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Sanbornton to vote on SB 2 – again

Sanbornton residents will decide today, once again, whether to replace their traditional town meeting structure with an SB 2 system, which separates discussion and voting on warrant articles.

Should the petitioned ballot item pass, the town would no longer hold one meeting in which articles are both discussed and voted on. Instead, it would convene one meeting for discussion on the articles and then a 7 a.m to 7 p.m. closed ballot vote on them the following week.

Proponents of SB 2 claim it would increase voter turnout by providing more time to cast a ballot, while opponents argue that voters who don’t attend the preliminary discussion meeting could be less informed.

“It all boils down to people having a right to vote,” said Bill Whalen, a vocal proponent of SB 2.

Whalen described current voter turnout as “poor.”

Sanbornton has nearly 3,000 residents, according to the 2010 census, but select board Chairman David Nickerson said only about 150 to 200 voters surface for town meetings.

Nickerson said he is staying neutral on the proposed change, but his fellow board member Karen Ober said she’s against it because she fears abandoning the traditional town meeting structure would lead to fewer residents educating themselves on issues.

Increasing voter turnout means nothing if those additional voters are not informed, Ober said.

Whalen said he found the claim that voters would be less informed “insulting.”

“The same information is available for people going to a regular meeting as someone going to an SB 2 meeting,” he said, referring to the fact that the town posts warrant and electoral information online before elections and the town meeting.

Residents have voted on SB 2 numerous times in the past. Last year it received a simple majority but fell short of the 60 percent required.

At the town’s annual meeting tomorrow night, voters will decide whether to approve a roughly $3.78 million operating budget, up about $126,000 from last year.

Town administrator Bob Veloski said yesterday he had not yet calculated how much that would affect the tax rate.

Nickerson said two other items to watch for at the meeting would be requests from the police and fire departments for budget increases. Police Chief Steven Hankard said he wants to institute an 8 percent pay increase for his five full-time officers, to make their salaries competitive with similar departments.

“What it comes down to is our pay is not competitive with other agencies our size in our area,” Hankard said. “We’ve been running in to the problem of we’ll get a great officer, train him for three years and then he’ll move to another town for thousands more. . . . We’re spending all this money just to lose a guy.”

Hankard said the increase would require about an additional $19,000 from the town.

Fire Chief Paul Dexter said his department’s budget as proposed by the budget committee is nearly $10,000 under what it was last year.

He said he hopes to reinstitute that amount into the budget to hire additional maintenance and secretarial help two days per week.

Also on the warrant is a proposal to purchase a $34,000 police cruiser, a six-wheeled dump truck and a $30,000 study to design and assess the costs of both building a new town office and renovating the existing office and public safety building.

Nickerson said the town has outgrown the current facilities.

Meanwhile on the ballot today, Nickerson is vying for his seat against former select-
woman Patsy Wells.

The town meeting begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Sanbornton Central School.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: Due to an editing error an earlier version misstated that the vote on SB 2 would be tomorrow. It is today. The print headline of the earlier version also implied that the town meeting is tonight. It is tomorrow.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackman.)

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