By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
GORHAM — The letter of resignation that Gorham Police Chief “P.J.” Cyr submitted to interim town manager Denise Vallee was read aloud by her at Monday evening’s selectmen’s meeting.
Cyr has served as chief of his hometown police department for 14 years and continuously served as member of the Gorham Police Department for 24-plus years. He plans to work with his wife, Michelle, at the new Main Street location of the Eastern Depot restaurant, which she recently moved from Berlin’s East Side, his letter explained. Cyr anticipates that his official retirement date will be Oct. 1, but that will only become definite after he seeks the advice of the N.H. Retirement System.
Cyr turned 50 in December, and with their younger daughter now a first-year student at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, the couple is experiencing an “empty nest.”
A 1987 graduate of Gorham High School, Cyr worked construction with his dad for three years before joining the Air Force in 1990.
He left the armed forces as a senior airman in June 1995. He and his wife and their then-2-year-old son moved back to Gorham and he joined the Gorham Police Department.
Vallee said the hiring process to secure the services of a new chief will begin immediately.
She also announced that two viable candidates to fill the finance position whose duties she is continuing to juggle have been identified. She anticipates that a new town employee will soon be selected and hired, freeing her up to devote her full attention that of town manager.
Town buildings custodian Elaine Normand, who has earned a reputation for doing excellent work, has also announced her retirement as of Friday, Aug. 30, Vallee said, noting that she has set a very high standard.
An unallocated $10,000 was appropriated at the March town meeting so that some department head salaries could be increased to a sum nearer the norm paid in comparable towns in the area. LeBlanc volunteered to undertake a wage and benefit survey to find out which incumbents’ salaries had fallen behind and then reported her findings to Vallee.
Vallee announced that Fire Chief and Emergency Management Services Director James Watkins would have $3,500 added to his pay package, bringing it to $68,138.76; Parks and Recreation Director Jeffrey Stewart, $2,500, bringing it to $44,692.02; and town clerk-tax collector Carol Porter, $3,000, bringing it to $46.919.46. Porter’s compensation had fallen so far behind her counterparts in other towns, that — in a two-step effort — her compensation will be raised again next year. These catch-up payouts only totaled $9,000, however, leaving $1,000 unspent.
Tax collector Porter explained that on Sept. 11 several properties could be tax deeded for non-payment of taxes.
At this point, it appears that six properties will likely need to be checked out by the code enforcement officer John Scarinza who will comment on their condition and likely value. Each of these properties may then require a Level I environmental assessment, ensuring that the town’s taxpayers do not end up paying for corrective work that costs more than the probable sale price.
Selectman Judy LeBlanc recused herself from discussing one of these properties since it abuts her lot, but she ended up offering several opinions, all of which called for more simple approaches than those outlined by chairman Mike Waddell.
He also noted that a taxpayer, who had made up for some missed tax payments but missed at least one, could approach the town manager and provide evidence of “hardship” in order to remain in his or her home.
Waddell said he wanted to allow the board a chance to visit these properties and then to weigh how best to deal with each one. “There’s not a lot of value on the table tonight,” he noted. Last year, Waddell reminded, the town’s taxpayers spent a total of $12,000 removing dwellings than the underlaying properties were worth, and he didn’t want to repeat that error.
Vallee reported on a preliminary discussion held between the town and school, encouraged by the Tillotson Fund, to consider generating electricity by solar panels. The school was represented by SAU 20 Superintendent David Backler.
The town, she said, could put panels on the both firehouse and the town garage to generate most of the electricity it consumes. Town hall would only be 70 percent served. The water treatment plant is the town’s largest electricity consumer, Vallee said.
“There’s a lot to look at,” the interim town manager said. The town could purchase the panels outright or sign a power purchase contract. The investment could be made by taking out loans or coming up with grants, or by combining these two sources. Rough estimates indicate that the town could save some $715,500 over 25 years by generating most of the electricity it uses.
The selectmen gave Vallee the go-ahead to continue pursuing the idea.
Vallee gave progress reports on progress on a number of ongoing projects: snow storage area; mapping crosswalks and parking, as well as culverts; Libby Pool culvert project; and Stony Brook update.
Four contractors attended an on-site pre-bid conference at the public works yard earlier in the day and the winning bid will likely be awarded at a short public selectmen’s meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5, when the board already had a scheduled executive session.
The work that CMA Engineers of Portsmouth has already performed at the designated new snow storage area and will perform this autumn will total nearly $185,000.
Vallee said that the federal Army Corps of Engineers permit is expected to be in hand by mid-September.