The City Council met for its second regular meeting of this session on Wednedsay, January 26, 2022 at 7pm in City Council Chambers at Dover City Hall.
The meeting started with the approval of the agenda. Councilor Fergus Cullen spoke in protest of the fact that a financial audit presentation was on the agenda and the Council was given a 200+ page report at the start of the meeting with no time to review and prepare questions. The Council then approved the agenda and began the meeting.
Next was a series of seven public hearings. There was an issue with notifying the public of the public hearings, so the Council did not take action on any of the items on the public hearing calendar. This was due to the newspaper failing to get the ads in the paper on time. However, the Council still hosted the scheduled hearings. The first was on CHAPTER 17, SECTIONS 12 & 13 - ELECTIONS, related to the ward redistricting for the City of Dover. Phil Hatcher spoke and urged the Council to select the Alpha map proposal as opposed to the Epsilon map, stating that the Alpha map would support cleaner state House districts, should the proposed state maps be challenged for constitutionality, which seems likely. No one from the public spoke in relation to the other topics for public hearing, which included
CHAPTER 121, SECTIONS 1 & 5 - SEWER USE
AUTHORIZATION TO ACCEPT AND EXPEND THE NH STATE LIBRARY GRANT FOR PUBLIC LIBRARY WEBSITE IMPROVEMENTS
REPROGRAM UNEXPENDED BOND PROCEEDS FROM FIRE & RESCUE EMERGENCY SHELTER GENERATOR TO SOUTH END FIRE STATION BUILDING
FISCAL YEAR 2023 CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS PROGRAM (CIP) APPROPRIATION AND AUTHORIZATION FOR CLEAN WATER STATE REVOLVING FUND (CWSRF) LOAN FOR WASTEWATER TREATMENT FACILITY (WWTF) SECONDARY CLARIFIER AND ACCEPTANCE OF AMERICA RESCUE PLAN ACT (ARPA) GRANT FUNDING
AUTHORIZATION TO ACCEPT AND EXPEND THE NH DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES ARPA GRANT FOR PUMP STATION EVALUATION PROJECT
FISCAL YEAR 2023 CIP APPROPRIATION AND AUTHORIZATION FOR CWSRF LOAN FOR HENRY LAW PARK STORMWATER BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES AND ACCEPTANCE OF ARPA GRANT FUNDING
During the general public forum Ryan Crosby, a parent of students in the Dover Public Schools, and Director of the Dover Housing Authority, spoke out against cuts to the Dover Public Schools' budget. He spoke about the negative impacts these cuts would have, particularly on economically disadvantaged students who view the schools as a refuge. The proposed budget would cut positions critical to student outcomes, and would have the largest impact on these particular students.
Next, the City Manager gave his update. Prior the meeting, he submitted an updated report to the Council. The report can be viewed starting on page 17 here, and includes updates about the various City departments from October, November and December.
The City Manager gave an update on COVID-19. Dover is still experiencing a surge in COVID due to the Omicron variant. However, the situation in the hospital is beginning to moderate, as are infections in senior living facilities throughout the City. Mr. Joyal reiterated the fact that we must all do our part to mitigate this infection by wearing masks, using good hygiene practices, and getting vaccinated and boosted. He reminded the community of the vaccine clinic being hosted by the Fire Department at the Dover Public Library on Wednesday afternoons.
The City Manager, along with representatives from an independent auditing firm gave a presentation on the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2021. The presentation compared the City's budgeted General Fund revenues and expenditures to the actual values in the accounts, showing minor variances. The report also showed a significant increase in the City's retirement funding liabilities due to reductions in state funding. The presentation also contained a dashboard of financial policy compliance for the general fund, water fund, and sewer fund. The City is meeting expectation on 11 out of 20 financial policy measures, almost meeting 3, and missing the mark on 6. Deputy Mayor Dennis Shanahan asked if we could make up the lag on repayment of the school outstanding debt. The City Manager advised that the gap may continue to grow due to other Capital Improvement expeditures on the horizon. Councilor Deb Hackett asked how long Dover has used the auditor. The answer was 3 years, and the City seeks a new auditor every 5 years to keep fresh eyes on the audit.
The Council then asked questions about the City Manager's report. Councilor Cullen had questions about the City Manager's report. His first questions was about the section related to the separation of staff from the Police Department, concerned the number was high. This was due to retirements of officers or staff. There were also officers leaving for other employment, primarily with state agencies. Councilor Cullen also asked about the section of the report related to the Dover Landfill Trust, asking for clarification on the $1.2M in funding. The City is a responsible party for managing this "superfund site", which is the Tolend Landfill. The money is for expenses for operations of treatment facilities, monitoring of the site etc. There is an annual budget appropriation for this purpose. Councilor Cullen also asked about property tax billing, which is billed six months in arrears. He questioned why it's done this way compared to other cities doing it quarterly or at different times of the year. The City Manager could not speak to the reason why, but ultimately stated that changing this would be a policy change that would require a transition period where tax payers pay two bills at once, a burden that would be very difficult to ask. Councilor Michelle Muffet-Lipinski spoke about the prescription drug take-back day hosted by the Dover PD and the a youth group. The youth dressed as zombies and Councilor Muffet-Lipinski felt this was tone-deaf to this situation of substance use disorder. She suggested next year they dress as super heroes. The City Manager agreed to bring this back to the event sponsors. Councilor Lindsey Williams drew attention to the fact that Community Services Director John Storer won the Visionary Award by the Gulf of Maine Council on Marine Environment, which is a testament to the work that he and his department do across the region to address the health of the Great Bay. The City Manager also credited the Council with taking action on water quality. Deputy Mayor Dennis Shanahan also acknowledged the Deputy City Manager for his engagement with Our Place, an organization that assists people with disabilities in finding housing solutions. He hopes that the City working with this organization will help it come up with solutions. Mayor Bob Carrier and City Manager Joyal recognized Donna Benton for her promotion to Director of Planning for the City of Dover. Manager Joyal advised that the Finance Department was recognized for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 18th year by the Government Finance Officer's Association. He congratulated Director Dan Lynch and his staff. The City Manager recognized several staff for their years of service. Those can be viewed in the City Manager's report linked above.
The Mayor gave a brief report. He spoke about Steve Towne, a volunteer for the City who was beloved in the sports/recreation community. The McConnell Center hung a plaque in his honor due to his recent passing.
Both ordinances in the second reading were referred to public hearing on February 9th.
All ordinances in the 3rd reading were referred to public hearing on February 9th.
All items on the Consent Calendar were approved by the Council. I, Councilor Hinkel, asked if the lease rates in the McConnell Center were competitive with market rates. I wanted to ensure that the city was getting adequate revenue. The City Manager advised that they are actually more expensive than market rates due to the inclusion of benefits like the cafeteria etc. Councilor Deb Thibodeax advised that the McConnell Center Commission unanimously agreed to the renewal of all leases that were on the Consent Calendar.
The City Councilors went around and gave updates on various City boards and commissions. Councilor Muffet-Lipinski spoke of the school board, and advised the Council not get too emotionally involved in initial budget discussions as the school board is presenting a "worst case scenario" initially, and that things would improve as we work through the process collaboratively. Councilor Cullen advised that the Planning Board approved two projects for a subdivision off of Bellamy Road, and a four-building apartment complex to be developed at the site of the old McIntosh College. Both developments offer HUD rate/affordable housing. Councilor Williams spoke about the Appointments Committee. They spoke about process adjustments and feedback they've received. The Committee will include it's minutes with future Council agenda materials for review by the Council. They're also planning additional engagement with the Chairs of the various boards and commissions to adjust membership according to the needs of each. Councilor Hackett spoke on the Arena Commission. The budget is breaking even. A zamboni has been ordered but is delayed due to supply chain issues. They will also need a new roof, as the current roof is 20 years old. The good news is that the arena has seen no drop in revenues due to COVID. Councilor Linnea Nemeth spoke about the Arts Commission and how they elected new officers and got a new staff liasion, the Assistant City Planner. The Commission has several initiatives ready to launch, including an economic survey with Americans for the Arts to get concrete data on what the non-profit arts sector brings to the Dover economy. Councilor Williams spoke about the Conservation Commission which elected officers and approved one initiative. I advised that the Downtown TIF Advisory board had not yet met. Councilor Thibodeaux deferred to Resilience Coordinator Jackson Caspari who advised that he asked the Energy Commission if they would like to be the City's Electric Aggregation Committee, preparing a community power plan, and the Committee unanimously agreed. This will be presented to the Council for approval in the future. Councilor Thibodeaux also spoke of a presentation from the Committee on Power which will be distributed to the Council. Mayor Carrier spoke about the solar array on the high school. Councilor Thibodeaux advised that it covers 40% of the energy costs for the high school. The Energy Commission also got proposals for electric vehicle charging stations which will be coming before the Council in the future. The Heritage Commission has not yet met, as reported by Councilor Nemeth.
The Council approved a resolution related to budget guidance. The resolution specifies that the City Manager and School Board will submit budgets and will provide suggested reductions in the budget to limit tax implications. Deputy Mayor Shanahan and Councilors Williams and Muffet-Lipinski proposed an amendment that any additional adjustments needed to sustain critical education programs need to be accompanied by data-based justifications. The Council approved the resolution as amended.
During Councilor Matters of Interest, Councilor Hackett asked the Ordinance Committee to explain its justification for choosing the Epsilon map over the Alpha map for ward redistricting. Deputy Mayor Shanahan spoke and advised that the Alpha map was the initial map drawn, and wasn't necessarily a good map. The boundaries are awkward and split neighborhoods in undesireable ways. Councilor Hackett expressed concern with the loss of representation at the state level, and Councilor Thibodeax agreed. The entire Council was mixed on the issue. Councilor Cullen expressed gratitude for Councilor Williams' work on the budget resolution and the changes to the Appointments Committee. Councilor Nemeth spoke about the Dover Housing Authority board meeting she attended. She gave accolades to the dedicated staff for their programming, and called attention to the data that they have gathered on housing affordability in the City.
Councilor Muffet-Lipinski made a motion to adjourn the meeting, and the Council was so moved.