Hollis reflects on growth, government

HOLLIS – James Squires has been a town resident for the past 30 years. He has served as the town and Hollis School District moderator for the past 20 years. During that time, Squires has had the opportunity to see Hollis change and grow dramatically.

“Even when I moved here, Hollis was still a largely agrarian community. There were 14 dairy farms,” Squires said. “The town clerk had her office at her home. If you had to register your car, you’d go up to (the town clerk’s) house, but not during mealtimes, or she’d yell at you. In 30 years, it’s moved from a farming community to an extremely affluent suburb – in that most people who live in Hollis don’t work in Hollis.”

Squires will offer tidbits from his unique perspective during an upcoming event sponsored by the Hollis Historical Society called, “Hollis Town Government: A Reflection and a Projection.”

The event will take place Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall’s community room. The gathering is free and open to the public.

“It’s OK to describe town government, but what is it supposed to do?” Squires said.Squires said he plans to get residents to examine the way the town currently operates, with a Board of Selectmen but no town manager.

“Is this the form of government that will get us into the future?” he said. “Perhaps we’re big enough to consider a formal town management structure.”

Squires said the most surprising change he’s seen is the town’s growing affluence.

“The fact that Hollis has over a billion dollars of assessed property is such an astounding number in a small town,” he said. “The average price of a house in Hollis is probably $350,000 or $400,000, so you automatically begin to select who can live here. That puts economic pressure on those who are retired on fixed incomes.”

This affluence, combined with the town’s current two-acre zoning, raises other questions about Hollis’ future, Squires said.

“Government is somewhat obligated to support and protect the common good,” he said. “Public safety is obviously in the common good. That we don’t pollute our rivers and groundwater is in the common good.

“When a community may be forcing out its poor citizens or older citizens . . . is it in the common good to have a diverse community by age and income? That is one of the major things we ought to think about. I want to get them to think and mull things over.”

Dotsie Prozellar, the Hollis Historical Society’s program director, said the society is putting together the event for the benefit of the town.

“I think it’s always good to know what’s happening around town. As politics change, the running of the town changes,” she said.

Prozellar said she anticipates that many of those who attend the event will be 60 or older, and hopes they can share some insight into the town’s past.

“I thought it would be interesting to see where we were then,” she said, “but hopefully, we’ll have some youthful attendants, too.”

Squires said the time is nearing when Hollis will reach its “buildout,” a term for the maximum desirable population and development capacity. But he thinks at least one thing will remain the same.

“I think (Hollis) will stay a town,” he said. “Merrimack now surpasses Keene in size and population, but I don’t see if there is any need to become a city. What do they get from that? Even in our very language, we consider ourselves the Town of Hollis.”