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Some key issues to look for in 2014

By now, you’ve probably unwrapped that new calendar, and maybe you’ve even thumbed through the months ahead looking for a glimpse of what’s in store. We’re doing the same thing here in the newsroom, and in our discussions we’ve highlighted just a couple of the key issues we believe will help shape the year to come.

Health care: The Affordable Care Act has had a turbulent launch, and its implications remain murky as ever. But from this perspective, one critical aspect is clear: Those in the Monadnock region need Monadnock Community Hospital to be included in the next incarnation of a state network, either by Anthem or by a newcomer. Without inclusion in that network, our health care will become more and more decentralized and out of local control. Health care across the nation is at a crossroads, and that is especially true for our very own critical access facility in Peterborough. Peter Gosline is stepping down as CEO within the next couple of months, and his successor, Cynthia McGuire, must negotiate the very difficult task of ensuring that MCH remains a viable, relevant and financially stable institution. That’s going to require lots of negotiation, some tough decisions and plenty of solid community support. There may be no tougher job in town, and it’s one that will impact us all.

Consolidation: It’s unlikely ConVal voters will be weighing in on any consolidation issues come March. Voters went through this debate during last year’s voting, and though 58 percent said they wanted to give the School Board the go-ahead to come up with a process for combining schools, members of a committee put together to explore consolidation issues say there really is no desire by residents to even look at the options. We don’t agree, and we continue to hope that School Board and Select Board members show a willingness to at least explore a solution that could lower tax bills and offer more opportunities for many students.

ConVal voters will get to see how such a consolidation vote plays out at the polls, though on a much smaller scale. In March, voters in Wilton and Lyndeborough face a proposal to pay for an addition to Florence Rideout Elementary School in Wilton. Such a move would pave the way for Lyndeborough elementary students to attend school in Wilton. Meanwhile, Wilton kindergarten and pre-K students would attend school at what is now Lyndeborough Central. (There’s a meeting to go over proposed building plans Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle and High School.) Many of the same issues are at play, and ConVal voters would be wise to pay close attention to how that vote unfolds.

Energy issues: Just when you thought wind energy had died down in these parts comes the news that a dormant plan by Antrim Wind, which was shot down by the state earlier this year, is once again picking up steam. In March, voters in Antrim will consider a wind ordinance that would allow commercial development. There’s still a lot to learn about Antrim Wind’s possible nine-turbine, 27-megawatt proposal for Tuttle Hill, which might be permitted if the petition warrant article passes. And we know little about any potential response from critics, and whether the state’s previous ruling in any way impacts the plan going forward.

Hopefully, this news will reignite local debate about our region’s energy future. We can talk about whether wind energy is right for our region and our ridgetops, but what we really ought to be asking is whether coal, oil and natural gas are right for our environment. We should discuss why solar energy has failed to gain a foothold in New Hampshire at a time when it’s gaining wide acceptance in Massachusetts and Vermont as viable options, even in the cold Northeast. Why don’t we have better statewide policies that would help lead to more solar development? Why don’t we allow leasing options that would make solar energy a low-cost option for most homeowners, rather than the current model which requires an upfront investment that is prohibitive to most? We lament about the lack of local jobs and the need for a new economy. Perhaps boosting investment in solar energy would help spur our local economy by providing good-paying installation and sales jobs while helping us decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. That ought to be a topic of discussion in every household.

Dare we say, elections? Have you finally gotten over the 2012 elections, one in which we saw Democrats regain control of the N.H. House in a leftward shift that helped Democrats gain key seats in Washington and Concord. Maybe you saw it as a fresh start, or perhaps you feel as confident as ever that we’re still heading in the wrong direction. Regardless, get ready for another onslaught, because these midyear elections promise to be as brutal as ever. While there may not be a presidential election to bring you to the polls, you’ll get to decide whether Rep. Ann Kuster or Sen. Jeanne Shaheen get to keep their seats in Washington, and you’ll have a big say in the makeup of New Hampshire’s House and Senate. And, of course, don’t forget about your local elections.

Economic forecast: Is 2014 the year that we finally bounce back? Of course, it’s impossible to tell from our snow-covered seats in January, but we are asking area business leaders, legislators, job seekers and Realtors to give us their projections for what’s to come over the next year. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, look for our expanded business coverage that will focus on the outlook for 2014.

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