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January 13. 2013 9:23PM

Temple takes cooperative approach to plowing

TEMPLE - For as long as anyone could remember, the town used tax money to plow the driveways of everyone in town during the winter, but when the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration but the kibosh on that practice two years ago, a group of people found a way to keep the tradition alive.

Honey Hastings, an attorney who lives in Temple, has been one of the driving forces behind the Temple Driveway Plowing Cooperative, a group that pitches in to hire plow drivers each year in order to save both money and the environment.

Hastings said the town had for years contracted with independent plow operators and while the Department of Public Works was clearing the main roads, the contractors were clearing driveways. The system, which was approved year after year by voters at town meeting, meant that more than 400 driveways in town were being cleared methodically and consistently, which saved money, time and fuel.

"The drivers didn't have to clear one driveway and then drive two miles and clear another one," said Hastings. "They just went door to door. And they always knew they were going to get paid."

But when the Department of Revenue Administration reviewed the town's warrant in 2011 and found an article dedicating more funds to driveway plowing, the practice ended immediately. The DRA ruled that a town couldn't be responsible for a private driveway and in August, community members including Hastings and plow operator and local business owner Steve Anderson were looking for a way to fix the problem.

Their solution was the Temple Driveway Plowing Cooperative. The cooperative allows people to choose to join and pools the membership dues and fees to cover the cost of plowing. They established a board of directors and set the cooperative up as a nonprofit, not unlike those that exist in many trailer parks, said Hastings.

Just as taxes are based on property value and folks under the town system paid for plowing based on the value of their homes, the cooperative charges the same way.

"I don't go out and measure driveways," said Anderson, who manages the plowing operation. "We base the cost on the assessed property value as the town has for years and years."

All members pay $1 per thousand of assessed value when they first join. That money goes into a reserve account to help cover particularly bad winters or other factors. And then they pay a set yearly fee. The first year, 2011-2012, residents paid 80 cents per thousand.

"That's based on an average of 10 storms," said Anderson, "and they'll plow as many times during a storm as they have to."

Because last year was so mild, this year members paid only 50 cents per thousand.

"It's just an extremely smart, extremely efficient system," said Anderson. "We have 267 members and well-established routes so that everyone is taken care of as quickly as we can."

Hastings said some people have complained because they may have shorter driveways and end up paying more than their neighbors, but she stands behind the tradition as it was for decades and most people realize the cost savings exist over hiring a private plower regardless of how much they're paying.

"It's worked pretty good and it may be unique in New Hampshire," she said. "I haven't been able to find another community that has a similar cooperative."

nfoster@newstote.com


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