Wilton candidates answer residents’ questions

 Lions Club president Kermit Williams opens the forum.

Lions Club president Kermit Williams opens the forum. —STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

 Select Board candidate Tom Schultz fields a question from Moderator Bill Keefe.

 Select Board candidate Tom Schultz fields a question from Moderator Bill Keefe. —STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

 Residents gather in Wilton Town Hall for the forum.

Residents gather in Wilton Town Hall for the forum. —STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

By CAMERON CASHMAN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-29-2024 8:33 AM

Candidates running for town office in Wilton answered residents’ questions at a meet the candidates forum hosted by the Lions Club Tuesday night.

Questions directed from Moderator Bill Keefe toward potential Planning Board members took up much of the forum, including one that focused on five articles on the 2024 warrant that would amend various sections of Wilton’s zoning ordinance.

Incumbent Alec MacMartin focused on the first amendment, which would reduce the minimum residential lot size in downtown Wilton from one-half acre to one-third.

“I think that will give the town the opportunity to be able to provide additional housing,” he said, explaining that the amendment was part of a greater effort to expand housing in Wilton with grant funds from the state’s Housing Opportunity Program.

A survey conducted by the Planning Board indicated residents were looking for expanded housing options while minimizing the impact to the environment. Loosening lot-size restrictions downtown, where there’s access to water and sewers, “was one way to satisfy both,” MacMartin said. “That is one issue I think everyone should consider with a fresh perspective.”

Fellow incumbent Neil Faiman echoed MacMartin’s comments, adding: “There’s a Housing Opportunity Program Committee that was formed of Planning Board members and other members of the community which has looked at issues, and that was one of their recommendations.”

Candidate Christopher Bourdon said, “Development is important. I think this is a good balance. Bringing (the lot size requirement) down from 0.5 acres to 0.3 is not a drastic difference, so it’s not going to overpopulate. It is going to be able to increase the amount of units where sewer and water is already accessible.”

If elected, Bourdon and candidate Kenneth Cadrain would be serving their first term as Planning Board members. They were asked about what experience they’d bring to the board.

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Cadrain cited his lifetime of construction experience with remodeling and additions and made note of his many appointments with the Planning Board over the years.

Bourdain noted his four years of military service and six years of experience in real estate investing. Both candidates shared the view that the role of the Planning Board is to enforce laws in a way that’s fair to homeowners and investors.

The Planning Board candidates were asked how they would handle potential conflicts of interest. Bourdon and Cadrain both said they would refrain from influencing decisions on projects they might be involved in, while Faiman and MacMartin went into detail on how they’ve handled previous conflicts.

Questions include school resource officer

The night’s first question was about the use of tax dollars to hire a school resource officer. As the only candidate for the Select Board in attendance, Tom Schultz reiterated his support for hiring an SRO for the the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District, explaining that he’d been advocating for the position since 2007.

“It’s not just about security, but it is about security,” said Schultz. “Even though we have a police station that’s within a quarter-mile of our high school, there is a response time differential.”

School Board candidate John Zavgren refrained from commenting, as he said he wasn’t familiar enough with the issue. Zavgren was later asked about his position on banning books from school libraries. His answer – “I don’t think we should ban any books, at all” – received applause.

Answering a question about the best opportunity for the future of Wilton, Schultz said, “My No. 1 priority is to get a new highway facility built.” He explained that the current building was constructed in 1955, and most rooms aren’t even heated. When asked about the proposed facility’s potential location, he answered, “I’m leaning toward a site that is already owned by the town, so we’re going to have to acquire property and, if possible, is centrally located.”

Schultz also fielded the question about what is the biggest challenge in town. He noted that his opponent, David Anderson, who was unable to attend, had highlighted property taxes as his largest priority. He acknowledged that high property taxes place a significant burden on landowners, especially those who were retired or on a fixed income.

“The town’s percentage of your property taxes is basically one-third. For every dollar the town spends, the school district pays two dollars,” Schultz said, going on to explain that the school district’s size necessitated that the district’s budget be nearly twice as high as the town’s. “I think the town has done a very good job. The budget committee has worked diligently with the department heads to keep taxes as low as they possibly can.”

Schultz added that taxpayers should focus on where tax money is being spent, and go to school district meetings, “because (those are) just as important.”

Sewer Commission candidate Kermit Williams and Supervisor of the Checklist candidate Stephanie Horrell received no questions. Williams is president of the Lions Club and currently sits on the select board. Horrell is running for re-election.

Planning Board candidate John Miles was also in attendance. He said that he made the decision not to run, but was unable to take his name off the ballot; he endorsed MacMartin and Faiman for the Planning Board.

More information about the candidates can be found on Wilton’s website at wiltonnh.gov. Wilton will hold its town elections on Tuesday, March 12, at 8 a.m. in the Wilton Town Hall.