New Ipswich Planning Board candidates endorse opponents

Planning Board candidate Robert Fornier answers crowd questions while candidates night moderator Shawn Talbot looks on.

Planning Board candidate Robert Fornier answers crowd questions while candidates night moderator Shawn Talbot looks on. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Planning Board candidate Bruce Ruotsala speaks on his priorities, while fellow candidates Jane Elwell and Ray Holmes listen.

Planning Board candidate Bruce Ruotsala speaks on his priorities, while fellow candidates Jane Elwell and Ray Holmes listen. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

School Board candidate Jesus Cantu Trevino speaks on the his support for petition articles on the warrant.

School Board candidate Jesus Cantu Trevino speaks on the his support for petition articles on the warrant. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

School Board candidate Tim Somero speaks on school budgeting and support for a proposed tax cap at candidates night.

School Board candidate Tim Somero speaks on school budgeting and support for a proposed tax cap at candidates night. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-29-2024 8:31 AM

Modified: 03-01-2024 7:58 AM


Candidates in contested races for the Planning Board and Mascenic School Board spoke to residents during New Ipswich’s candidates night Tuesday.

There are multiple races for the Planning Board this year, including a four-way race for two three-year seats between incumbents Bruce Ruotsala and Joshua Muhonen and newcomers Jane Elwell and Ray Holmes, although Elwell and Holmes endorsed their opponents during the event.

Ruotsala has been sitting on the board for a year and said people of his generation have been struggling in the housing market.

“I weaseled my way into a house, but many in my generation have not,” Ruotsala said, calling housing affordability the biggest issue facing the Planning Board right now.

Ruotsala said a long-term goal of the Planning Board and himself is to review the town’s regulations and enact some reform. The board has put an amendment to the town’s accessory dwelling unit statute on the ballot this year, which would allow two accessory dwelling units by special exception if at least one of the units is attached to a home and the lot is at least two acres.

Another facet of that effort, Ruotsala said, is an ongoing discussion that didn’t make it to the ballot this year to allow some greater density for developments that have units designated as affordable housing.

Ruotsala said increasing the availability of accessory dwelling units would fill a valuable niche for renters, but he is “at the end of the day, a strong believer in home ownership,” and some regulation reform may be needed to help accommodate those who are starting out and cannot sustain themselves in the current market.

“Our goal is not to close the door on people trying to come up and stay here,” Ruotsala said.

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Elwell, owner of Silver Scone Teas in New Ipswich, has been embroiled in a long approval process, as neighbors opposed to the tea party event business run out of her home have appealed multiple decisions related to the case. She and Holmes, who is her boyfriend, said they had signed up to run for the seats before knowing that Ruotsala and Muhonen were running for re-election.

Both Elwell and Holmes said while they would remain in the race and would fill the roles if elected, they were endorsing Ruotsala and Muhonen and asking for people to support them in the coming election, citing their experience in the roles and competency filling the positions. Muhonen was not present at the candidates night.

Holmes gave a short statement, saying his experience comes from a life in construction. He declined to answer any questions, asking people who supported him to put their votes behind Ruotsala and Muhonen. He also spoke in support of Graham Heagy for the two-year position on the Planning Board over Robert Fornier. Elwell also voiced support for Heagy, who did not attend the candidates night.

Fornier is one of a group of Silver Scone neighbors currently involved in an appeal of the Planning Board’s approval of the business. He said his experience includes 40 years as a general contractor and that zoning laws and the town’s master plan should be applied. He also said he would “stand up for the homeowner as well as the business person.”

“I would like to state that everyone should be afforded due process, without being mistreated,” Fornier said.

Fornier’s involvement in the suit against the Planning Board over Silver Scone was the subject of several questions from the audience, including a question whether businesses allowed in the Village District by special exception should be eliminated. Fornier said he would not be in support of that, because the businesses allowed – such as inns, bed-and-breakfasts and day cares – were “small and non-interruptive.” He categorized events at Silver Scone as involving hundreds of people and out of that character.

“It goes back to reasonable expectation,” Fornier said.

When asked by the audience about whether the suit would create a conflict of interest being on the Planning Board, Fornier said he would recuse himself.

Regarding affordable housing, Fornier said the term “gets a bad rap” and that there are perhaps means to make “housing more affordable, as opposed to affordable housing.”

The other contested Planning Board race, a one-year term, is between Kathleen Sheldon and Nichole Talbot. Neither candidate attended the candidates night.

All other town positions are uncontested this year.

School Board race includes two candidates

The New Ipswich seat on the Mascenic School Board for the next three years has a contested race between Tim Somero and Jesus Cantu Trevino, both of whom fielded questions during the candidates night.

Somero touted his long history of volunteerism with town entities, including serving as director of the town pool, current service on the Planning Board and being an active part of protests against a natural gas pipeline which was planned to run through New Ipswich, including building a compressor station on town land.

Trevino moved to New Ipswich two years ago and is a teacher in the Nashua North school and has been a teacher for more than a decade.

Both candidates were asked if they supported articles on the district’s warrant this year, including one to eliminate the position of superintendent, another to implement a tax cap of 1.2% increase annually on New Ipswich taxes and a proposed budget that underwent a $1 million cut during the district’s deliberative session.

Somero said the district would “survive” without a superintendent. On the matter of the tax cap, he said the school district has previously used an excess of $1 million in unspent funds to lower the tax rate, so there should be enough give to accommodate the cut.

Trevino authored the article to eliminate the superintendent position, and said he still supported it. He said the duties required of a superintendent were “already delegated,” with the district having roles for duties such as payroll and billing, accounts receivable, curriculum and special education directors, principals and vice principals. He said eliminating the superintendent would be “cutting the middleman.”

Trevino said he was also in support of the tax cap and the budget reduction. He said talk of multiple teacher cuts if the proposed budget was passed was “fear-mongering,” suggesting that cuts should be made from the top down and that the superintendent’s salary and benefits could fund two teacher positions.

When asked about issues related to transgender students as it related to bathroom access and sports, both expressed support for keeping both separated by the students’ sex as assigned at birth. Somero said there may be ways to accommodate more single-use bathroom stalls, but that in the end, “boys should go to boys, girls should go to girls.”

Trevino said how a person wants to identify their gender was “not for me to judge,” but there was a reason people are assigned a sex at birth and a reason there is a separation of male and female sports. He said the board has to be proactive in its policies, whether or not they are popular, suggesting the banning of cellphones and a bathroom policy requiring the use of the bathroom of their biological sex as examples.

Voting in New Ipswich will be held on March 12 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Mascenic Regional High School gymnasium.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.