This is a letter that the RCL was requested to post. We have and will continue to post opinion pieces from residents. Please see the table at the bottom of the letter.
State Representatives Tom Sherman and David Borden
New Hampshire State Legislature
Dear Tom and David:
I am writing regarding to urge you not to vote in favor of the pending bill to cure the failure of the Town of Rye to hold a hearing on the $3 million Conservation Bond (2014 Warrant Article 7) in January, as is statutorily required. Last Thursday, HB1124 was amended to add this provision to an existing bill and passed by voice vote, and will presumably now go back to the House for its concurrence. I also urge you to encourage your colleagues to withhold their concurrence with the amendment.
While I support investments in Conservation land and support the availability of a fund to enable the Town to act quickly when opportunities arise, the decision on whether or not to effect a cure should be based on the decisions of the voters, who have the incentive to become fully apprised of the issues, combined with personal stakes in the outcome. My research has uncovered serious problems in the way that the $5 million in conservation funds voted in 2003 was disbursed that it is essential that the voters consider.
The Town’s failure to provide the requisite hearing prior to the February 1, 2014 Deliberative Session has irrevocably prejudiced the rights of the voters and taxpayers. No Legislative act can undo the fact that Article 7 did not receive the vetting which the Legislature contemplated when it enacted RSA 33:8-a, I and RSA 40:13, II-a(c), or cause a hearing to occur prior the 2014 Deliberative Session. The 2014 Conservation Bond, which achieved the requisite 60% supermajority with a mere six votes to spare, is void because it was unlawfully enacted. The taxpayers have vested rights in the form of an absolute defense to any Town taxation in reliance on Warrant Article 7 that no purported legislative cure can constitutionally extinguish. V.M. Stevens v. Town of South Hampton, 114 N.H. 118, 122 (1974), N.H. Const. Part I, art. 23, Gould v. Concord Hospital, 126 N.H. 405, 408 (1985).
While the $5 million Conservation Bond passed by 73% of the vote in 2003, my research regarding the utilization of those funds reveals serious gaps in the due diligence and numerous illegalities. Suspicions of such irregularities explains increased voter reluctance, despite the smaller amount to be raised in 2014. While a more formal process was documented by the Board of Selectmen on January 6, 2014, it may be modified by them at any time, and the appraisal requirement may be waived.
RSA 31:5-b, II provides for a Special Town Meeting to cure irregularities, a provision which HB1124 appears intended to sidestep. Such a meeting would permit the Town residents to consider the shortcomings of the past practices, documented below, decide for themselves whether the absence of a hearing in January affected the result, and, if appropriate, attach such conditions to their approval as they feel are warranted. The State Legislature is ill-suited to legislate for the Town on this matter.
Please contact me by e-mail if you would like to discuss this or see the supporting documentation that I have assembled.
Peter A. Crawford
|1. Lack of published notice, public hearings and Board of Selectmen approval, all as required by State law. RSA 36-A:4, I and 36-A:5, II||$725,000 Lium conservation easement acquired in 2012 with no evidence of a hearing notice, a hearing, or approval by the Board of Selectmen.|
|2. Conservation easements acquired with pre-existing mortgages having neither been discharged nor subordinated. This leaves the easements subject to extinguishment in the event of foreclosure.||$338,000 White, $385,000 Holway and $50,000 Connell easement acquisitions.|
|3. Acquisition of properties and easements for amounts in excess of the appraised value.||$1.3 million Brindamour easement acquisition carved out two buildable lots not excluded at the time of Board of Selectmen approval. Letter from Conservation Commission attorney attributes $1 million in value to these lots, relative to an appraisal of $1.675 million. Based on this, $1.3 million was paid for an easement worth $675K.|
|4. Inadequate description of the property acquired.||$847,000 Philbrick easement acquisition has no plan recorded. Six corners reflected on the deed are expressed as geographical coordinates (latitude/longitude). These make no sense when plotted, in part because one of them is located 500 feet south of the Philbrick land. The portion of the Philbrick land subject to the easement is therefore indeterminate.|
|5. Money spent on conservation easements for land located outside of Rye, contrary to 1970 Warrant Article 10 establishing the fund, and contrary to RSA 36-A:4-a, I(a) which requires Town Meeting approval of such a practice.||$385,000 Holway and $725,000 Lium easement acquisitions are located partly in Portsmouth.|
|6. Conservation land acquired with no means of access for monitoring purposes.||$150,000 Splaine subdivision and acquisition of landlocked, non-buildable, back wetland acreage completed despite the lack of an access easement across the front lot being retained by the owner.|
|7. Conservation funds used for purposes not contemplated by the warrant article.||$200,000 Spinosa acquisition (half from Conservation funds and half from Town funds) of non-buildable property subject to the wetlands buffer was completed in order to settle a lawsuit.|