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Heritage Commission request in Windham encounters resistance

WINDHAM - By municipal standards, a $2,000 requested increase seems meager when grappling with rising budgets for things like public safety, road repairs, salaries and benefits. But during Monday night's meeting of the board of selectmen, at least one member took issue with the Historic District/Heritage Commission's request to increase its $1,000 budget to $3,000 in the coming fiscal year.

Commission Chairman Carol Pynn said the extra funding is needed to finance additional cleanup and landscaping efforts around several local historical sites, as well as purchase signs to be used in relation to the town's proposed demolition delay ordinance, which will be put before voters this spring.

Pynn noted that most of the current year's $1,000 budget was used up pretty quickly, after hiring a contractor to clean and beautify the historic Town Pound site this past year.

An antique cellar hold near Knuckle Pond, once the home of one of the town's founding families is in need of similar beautification, she said.

"It's an important artifact for our town and should be preserved," Pynn said. "We have the money and we should spend it wisely. History is important for this town."

Selectman Roger Hohenberger disagreed.

"I just think it's a huge increase," he said. "My main concern is that this budget didn't even exist a few years ago. What if it increases again next year, and the next?"

Community Development Director Laura Scott said the signs to be purchased by the Heritage Commission would be one-time purchases, noting the current wording of the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance is aimed at establishing a process for preserving and protecting significant buildings or other structures within the town, particularly those with cultural or architectural significance.

The signs would be posted on questionable properties to ensure such structures remain intact during the public hearing process.

Scott said the signs could be re-used again and again.

"We'd provide the sign to applicants during the hearing process and after that ends, they'd be returned to us," she said.

Planning board member Ruth-Ellen Post questioned where the responsibility for the signs should lie: with the Heritage Commission or the Community Development Department.

"It seems this one might be more appropriate for Community Development," she said. "This is something that benefits the town at large."

Selectman Phil Lochiatto wondered how many signs would actually be necessary.

"How many demolition permits would we actually have pulled each year? I think we could look at this very easily and prorate the costs of these signs into our demolition permit process," he said. "Because right now the town is being asked to bear the cost of signs required by someone doing business with the town. That's the way I look at it."

Departmental budget presentations and discussions will continue next week. Selectmen will meet again on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the town's Community Development department, located at 3 North Lowell Road.

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