The above issue is looked upon with interest by this writer as a result of past discussions and meetings on the subjects at hand as a Selectman from March of 2009 through March of 2012. In summary, and for those who have not followed the subject closely, this is twofold problem and both are in need of resolution.
That the Town of Hampton incurs costs to support the operations of the State owned beach and has been doing so on the backs of the Hampton taxpayer since the beach ownership was transferred to the State by the town in 1933. The town now looks to recoup the costs associated with the annual support it provides.
An official judgement is needed as to who is responsible for the sidewalks and their upkeep on the west side of Route 1A along the entire beach front to High street.
I agree with the Selectmen 100% on its attempt to resolve the above issues and to pursue to closure (to the Supreme Court if necessary) in an effort to resolve them. I do not necessarily see this as a “we versus they confrontation” where there is a winner and a loser, but an attempt by the Town to clarify once and for all who is responsible for the sidewalk issue as well as an attempt to get the State to recognize and fund the Town costs that are directly associated with the operational support of the State beach. Heretofore the Town has made no progress on either front with the State.
The Town has had the sidewalk issue at the beach (West side of the beach boulevard) stuck in their claw for years. The States position in general is “we don’t build sidewalks (there are bridge exceptions) alongside of State highway’s” (the boulevard, Route 1A, is designated as a State highway), sidewalks therefore is seen as the Town’s responsibility by the State. I don’t know that this is a documented policy that has been in place from 1933 or is simply their assumed position. They will never change that position (unless ordered to by an outside source). They have been pursued for years on this and they have been adamant as to their position. All efforts by multiple boards to get them to the negotiating table have failed. This should have been litigated years ago (there were hopes of changing the States position). Currently the State owns the land, by deed, that the current and significantly deteriorating sidewalks rest on, so one would logically think that they therefore should be responsible for the sidewalk upkeep, so much for that logic!! It will take the courts to decide that issue once and for all. Once it is decided upon for either party, planning and budgets can proceed and progress can be expected, otherwise a stalemate will persist.
Now on to the beach costs. The beach has always been successful but now with the State’s investment and associated modernization and the Town’s infrastructure improvement at the beach it is seeing increased populations. Who had the vision to foresee the transformation of the beach with its condo’s springing up everywhere and the thousands of people (its more than a regional draw) that now come to the beach during the classical 10 week window. It is a highly rated beach due to its water cleanliness, boardwalk and entertainment. The State is taking in more parking revenue than it ever has due to meter installations and the meals and room tax , and both significantly feed into the State park coffers. Efforts to find out just how much money the State garners, just from the beach meals and room tax, have not been successful. We hear “we don’t track it that finely”. I have to believe that the information is available and if it isn’t a software change could make it available expeditiously.
To divest a bit, money from the meals and room tax is doled out to the State’s cities and towns based on their populations (Hampton has 15,000 people) so a town like Keen N.H. with its population of 23,406 on the opposite side of the State will get more money from the State than Hampton. This doesn’t seem fair or properly appropriated to me. Keene N.H. Could not possibly contribute in revenue for meals and rooms tax to the level that Hampton does! Efforts to change the policy by our State representatives over the years have failed as politics plays in. What city or town in NH that now enjoys revenue from the State, due to the meals and room tax (and all of them do), want to give any of that up? It’s not going to happen. Attempts to change the formula for distributions of the State revenue based on the revenue streams coming Into the State parks from the various sources have failed as well.
Examples of the direct and well documented expenses incurred by the town in support of beach operations are as follows: Hampton‘s ambulances and paramedics are running to Exeter and Portsmouth Hospitals multiple times daily in that 10 week window. Police have to budget heavily for the summer months in order to keep control of the happenings. Things in 1933 (when the beach ownership was transferred to the State) were not what they are today from a police point of view, we all know that! The Department of Public works hauls more “sludge” ,which is the residue from waste water treatment, to the Rochester N.H. landfill in the summer months than at any other time during the regular year (we are talking tons!). The Department of Public works is at the beach every day in that critical 10 week period assuring the streets are cleaned and the trash is picked up.
All the above activities are funded by the Hampton Taxpayer. This has to be reconciled in a court of law as the State is not going to voluntarily come forth and pay for these expenses that are directly related to the beach operations. It needs to be presented properly and accurately and argued convincingly by the Town in a court of law as that is the most expeditious way to the final judgements. The “don’t rock the boat” strategy (we will work it out over time) is a failed strategy! This suggested strategy smacks of politics and passivism and I for one cannot support that thinking. As a reminder, at last census, 38% of the Hampton residents were age 55 and over and I don’t believe ,that as a whole, they would embrace that strategy either.