The Pittsfield police department will go down to seven full-time officers next year after voters on Saturday defeated an article by secret ballot to keep the department at nine positions.
The item, put on the warrant by citizen petition, would have given the department an extra $150,654 to keep two positions, including a school resource officer, that the select board had axed from the budget in an effort to rein in the tax rate.
People spoke passionately about the item, which took up about a quarter of the five-hour meeting.
Victoria Marcotte said she couldn’t vote because she was a Canadian citizen, but lived in town and paid property taxes. Her son had gotten threatening messages at school, and the officer there – who she had been on a first name basis with – had been a great help.
“I don’t get a vote. But I’m asking you guys to give me back my school resource officer so when this happens, there’s somebody for me to go to,” she said.
Budget committee Chairman Bob Schiferle told voters the committee had spent “days of deliberations” over the article and the budget and decided the town couldn’t afford it.
“The overwhelming consensus was the impact … on the tax rate did not warrant approving this article and this expenditure. It’s about protecting the taxpayer,” he said, adding that the 30 cent impact of the article didn’t take into account the money that would be saved on the school side.
Some, like resident Merrill Vaughan, argued that constantly cutting a services to help bring down the tax rate was counterproductive to growing the tax base.
“Businesses come into town looking for those three key ingredients,” he said, referring to police, fire and the schools.
But resident Randy Severance saw it another way.
“I would propose a counter thought that maybe businesses don’t come into town because we’re the fifth highest tax town in the state,” he said.
Voters ultimately sided with the majorities on the budget committee and select board, and the item failed 124-99.
The operating budget of $4,428,184 passed by a vote of 136-57, also by secret ballot.
Voters also approved a five-year lease-to-purchase agreement for a new work truck for the highway department.
Road agent George Bachelder told voters he had been using his own truck for two decades and was getting a $3,900 stipend from the town for the past 10 years to do it. The truck wouldn’t last much longer, he said, and it was costing him more in gas and maintenance than what the town was reimbursing him for.
Voters also weighed in on a $35,250 article to update the town’s lighting to LEDs, approving the item in a floor vote.
Schiferle told voters that the proposal would have been much more expensive were it not for some grants, and that the budget committee had calculated a payback from the investment in less than three years because of electricity savings.
Residents also overwhelmingly approved an expanded $300 tax credit for veterans by floor vote.
With the budget and warrants that passed, the town’s estimated portion of the tax rate next year will be $10.92, a 3 cent reduction from this year.