last year.

Residents had a lot of questions. Would the town be better off to scrap the whole plan and build a new building? Was the town risking losing federal/state funds in the future if it turned down the USDA money? Are selectmen sure the building is structurally secure and wouldn't need the work?

Phillips said it was. The extra structural work would make the floors able to hold the number of people at a Town Meeting, which would never fit in the building any way.

A phase 2 plan for the future involves adding a multipurpose room, but selectmen said that with the time it had taken to get this far, they didn't have any figures that day.

After the meeting, Phillips said selectmen will let the process play out over the next few months and see what is presented. The board will then make a decision on what's in the best interest of the town.

Among the other 27 articles considered Saturday, voters approved the recommended town budget of $1,958,701, which is about $72,000 higher than last year, mainly due to increases in health insurance and retirement costs.

They approved $11,000 for painting and external stabilization repairs to the Old 1799 Meeting House, $10,000 of which will come from a grant.

Residents approved $166,693, to be paid by a five-year lease/purchase agreement, for a new truck, dump body and all the other equipment needed to plow.

They approved a five-year contract for assessing services, which starts at $13,500 and goes up $1,000 per year until year five when it is $39,200. Selectmen explained the town must do a property revaluation every five years.

The town approved $3,200 for its half of the cost to perambulate its border with Lancaster, which is seven-plus miles. One resident said that for $6,400, she'd do it. Selectmen said it has to go out to bid.


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