HOLLIS — With vacancies on the town's 23 boards and committees at an all-time high, town officials are brainstorming for ways to recruit qualified volunteers.
Dan Harmon, chairman of the town's agricultural committee, raised his concerns during Monday night's Hollis Board of Selectmen meeting.
During the past several months, Harmon and fellow board and committee chairmen have been spreading the word among peers. A meeting last month to discuss the volunteer shortages was attended by 11 other chairmen.
Harmon said that as of this week, 24 of the town's 154 board and committee seats are vacant, amounting to a roughly 15 percent vacancy rate.
Most of the vacant seats are volunteer positions, though a few, such as the supervisors of the checklist, are paid a small sum during elections.
Of equal concern is the low participation rate among some of the acting board and committee members.
"We've got 130 filled positions, but frankly about 50 of them are doing all the work." Harmon said. "The rest aren't necessarily pulling their weight."
"So as we look for new volunteers, we feel we really need to broaden our demographics here," he added.
Working closely with the town's information technology department, Harmon said an updated list of vacancies has been prominently featured on the town website.
A quick glance Wednesday morning revealed vacancies in the agricultural commission, building code board of appeals, cemetery trustees, conservation commission, energy committee, heritage commission, historic district commission, planning board, recreation commission, trails committee and the zoning board of adjustment.
A chairman of the Hollis Old Home Days committee is also being sought.
"We're hoping to spread the word on each committee's needs, what their purposes are and what level of effort the committees are looking for in new members," Harmon said.
"One complaint we hear a lot of from volunteers is that they come to their first meeting and learn that is isn't what they thought it would be or it's more work then they'd believed. Then they either quit participating or drop out entirely."Harmon, along with Carolyn Madden of the Old Home Days committee and ZBA Chairman Brian Major, is working on a presentation to give to folks attending local civic group events.
"Basically, the goal is to market all the volunteer opportunities in town right now," Harmon said.
The department heads will meet again in early January to further strategize.Board of Selectmen Chairman David Petry said that traditionally, commission chairmen would come before selectmen with new candidate recommendations, and typically, candidates are encouraged to get their feet wet as alternates before becoming full-fledged members."Some of these boards require quite a bit of time, such as the planning board," Petry said. "So becoming an alternate first is a good route as it allows people to learn the whole process."
Selectman Peter Band said one option might be for the department heads to set up a booth in the foyer during the March Town Meeting.
"We could talk to the voters and maybe even accept applications," Band said. "We have a very talented table in this community, and it's important for us to keep reaching out."