CLAREMONT — The Claremont Housing Authority (CHA) Board of Commissioners met Monday, with one vacancy filled, one remaining open, and one more commissioner — Liane Westcott — leaving. Ann Kimball, the new commissioner, attended her first meeting. Doreen Needham was elected chair, filling the vacancy left by Wendy Hodgdon.
Interim City Manager John MacLean quietly observed the proceedings.
Tenants of Marion Phillips Senior Apartments, where the CHA meetings are held, were invited to address the board during a public comment session.
Resident Virginia Stowell took the podium to discuss the imminent demise of several large maple trees shading the west side of the apartment complex. The trees are not in good shape, and Stowell said the arborist told her they will live 5 or 6 years more at most. Residents on that side of the building who cannot afford air conditioners have to contend with extreme heat during the summer, Stowell said.
“They are not heat-reflective windows,” said Stowell.
CHA Director Michelle Aiken said there are fans available for residents who can't afford air conditioning.
Resident Bonnie Sczuka-Dodson spoke up about the art on the walls. “When I first moved here it was extremely appropriate and dignified, with landscape pictures on the walls. They were old-fashioned but of high quality.”
Those paintings were removed when the halls were repainted, and not put back up. Sczuka-Dodson objected to the small bright acrylic paintings which are hung in the halls and ballroom now, calling them “amateur” and “ugly.”
“The office staff may like it, but I live here,” she said.
Commissioner Kathleen O'Brien questioned some items on the treasurer's report. The first item was a check for around $10,000.
“What was it? Because I didn't see it on the comparative budget,” she said. O'Brien said she had received an email response from Aiken about it, which explained it was an insurance payment but “it's written off over a 12-month period of time.”
“I really think that needs to be written in the budget,” said O'Brien.
“We pay it yearly, but we budget it monthly,” said Aiken.
“The issue is how it shows up in our budget,” said O'Brien. “We wrote a check and it didn't show up under the insurance row; if that's the check that's written it needs to go in that month's comparative budget.”
Another question was about use of the credit card. O'Brien asked for more documentation for disbursements.
“I had lost a couple of receipts,” said Aiken. “It generally goes up when I am traveling. I put my bank statement in there to show what it was, but that's the only time I've ever used my statement.”
“We don't know what it's used for — we just get a lump sum of what goes into the credit card,” said O'Brien.
“It's anywhere between $800 and $3,000 when we travel,” said Aiken. Travel is for training, she added.
Ann Kimball asked, “Who oversees your credit card?”
“I do,” said Aiken. “The auditors double-check it.”
“Who approves your travel?” asked Kimball.
“I get about $10,000 before I have to ask permissions for it,” said Aiken.
O'Brien had more questions about the five-year capital plan, such as why the commissioners never did any oversight on the Section 8 voucher program.
“You don't vote on it,” said Aiken. Administration fees from the Department of Housing and Urban Development pay the salary of the staff person overlooking the program. “It's not something we play with or do anything with. The commissioners don't have a role in it.”
“But that's the commissioners' job. To see what you're spending and how you're spending it,” said Kimball.
Pressed further, Aiken said she could ask the accountant to break it down but it would cost extra.
“Even if we take it in baby steps,” said O'Brien, “if we gain in understanding, it's worth it.”
The Ball Fund is a legacy to the residents of Marion Phillips, traditionally used to fund social events, trips, and enrichment activities. O'Brien asked about some bank statements to office manager Molly Dulong, which Aiken said were to replenish the Ball Fund.
“But it doesn't say what those [expenses] are,” said O'Brien.
“We have a petty cash fund,” said Aiken. “We use it to buy bingo papers and other small things; we only do the [account reconciliation] every 6-9 months.”
“It would be a simple thing to keep a log,” said O'Brien.
“We have a book we keep all this in,” said Aiken.
“You have a book, but we don't have a book,” said O'Brien. “We had scheduled a meeting with the accountant but that was canceled. I'd like to have that rescheduled so we can tidy this up.”
Aiken objected on the grounds it was Westcott's last meeting, and she'd like to have the meeting after two new commissioners are appointed. Kimball agreed that it would cost a lot to have the accountant come twice.
Aiken went on to address the comments about the paintings. “I agree it has gotten a little out of control,” she said. She indicated a large photograph by Stephen Fitch on the wall. “My plan for the building is pictures like this.”
Fitch, however, has not provided her with new pictures, she said. “We could take all the paintings down but then there would be nothing on the walls.”
O'Brien suggested polling the tenants to find out what they want in the hallways and common areas.
The subject of the Wednesday night dinners came up. Traditionally the Ball Fund pays for a big common dinner for Marion Phillips residents, every Wednesday night. It also pays for trips, so this year a group will be taking a day trip to Mount Washington and Lake Winnipesaukee.
Stowell said she was willing to cook Wednesday night dinners, but she stopped because she was told she couldn't use multiple vouchers. “I'm 79 — I had to buy things piecemeal, over time,” she said. “It isn't using the vouchers, it's not being allowed to have multiple shopping trips.”
Aiken blamed Market Basket, which is the only store they use. “Market Basket changed their policy,” she said.
However, it was agreed that Stowell would be allowed to make several trips, which will enable her to move all the supplies in small loads.
Five-year capital plan
O'Brien again asked for more oversight, saying the capital plan had changed by $100,000 in the days before the meeting. “I don't personally like a roller coaster ride like that,” she said.
“Things change and we want to do what's best,” said Aiken.
Another $25,000 to renovate the floor in the Ball Room seemed “sudden,” said Aiken.
“What's wrong with this floor? $25,000 seems like an awful lot,” said Kimball. “Did you put this out to bid?”
Aiken said she “usually” does but “Biron's is always the cheapest and they always do a good job.”
“I will check on that number,” said Aiken.
“Are we approving the estimated costs in this five-year plan?” asked O'Brien.
“You're approving the plan for me to go ahead and do the plan,” said Aiken.
“That's a good reason not to approve it in a big rush,” said O'Brien. Citing previous renovations, she said a $10,000 project to replace the carpeting on two floors morphed into a $42,000 project for three floors. “If we had discussed it ahead of time, my recommendation would have been No.”
“The estimate was off by $4,000 and then we added an extra floor because if we did all three at once it saved us money,” said Aiken.
In the end it was agreed by the commissioners that they approved the five-year plan, but would discuss each item on it when it comes up.