Though municipalities and school districts across New Hampshire have been negatively impacted by the decline in state revenue for several years, a recent vote in the House could mark a reversal of that trend. That is welcome news as municipalities and school districts have struggled to balance budgets while properly maintaining public-owned properties. It is a struggle that too often has contributed to the decline of properties, some of which have significant historical value.
On Feb. 15, the NH House overwhelmingly voted 267-83 to support of HB 413, the bill that would provide a 15 percent state contribution toward the employer’s (municipalities and school districts) cost for employee retirement benefits. If this bill becomes law, the benefit to Claremont would equate to hundreds of thousands in state revenue, providing necessary taxpayer relief to a community burdened by the highest tax rate in New Hampshire. Now that the House has voted on the bill, HB 413 will go before the House Finance Committee and eventually onto the Senate.
At our last meeting, the city council and administration recognized the need to act now on the future of the church next to the fire station. Originally built in 1832 and later remodeled in 1883, the building was historically identified as the First Universalist Church. Over the years, it has changed hands and been the home to a number of churches. As in many communities across the region, the need for church buildings has dwindled over time and many have become vacant, sold or transferred to local municipalities.
Such was the case in 1989, when Claremont took own ownership of the building. However, attached to the deed were a number of covenants that, voted upon by the city council in 1971, severely restricted its use. These covenants specified:
“The premises shall be used solely for religious, eleemosynary, governmental or residential purposes. No trade, business, either retail, wholesale or manufacturing, shall be conducted on the premises even though such use shall be merely ancillary to a permitted use. Any residential use shall be limited to a single family residence; the premises shall not be subdivided; and the foregoing covenants and conditions shall be perpetual."
As a result of these limitations and the decreased need for church buildings in general, the building has sat idle for years and used primarily for storage. Additionally, the city has invested a minimal amount in its upkeep due to limited financial resources and no economically feasible plan for its reuse.
To reverse this trend, the Council voted on Feb. 15 to remove these covenants. Thus, the opportunity has been created for the city to request and receive proposals for the reuse of this building in a manner that will add value to the community and protect the historical value of the building.
It is encouraging to see a change in trends at both the local and state level. Please continue communicating with your legislators and city officials on issues that impact you and your community. It is making a difference, and actions are taking place to reverse the negative trends of former years.
Charlene Lovett is the Mayor of Claremont and welcomes your feedback. Please send questions, comments or concerns to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.