The Middle Years of the New Hampshire Municipal Association (1985-1995)

1985

Computer use by New Hampshire municipalities continued to expand. An NHMA survey showed that over half of the computers in use were in towns with a population of 5,000 or less. In 1983, there were 28 towns or cities with computers, and that figure rose to 54 by 1985.

Due to skyrocketing premiums and difficulty to find coverages, cities and towns found it hard to secure umbrella liability insurance. Some municipalities saw their premiums rise between 200% – 400%.  In turn, the NHMA began exploring a liability insurance pool similar to the health and workers’ compensation programs already in place. Contributions from members explored the feasibility of a self-funded property and liability program.

NHMA’s second full time attorney position was filled by H. Bernard Waugh, Jr. Waugh, a Colorado native, was a graduate of Dartmouth College and George Washington University Law School.  Before joining NHMA, Waugh was in private practice in Hanover concentrating in municipal law.

Congress ended General Revenue Sharing, resulting in a loss of about $15 million a year in New Hampshire.

NHMA workers’ compensation and unemployment trusts credited with saving cities and towns over $8.5 million since inception of these programs.

NHMA’s executive committee reserved funds towards new offices and appointed a building committee to research new office space by 1988.

1986

Patrick MacQueen became NHMA’s new president. MacQueen, then city manager for Keene, spoke positively about NHMA’s activities. “NHMA keeps on top of issues and keeps people informed. It’s nearly impossible to lobby for municipalities,” he pointed out, “because they all have different stands on different issues, but NHMA does it.”

In 1986, municipalities struggled with growth management measures, some for and some against, but on one issue there was overwhelming agreement across New Hampshire. That year, 137 towns voted against the siting of a high level radioactive dump site being considered by the US Department of Energy in the state.

As of July 1st, NHMA’s pool for managing property and liability risks became operational with the participation of three counties and 20 towns. Interestingly, this NHMA risk pool entity was joined in operation on the same day by similar league pools in Connecticut, New Mexico, Virginia, and North Carolina.

NHMA’s Building Committee continued to meet periodically to discuss site selection and plans for a Local Government Center to serve as a permanent home for the Association.  Over a half-dozen specific sites were identified including some state properties.

Conservation commissions took on a changing role in the face of rapid growth and development. Although mainly advisory bodies, towns and cities began to utilize their services to a greater extent and began to pay greater attention to their recommendations. In a state where tourism plays such an important part of the economy, conservation commissions were fast becoming an important voice at the local government level.

“A limited federal government is good for social and economic freedom,” said then Vice-President, George Bush, as he addressed participants at NHMA’s annual conference in 1986.

1987

New Hampshire’s proud tradition of voluntary local participation in government was threatened in 1987 when the costs of liability insurance skyrocketing leaving many cities and towns without liability insurance to protect their local personnel.

On January 30, President Reagan vetoed the $20 billion Clean Water Act (CWA), claiming the measure was “loaded with waste and larded with pork.” Both bodies of Congress overwhelmingly disagreed and passed the measure. Among other programs, the CWA Act Amendments of 1987 initiated a national program to control nonpoint source pollution to deal with water quality problems associated with pollution runoff. Today many New Hampshire municipalities still deal with these stormwater issues as part of USEPA’s MS4 permit process.

“Legal Q&A” was instituted by NHMA’s legal counsel, Bernard Waugh, Jr., in 1987. This column can be found in every issue of Town and City magazine today.

The lack of affordable housing was a real crisis in 1987. The practice of “excluding” low income affordable housing in one municipality forced other municipalities to pick up the slack. Cities and towns began exploring moratoria, impact fees and other exactions on developers to absorb the increased service costs at the local level because of development.

In 1987, the NH Department of Environmental Services became effective. The legislature recognized that a consolidation of four state environmental agencies under one umbrella department would lead to improved coordination, planning and efficiency.

NHMA’s legal services entertained over 3,000 telephone calls from literally every member of NHMA. Members highly valued the staff’s recognized expertise in municipal law.

The passage of SB 1-A in the 1987 legislative session created the Land Conservation Investment Program (LCIP) beginning one of the most unique and important public/private land conservation partnership since the passage of the Weeks Act, creating the White Mountain National Forest in 1911.

1988

One of the goals of NHMA’s new President in 1988 was a better relationship between local, state and federal levels of government. Richard P. Green, born and raised in Rochester, served as its mayor during the 1980s as the city underwent a transformation from an old manufacturing city into a thriving and revitalized city. First elected to NHMA’s executive committee in 1984, Green also served as a state senator and often relied on the Association for background information on topics that came before the legislature. Green also chaired NHMA’s Building Committee which was searching for new and improved quarters for the Association and related insurance pools.

Delegates to NHMA’s 1987 Annual Business Meeting approved the Building Committee’s proposal to construct a Local Government Center in 1988 to house NHMA, the two insurance trusts it administers and other organizations serving local governments in New Hampshire. The planned facility joined 24 existing state municipal league owned or jointly-owned buildings around the nation.

Concern was expressed by members finding it increasingly difficult to find younger people willing to serve their cities and towns in public office. It was noted by one member, “There is a lack of interest in municipal and state affairs by the younger generation. They are much more interested in personal and recreational affairs of their own. They don’t seem to want to donate or do their share anymore.”

Since its inception in 1984, NHMA’s Health Insurance Trust grew from 2,250 employees to nearly 8,000 employees covered. NHMA’s other self-funded risk management pools, the Workers Compensation Trust and the Unemployment Compensation Trust, have returned over $10 million in dividends to participating units of government since their creation by NHMA in 1979. NHMA’s Property-Liability Trust, founded in 1986, had 151 participants, including 136 towns and cities, in 1988.

Solid waste management emerged as a significant environmental issue facing municipalities in 1988. Many smaller towns found the area of solid waste particularly challenging since they had limited resources and experience to address the situation.

Meeting the demands of growth. Adapting to the increased responsibilities of local governments. Trying to plan wisely for the future. These were some of the major concerns at New Hampshire’s town meetings in 1988. These included such items as money for closing landfills, whether or not to recycle, updating master plans, hiring more officials to meet service demands and changing forms of government.

The efforts of municipalities to undertake and implement local planning significantly increased over the years. There were at least two major reasons for this movement. First, growth increased dramatically since 1975 and towns and cities found themselves struggling to define and provide for this growth, and secondly, regional planning came of age during this period providing the technical expertise needed by municipal governments to address the resulting growth-related problems.

With the advancement of computers and technology, home occupations broadened the spectrum of home business activity which was once limited to doctors, music lessons and the like. This trend added further to the complexity of planning and zoning that has always been troublesome for local officials. Numerous disputes over local decisions made home occupations one of the most frequently litigated zoning issues during the eighties.

Maura Carroll of Concord was hired to fill the position of staff attorney. A graduate of Tulane University School of Law and the College of Holy Cross, Carroll came from a Portsmouth law firm specializing in civil litigation. Carroll had also served in the New Hampshire legislature and clerked for two years with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  Within a year, Carroll was moved into the newly created position of Government Affairs Director, where she guided the Association’s legislative efforts for many years.

The total number of people covered – employees and dependents – by the NHMA Health Trust is 43,521, making it the second largest employee benefits program of any kind, public or private, in New Hampshire.

Implementing the membership’s vote in 1987, NHMA acquired 1.347 acres of land, broke ground in the fall, and began constructing a 9,600 square foot facility to be called the Local Government Center, in Concord. The facility was designed to provide a long-term, cost-effective home for local government needs in New Hampshire.

1989

Governor Judd Gregg addressed over 60 municipal officials at one of NHMA’s nine regional dinners. Governor Gregg began his talk by praising the work of municipal officials. “I admire you and the time, effort and extra hours that you put into your job and your community,” Gregg said. “I’ve always said, quite honestly, that the toughest jobs in the world are the jobs of selectperson, alderperson, mayor or other local official because you’re on the frontline on the issues. And you bear the brunt of the heaviest attacks.”

User fees were one of the fastest-growing areas in local government revenues in the late eighties. User fees were becoming an increasingly important alternative revenue source for municipalities as loss of federal and state funds and legislation limiting taxes eroded municipal revenue bases.

Many New Hampshire wastewater facilities were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but steady growth in the late 1970s and 1980s brought them to the point where they reached design capacity. Town water facilities also went through many of the same growing pains that municipal sewer plants experienced. To complicate matters, both water and sewer project funding sources dwindled in the 1980s. As federal and state standards for water quality become more restrictive, New Hampshire’s cities and towns continue to feel the strain of financing required improvement projects on a local level.

GIS, or geographic information system, was becoming an increasingly popular tool for municipalities for providing intelligent information for land use and infrastructure facilities planning.  GIS was not just a computer system, it was actually a whole new way for cities and towns to organize the way they do business.

NHMA’s Property Liability Trust declared its first dividend of $225,000 to 121 participating units based on experience in the Trusts’ first year. Trustees also established an aggregate claims fund reserve to further protect participants in the event of high losses in any given year.

NHMA’s Health Insurance Trust now provided health benefits for some 48,122 local government employees and dependents with annual gross revenues in excess of $50 million. These numbers made the Health Trust at the time the largest government risk pool east of the Mississippi River.

On June 10, 1989, over 300 local officials and guests joined together to dedicate the Local Government Center at 25 Triangle Park Drive in Concord. The Center, co-owned by NHMA and its Property-Liability and Health Trusts who also occupy it, provided a permanent home for local government in New Hampshire.

1990

Municipal leaders in 1990 responding to a National League of Cities survey reported that environmental issues were of greatest concern to them followed by finance, transportation, growth and development and drugs.

The article, 16 Things Every Citizen Should Know About Town Meetings, written by NHMA Legal Counsel, Bernard Waugh, first appeared in Town and City magazine. It will be reprinted nationally and in future editions of Town and City, and as its author rightfully encouraged readers, “An informed town is in everyone’s interest.”

A slowing New Hampshire economy colored proceedings at most of the State’s 1990 town meetings. The issue of growing town budgets and increasing property taxes led to a number of warrant articles seeking limits on spending. Concern with the environment also seemed to be an issue in 1990, as well as recycling initiatives.

In 1990, the New Hampshire Wellhead Protection Program was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The plan was to implement this program over a ten year period beginning with each municipality’s delineation of wellhead protection areas and an inventory of all potential contamination sources within these areas.

Legal services handled an average of 20.2 telephone calls per day with each call averaging 5.76 minutes confirming that daily telephone inquiries are NHMA’s primary member contact. As an aside, NHMA fielded over 26,000 calls in 1990.

1991

Daniel C. Ayer, Town Manager of Merrimack, served as NHMA’s President in 1991. By increasing awareness and cooperation between all municipalities, Ayer said, “We can’t let the legislators forget where they come from. They do represent the cities and towns from which they were elected.”

There were 3,519 bridges (ten feet or greater in length) in New Hampshire. Of the total number of bridges, 1,504, or nearly half, were the responsibility of municipalities. Only 340 of these bridges were in good condition while the majority were in poor condition and required rehabilitation.

NHMA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1991.

The Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) provided funds for “Transportation Enhancement Activities,” which included spending monies on bike trails and historic preservation. In New Hampshire, this amounted to about $3 million per year.

The personal toll of the 1991 recession impacted the selectmen in the Town of Amherst to create a job bank. The basic premise was that the newly-unemployed wanted jobs, not welfare, so the town organized the bank to partner people in the town who had jobs to be done (painting, cleaning, carpentry, etc.) with those people within the town who needed the work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of disability and prohibited the exclusion of disabled individuals from participating in, or the benefits of, services, programs or activities of public entities including local governments.

1991 may well go down in NHMA’s history books as its best legislative year. Victories on the retirement front and an overwhelming roll call vote by the House to fully-fund revenue sharing saved cities and towns about $45 million from being loaded onto the local
property tax.

In Britton v. Town of Chester, the New Hampshire Supreme Court declared Chester’s zoning ordinance illegal insofar as it did not provide realistic opportunities for affordable housing.

1992

Having a knack for “being everywhere in New Hampshire,” Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton was always on hand to make presentations during the municipal awards luncheon held in conjunction with NHMA’s annual conference. 

Judy Silva joined the NHMA as Staff Attorney in 1992. At the time, Silva said she was attracted to NHMA and municipal law because “…all these people are trying to hold together their towns, while holding down jobs and spending time with their families.” Silva received a BA from the University of New Hampshire and a law degree from Franklin Pierce. Silva now serves as NHMA’s Executive
Director, a position she has held since 2013.

Representatives from 13 Affiliate Groups met at the Local Government Center to explore how each group fits under the NHMA umbrella. Those present discussed coordinated training, scheduling conflicts, legislation, and cooperation between all levels of municipal officials.

From the North Country to the Sea, New Hampshire cities and towns were in a stir over “exotic dancers” or “adult bookstores” creating a demand for ordinances to limit them. As such, NHMA devoted an entire issue of Town and City magazine on the subject of regulating adult businesses.

A major issue that arose in 1992 was the Weirs Beach secession bill which the NHMA, along with Governor Merrill, opposed. NHMA’s opposition was rooted in the fact that no criteria was established by which the feasibility and impact of secession could be measured. While the bill dealing with Weirs Beach did not pass, a bill creating a committee to study criteria for any future secession voted did pass with NHMA’s support.

1993

Underground storage tanks became a hot issue in 1993. The problem facing municipalities was that for every UST that is regulated by the state, there may be as many as three UST’s exempt from state regulations. Despite the risk to water supplies posed by exempt UST’s, New Hampshire’s cities and towns had done very little to address the issue.

As a result of state legislation passed in 1992, the New Hampshire Public Deposit Investment Pool was established in April 1993 as a brand new state investment pool enabling the state, municipalities and school districts to combine their funds to maximize investment opportunities.

The Federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 becomes effective requiring employers of 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage.

In a tragic turn of events, a selectman’s son involved in a land dispute with the Town of Newbury shot and killed two municipal employees and critically wounded a third before shooting himself.  Town employees, receptionist Meribeth Swanson and secretary Susan Webster were killed and administrative assistant, Carole Hockmeyer, seriously injured.

Due to the economic recession, municipal infrastructure creation and maintenance were deferred, employees were laid off and local budgets were frozen or cut. In response, the Legislature restored a share of the Rooms and Meals tax monies to municipalities for property tax relief. Beginning in FY 95, a new formula was employed with the plan for the State to share up to 40% of the Rooms and Meals tax collections with cities and towns. Similarly, the state share of local bridge aid was increased by 13.3%.

For the first time in its 9-year history, HealthTrust declared a dividend in 1993 of $1.8 million. Members were cautioned that future dividends should not be automatically counted on as the same factors may not come together. Trustees had heard from some participating members that they preferred that future dividends be applied to hold down the rates as much as possible.

1994

Welfare directors across the State became concerned when the national fuel aid budget was cut by 51%. The anticipated $11,422,465 federal appropriation was slashed to $5,518,875, leaving many municipalities holding the bag for fuel assistance dollars.

As part of an April Fools joke, Town & City magazine reported that Governor Steve Merrill would sign the “Dalmation Bill,” a bill requiring every municipality in New Hampshire to house at least one Dalmation in every fire station as a way to promote tourism.

The national, regional and state economies were improving meaning that New Hampshire cities and towns were adding to their valuation bases, including increases in local population, building permits and automobile registration revenues. Despite a stronger economy, there was a loss of $100 million in Federal Medicare funds which had been used historically to balance the state’s general fund budget that loomed large for budget writers in the upcoming budget cycle.

The State Legislature enacted Chapter 103 thereby creating a Local Government Advisory Committee comprised of legislative, county and municipal officials. The committee was designed to meet quarterly with the governor to exchange views on issues of intergovernmental concern. The committee met several times, the last being in January, 1996. The statute was repealed by the Legislature in 2002.

NHMA’s Executive Committee embarked on a strategic planning process, known as GOALS 2000 during the summer of 1994. It was the first such member survey since 1982. The survey results were used to reform or strengthen services, add new services and focus the Associations’ mission with the support of members.

1995

Retirement issues were at the legislative forefront in 1995, addressing funding increases required by the system and benefit enhancements sought from the system.

Russell Marcoux, then Administrative Services Director for the City of Nashua, becomes NHMA’s new President. Marcoux served as an Alderman for nine years before going to work full-time for the City. “I’ve been on both sides,” Marcoux stated, “So I understand the challenges. I have a lot of respect for elected officials. They have tough decisions to make.“ One of his goals as President was to get more members involved in the legislative process, especially the city members. His theme was “Keep your eyes and ears open, and your local pockets closed.”

Local government employers with 50 or more employees had to comply with all aspects of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) by January 26, 1995, including designation of an ADA coordinator.

As NHMA entered its 54th year of service, the Association grew from a small group of local officials into a major service provider for New Hampshire’s cities and towns. With a look toward the 21st Century, the NHMA adopted a new Vision and Mission Statement to help guide NHMA forward.

NHMA changes its by-laws and approved a change increasing the term of President to two years, for the sake of continuity in the many state legislative matters that are now two year cycles.

823 bills were filed in 1995, and NHMA monitored about 235 of these bills, with 21 NHMA policies included among them. Eleven of those policies passed, seven were re-referred for additional study, and three were killed. NHMA’s concern during the budget process was focused on protecting cities and towns from downshifting, especially since the Legislature had adopted a proposal to reorganize the Department of Health and Human Services resulting in $32 million in budget cuts/savings from this Department.