Saturday March 2, 2013

ROCKINGHAM -- This year’s ballot contains contested races for the Selectboard, Listers Office and library board of trustees.

Voters will be able to cast their ballots at the Masonic Temple between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

There are four individuals vying for two one-year terms on the Selectboard. Stefan A. Golec and Thomas H. MacPhee are attempting to remain on the board, while Lance Allen and Susan H. Hammond are throwing their hats into the ring.

Three main issues of concern for the Selectboard include the fate of the Rockingham Free Public Library renovation project, TransCanada’s disagreement over the property value of its hydroelectric generation facility in Bellows Falls and the lengthy closure of the Vilas Bridge.

The library project hit a snag months ago, when subcontractors refused to continue their jobs and insisted they had not been paid by general contractor Baybutt Construction for the work they had already done. Rockingham town officials terminated the contract with Baybutt soon after, when information about the company’s financial woes came to light.

Baybutt Construction did not take out a performance bond or a payment bond, which act as a sort of insurance contract and was a project requirement from the town. Baybutt submitted a statement, which said the business was entitled to be paid for percentages of the project completed and that it had a $21,000 performance bond, which it actually did not. The corporation’s owner -- Frederick L. Baybutt -- declared personal bankruptcy in February.

Engelberth Construction Inc. has been hired by the town to close in the roof and walls of the library, which was closed for three days this week for spray foam installation.

TransCanada, a North American energy corporation, formally disagreed with some of the components that went into an evaluation a state-hired appraiser gave on the company’s hydroelectric generation facility. The Reformer previously reported that Vermont’s appraiser valued the facility, at 20 Mill St., at just more than $108 million. But TransCanada, which owns the facility, believes the figure is lower. The lower the facility’s appraisal, the less the corporation will have to pay in taxes, which accounts for 21 percent of town’s tax revenue, according to MacPhee, the current Selectboard chairman.

The Vilas Bridge, which connects Bellows Falls to New Hampshire, was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009 and is now deemed unsafe for pedestrian traffic as well. Many residents -- as well as the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance -- are hot under the collar because they believe the New Hampshire state government, which owns 93 percent of the bridge, promised in 1993 to repair it. BFDDA wants the bridge reopened as soon as possible, claiming businesses in The Square suffer from a lack of cars that are able to pass through.

Golec has an extended record of public service in town and also serves on the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees. He said he is seeking re-election due to several items of concern he would like to see through.

He said he wants to work toward the completion of the ongoing renovation of the Rockingham Free Public Library (which is open during renovation) and help "get to the bottom of" how the mess with Baybutt happened in the first place.

"It looks like somebody dropped the ball," he told the Reformer.

Golec is also concerned about the matter involving TransCanada. He said the situation could have a serious impact on every taxpayer in Rockingham. He feels, as a former Bellows Falls Lister, he could be helpful in this matter.

He said he tends to serve as a conservative with the intent of keeping taxes as low as possible, maintaining a balanced budget and avoiding deficits.

MacPhee was ready to retire from public service, having served as Selectboard chairman for seven years, but felt the urge to run for a one-year seat to oversee some of the town’s issues. He said he has been the only candidate in the race that has been tied in with the negotiation with TransCanada. He said the town and the Calgary-based corporation will go to court this year.

"I bring a lot of experience," he said, adding that he used to serve on the Bellows Falls Union High School Board of Directors.

Allen, the former village president and trustee, said it is time for some new blood on the Selectboard and said he wants to help keep the tax rate by figuring out where cuts can be made. He said there are many different approaches to the tax rate and he wants to explore all of them.

Hammond did not return a call for comment Friday.

David Sines and Michael Harty are each seeking a two-year term as lister.

Sines, an architectural designer, was asked by Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich if he was interested in the position and he decided to try his luck. A resident of Rockingham for the past 24 years, Sines said he has spoken with current Listers Camilla Roberts and Paul Noble and thinks his expertise will come in handy in the part-time job.

Harty, who is also running unopposed for the positions of town moderator and school moderator, has practiced law in Bellows Falls for years and has experience with tax sales. He said he has always been involved with local government and thought running for lister would be a good thing to do.

Harty said he has no special interests or battles to fight and wants to keep evaluations fair.

Patricia Fowler, Paige Pietrzak, Duane Whitehead and David Buckley are vying for three three-year terms on the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees.

Fowler and her husband bought Village Square Booksellers to prevent it from going out of business in November 2000. She said she has a business background that would be beneficial to the board some people from the community asked her to run.

She was the founding president of The Friends of the Rockingham Library and was involved with the renovation committee. She said bookstores and libraries are in long-term commitments to reading and learning.

Paige Pietrzak, whose mother Hope Brissette serves as a trustee, said she believes she is the only candidate who was once an employee of the library, having served as a cataloger. She said she could bring a young person’s perspective and the knowledge of what it takes to run the library on a day-to-day basis.

"The library is going through a lot. It needs a board that cares, and I care," she said. "I love my library."

She said, if elected, she plans to closely examine the whole situation with Baybutt and see what can be done moving forward.

Buckley and Whitehead did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.