Single vote determines cut in Town's proposed operating budget

Voters send strong anti-tax message

By JANET SEGEDY, Merrimack Connection
Published: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A single vote on an amendment to cut the Town's proposed operating budget by nearly $1.5 million meant a narrow victory for a tax protest group at the first meeting of the Town Deliberative Session on Tuesday, March 7th.

The ballot vote on the operating budget article came more than halfway through the long, noisy and somewhat acrimonious meeting in the All Purpose Room at Mastricola Upper Elementary School, after many of the approximately 350 people who turned out for the meeting had gone home. Those for the amendment spoke of "sending a message" and said there was plenty of fat in the budget and selectmen would still fund what was needed. Those opposed said that those against the budget should have gone to Budget Committee meetings, and that the reduction would mean cuts in services.

The vote of 134 for the amendment and 133 against means the amount on the ballot for the Town's operating budget at the April 11th election will be $25,180,319 instead of the original $26,649,653, lower than the default budget amount of $26,306,512 which will go into effect if voters fail to pass the article.

The evening began with controversy, as tax protesters sought to "zero-fund" the first article on the agenda, a proposal to build a new library through a $5.6 million bond article. Those against the amendment to zero-fund said they agreed the town needed a new library, but objected to the proposed cost, while those in favor of the new building cited the services provided to residents and the crowded conditions in the current library. After a 45-minute debate, the amendment failed on a ballot vote, with 155 people voting yes and 205 voting no. The article will go to the voters unchanged.

A petitioned article to discontinue the Library Construction Capital Reserve Fund, with the money returned to the General Fund, was moved forward from the end of the warrant for consideration and survived intact. Selectman Dave McCray exhorted the group to let voters decide, while those against cautioned that passage of the article would make the tax rate fluctuate too much and that it made sense to save for large expenditures, as the town does in other matters.

A lengthy debate on the article dealing with the adoption of a new Town Charter ended with the article going to the ballot as written. Five articles on contracts with Town employees went to the ballot with little discussion, as did articles on placing unencumbered funds in the library budget in the Library Construction Capital Reserve Fund and on funding a trust for treating milfoil and other invasive species in public bodies of water.

The meeting ended shortly after 11:00 pm, with voters to return the following evening to continue with the rest of the warrant articles.