Longtime New Ipswich incumbents see challengers this year

NEW IPSWICH — Two long-time incumbents of municipal positions in town are facing competition in this year’s election. The positions of fire chief, held for the last seven years by David Leel, and selectman, a position held by George Lawrence for more than 35 years, are both contested races this year.

The competition for the position of fire chief is a three-way battle between incumbent Fire Chief Leel, Fire Capt. Jim Feldhusen of the New Ipswich Fire Department and Tim Johnson, a resident of New Ipswich who currently serves as Greenville’s emergency management director.

Johnson and Feldhusen both pointed to a common factor in their reasons for running for the position this year: a lack of emergency medical service response by the Fire Department. Seven years ago, when Leel took over as fire chief, half the department was qualified to provide EMS services, said Feldhusen. Now, that number is down to 15 percent, and the department does not respond to EMS calls unless requested.

Johnson and Felhusen both agreed that if elected that is something they would change.

Feldhusen pointed out that certifying members of the department in EMT or first responder training isn’t any more costly than the cost of Firefighter I training. It costs about $700 for EMS training .

Leel said the economy and budget is a concern for fire departments across the state, He said that in the past seven years he has served as fire chief, he has been able to keep the budget fairly flat. That, along with his experience in the position, are some of the main points in his favor, he said.

“Every year in the seven years I’ve been chief we’ve moved forward, and as long as we continue to do that I consider myself an asset,” said Leel. “I know I have the support of the majority of the department and would like to continue leading the department.”

Johnson, however, felt that the resources the department currently has could be allocated better. Johnson said that if he were elected he would cut the current $10,000 stipend for the fire chief. For the amount of calls responded to and the size of the town, he felt $2,000 is a more appropriate sum. The rest of the funds would be moved to train department members in EMS response, he said.

All three candidates agreed that one of the biggest issues currently facing the Fire Department is space. The Fire Department currently uses not only the current Fire Station on Turnpike Road, but also two additional portable classrooms to help ease storage and facility concerns. While having to use multiple locations isn’t ideal for the department, it also costs extra to provide electricity and heat to multiple locations, said Leel.

Leel, Johnson and Feldhusen all spoke in support of an article on the warrant this year to spend $12,500 to determine space needs for a shared emergency facility that would house the Fire Department, Police Department and Emergency Management Department.

Leel is not the only longtime incumbent that is battling for his position. Resident John Veeser is making his first bid for a municipal office, running for Select Board against longtime member and current Chair George Lawrence.

Budget and local economy are the main concern for both Select Board representatives. Lawrence pointed to his years of experience working with the town budget as one of the strengths he is bringing to the table.

Veeser said in an interview Tuesday that some changes must be made to make it easier for larger businesses to move in to town to help broaden the tax base and ease the tax burden on residents, although he noted that isn’t a popular move in many sections of town.

“We make it very difficult to expand business,” said Veeser. “There has to be a balance there between loving our small town and being willing to open ourselves to revenue to ease the burden on the taxpayer.”

Lawrence said in an interview Wednesday that continuing the town’s current road program is a priority concern: “That’s one of the key things and always has been. It’s hard because of the money part of it. Roads are very expensive.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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