By S.D. Plissken | May 31, 2019
New Hampshire Senate Bill (SB) 154 (2019) passed out of the House Municipal and County Government Committee and reached the House floor last Thursday afternoon, May 23, at 3:18:29 PM.
This is the bill originally authorizing a study of workforce housing tax deductions, but now including a “problematic” side order of authorizing the sale, sans voter approval, of Milton’s “Old Fire Station.” (See NH SB 154 Amended).
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D-Concord): The majority of the Committee on Municipal and County Government, to which was referred Senate Bill 154, an Act – new title – “Allowing municipalities to adopt a credit against property taxes for certain workforce housing, and authorizing the sale of certain property by the Town of Milton,” having considered the same, report the same, with the following amendment, and with a recommendation that the bill Ought-to-Pass [OTP] with amendment. – Representative Clyde Carson [D-Warner)] for a majority of the committee. The minority of the committee, having considered the same, and being unable to agree with the majority, report with the following resolution: “Resolved, that it is Inexpedient-to-Legislate [ITL].” – Representative Mona Perrault [(R-Rochester)], for the minority of the committee. The question before the House is on the adoption of the majority amendment, 1577 H, printed in House Record 25, and found on Pages 29 to 30. Are you ready for the question? All those in favor, say Aye.
Some number of House members: Aye.
House Speaker: Opposed, Nay.
Some number of House members: No.
House Speaker: The Ayes have it, and the motion carries. [Looking stage right]. I’m sorry … We’re in the voting mode… I heard … you wanted …
Representative Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont): To make a motion.
House Speaker: Please come, state your motion.
House Clerk: The motion to divide.
Representative Sylvia: Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was off on my timing. I would like to move to divide the question to remove section six of the bill.
This would have the effect of splitting Senate Bill 154 into two separate bills: 1) the original workforce housing bill, and 2) authorization of the sale of Milton’s old fire station.
House Speaker: I’ve talked with the clerk about this motion to divide, and the issue that has arisen and we have, and I have as the speaker, in having to make a decision, to take out section six, dealing with the Town of Milton, would be fine. But by leaving in sections one through five, and section seven – section seven being the effective date of the bills – which say that this shall take effect upon passage – the section six, if the motion was to prevail, that that section six should pass, and the House votes that way, section six has no effective date, so it would be out there in limbo. So, it would be in … it’s not divisible, is what I am trying to tell you. But I am trying to give you an explanation for why it is not divisible.
Representative Sylvia: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, then I would like to speak against the bill.
House Speaker: Yeah. Well, first we have to fix our computer again. Oh, that’s good. Thank you. I have you signed up to speak again. So, the member from Belmont is recognized. And thank you for your forbearance.
Representative Sylvia: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for the confusion. I have no intent to affect the study committee section of this bill, but the reference to the section on the Town of Milton being allowed to sell the old fire house is very problematic. So, my first opposition to this bill is when we make statutes that particularly point out one Town, and in this particular case, one specific property, I think those sorts of bills are problematic.
The … Once I started looking into it, when you look at RSA 41:14a Roman 2C, this essentially prohibits the selectmen from selling a property that is held in trust, which has been bequeathed to the Town, and that certainly brought a bit of curiosity to my mind, whereas somebody had very generously given a property to the Town and now the Town was looking to dispose of it. And certainly if they [the original donors] had intended some particular purpose for the property, the statute as it currently reads is very clear, and it’s very fine. That, we have a section within the Attorney General’s office, which is for charitable trusts and they track the purposes of assets.
For instance, the University of New Hampshire probably has many, and we took one up in Judiciary this year, referencing a school in agriculture, and assuring … the Attorney General’s trust division assures that what was promised, when the property was given, is adhered to.
And in this process that particular line of statute has a provision which directs if the Town, the property, the use perhaps fades away, and it no longer really fits within the trust it was given for, there is a fancy legal French term, which is Cy-Près, which is a doctrine which says, well, the Attorney General’s office of trusts, or the probate court, or superior court, depending on which way these things go, they would look into this intended purpose of the property, and find the next closest match for either using the property, or if it is sold, then continuing those funds, on the direction of what they were intended for.
So, doing further research, as I should, if you are going to get up and oppose a bill that is mostly very well supported, I called the Attorney General’s division of charitable trusts, and asked them about the property, and tried to figure out what the purpose was that it was given to the Town for, and as it turns out, the property was given to the Town with no restrictions.
Now, this creates a bit of a problem, because we are exempting the Town from using this particular statute, when this particular statute is not applicable. Now, there is another process for the select-board of the Town to sell property, and it’s just before that in 41:14a Roman I.
As I understand it, the … it seems like, and I don’t have all of the facts, I haven’t talked to the Town, but they seem to not quite read the statute correctly. They believe that they would have to bring this to the Town Meeting on a Warrant Article to sell. That is part of a possible solution, and it’s going to be what they will have to do anyway, because we’re not really affecting anything with this change. It’s a nullity.
So, to the Town of Milton, I would say, you need to look at that first part again. It does not require, automatically, that it goes on a warrant article. The statute says they will have the planning commission and the conservation commission look at this, and then they will have two public meetings, fourteen days apart, and unless fifty Town citizens challenge that with a petition, which would require it to go onto a warrant article, and postpone the sale of the property, they can … they are going to have to go through this regular process anyway.
And I think we should really consider, as Memorial Day approaches, [that] the legislature made laws, and there is nothing wrong with the laws, and this little section is totally unnecessary, uncalled for. Further, I think that anytime that some good citizen bequeaths to a Town a property, it should be treated with great respect. And I think that that’s my story and I think that we should not approve this process, and I am sorry that we approved the amendment. Perhaps we could find someone who wanted to reconsider. That’s my spiel, thank you for listening.
House Speaker: The question before the house is the recommendation that the bill Ought-to-Pass as amended. The chair recognizes Representative Carson to speak in support of the recommendation.
Representative Carson: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just want to talk to the fire station aspect of this bill, because I have looked into it, and I want to talk a little bit [about] what I found out about it. In 1880, some volunteers in the Town of Milton built a fire house for the Town and donated it to the Town.
Recently, that Town of Milton, as you might expect, outgrew that fire station and built a new fire station. And they would like to find a new owner for the old fire station, so they can get it back on the tax rolls. There’s a statute that says, as the good representative mentioned, that if selectmen have the authority to buy and sell property, they can do so, except in a few situations, and one of those is when something is donated.
So, the Town went, and they did go through the due diligence of going to the division of charitable trusts. They checked out this charitable trust and said, there’s no strings here, all you have to do is go back and bring it to your Town Meeting and get the authority to do it.
I’m a selectmen in a Town that has a fire station up for sale. There’s not a lot of market for used fire stations. When you have a buyer, you’d like to do it, and that’s what the Town of Milton has.
They missed getting it on the warrant for this Town Meeting. They have a willing buyer that wants to buy the fire station. And they went to their state senator [Jeb Bradley] in Wolfeboro and said could you help us out, This good senator said, I’ll add it to one of my bills. He’s a private sponsor of this bill. And it came to our committee and we thought it was a good idea to help out the Town of Milton as well. We’ve done this before for other Towns when they need to make something happen in a hurry. They’ve done all their due diligence. And with regards to the fire station, I ask you to support the bill on that behalf. Thank you.
House Speaker: Will the speaker yield for a question?
Representative Carson: No.
Representatives Max Abramson (R-Seabrook) and Laurel Stavis (D-West Lebanon) rose to speak against and for the workforce housing aspect of SB 154.
Representative Carson rose to explain the parliamentary aspect of what a yes or no vote would mean in terms of passage.
SB 154 passed with 250 votes [73.7%] in favor and 89 [26.3%] opposed. The votes of particular representatives are not available at this time.
“Sovereignty resides in the people.” – John Locke. “Unless you flub the deadline of getting it on the people’s warrant.” – NH House Majority.
NH General Court. (2019). RSA 41:14a. Acquisition or Sale of Land, Buildings, or Both. Retrieved from www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/iii/41/41-14-a.htm
NH House of Representatives. (2019, May 23). House Session, May 23, 2019. Retrieved from sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00288/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20190523/1029/21374#agenda_
Wikipedia. (2019, May 25). Cy-Près Doctrine. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cy-près_doctrine