February 14. 2013 8:06PM

Generator and rink funding draw debate in Conway

Special to the Union Leader

CONWAY - It wasn't the town's proposed $9.6 million operating budget that drew many of the remarks and questions from the few Conway residents who attended the Conway Municipal Budget Committee hearing Wednesday night, but two warrant articles that represent an expansion of what the town now offers for services.

The total requested for the two, $55,000, is less than the special article asking for $75,000 for the North Conway Community Center, but that article sailed by without generating comments.

Article 16, to see if the town will raise and appropriate $50,000 for a generator for the town's emergency shelter, was scrutinized by several committee members and a few residents. Conway emergency management director Steve Solomon, who also is Conway fire chief, said he's been to the selectmen with this in prior years, but it's the first time it's gone on the warrant. It was approved by the selectmen unanimously.

The Conway Recreation Building on Route 113 in center Conway, which was the Pine Tree School until about 25 years ago, serves, when needed, as the Conway emergency shelter. That need doesn't happen very often, but in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene Conway residents made homeless by Saco River flooding were housed there for 11 days. The building did not lose power, so was still usable as a shelter.

Solomon said that the town could use the shelter without a generator, but the Red Cross will only man and run the center if it has a generator. If the Red Cross does run the shelter, the organization will pay for the expenses.

He said they've explored other options, such as using one of the schools, or renting a portable generator as needed, but those are not practical solutions. The gym in the rec center could house 60 individuals.

One resident said he's lived along the Route 113 corridor for 17 years and the power has only gone out once.

Solomon agreed, but said weather events in the state damaging enough to be declared federal emergencies are increasing in frequency, particularly ice storms, which cause power outages

Selectmen did not recommend an appropriation of $5,000 for the public skating rink in Schouler Park, but Selectman Mary Seavey, who did not vote on the article, made an impassioned plea for the funding.

She stressed that she was not speaking as a selectman. Seavey is on the Community Celebrations Committee, which took a leadership role in getting the rink up and running this winter after it became clear that it would not open unless an organization stepped forward. North Conway Water Precinct kicked in around $6,000, with the rest of the funds coming from sponsorships.

The town's deliberative session is at 7 p.m. on March 4 at the Loynd Auditorium in Kennett High School.