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At town meeting, New London residents vote to buy time for vacant school building

New London residents voted in favor of a proposal last night to “buy time” – $10,000 worth – to keep a vacant middle school building off the market for one year.

Town officials said there’s talk of turning the Cougar Court building into a community center in years to come, and residents felt spending $10,000 to keep the building frozen from potential buyers was a positive investment.

“There should be zero fear,” said resident and former Kearsarge Regional School District board member Gary Markoff. “If we don’t do this now and it all disappears, there is no ‘I want it back.’ ”

The Kearsarge Regional School District owns the 1941 building – which Mount Royal Academy, of Sunapee, also expressed interest in last October.

School board Chairman Peter Bianchi, who was re-elected to a second consecutive three-year term Tuesday night, said the money signifies an agreement between the town and district, saying “the district will not lease, rent, sell or do anything with that building,” in turn, “buying time for the town to evaluate it and make a more informed decision.”

Of the 246 voters who cast ballots on the article, 215 voted in favor of the item and 31 voted against it.

Resident Joe Wallace spoke in opposition, saying there are too many unknowns associated with the project.

“We should not make the taxpayers pay $10,000 if we still don’t know what we want,” he said.

More than 250 residents attended last night’s annual town meeting at the Kearsarge Regional Middle School gymnasium in New London and acted on 13 warrant articles.

Residents shot down one article last night – 142-108 – that would have added $25,000 to the Conservation Land Acquisition Capital Reserve Fund. The item was the only one not supported by the board of selectmen and town’s budget committee.

The monies would have been added onto the adopted $7.2 million operating budget, but residents and board members said they felt the existing $449,291 in the conservation reserve fund was sufficient.

“There is a fair amount of money there already and when they need to spend money on something they’ll come ask us again,” said resident Peter Bloch.

New London residents approved each article associated with the operating budget and also supported all three expenditures from existing capital reserve funds.

The capital reserve fund withdrawals will refurbish a rescue engine, replace a 2010 police cruiser and replace a transfer station tractor and two Muffin Monster sewage grinders. In addition, a stone wall at Tracy Library and sidewalk and paving improvements in town can now be made.

Residents also favored placing $489,000 into capital and noncapital reserve funds, a move that is done every year to level future expenditures, Bianchi said.

“Months ago we spent about $860,000 on a new ladder truck,” Bianchi said. “The intent there is to not end up in 2012, say, raising and spending $860,000 – then the tax rate goes up like a ping pong ball in a wind storm.”

Bianchi beat running mate John Lewis for the only available seat on the board of selectmen, 392-75, during Australian ballot voting Tuesday night.

John Wilson, Patricia Blanchard and Phyllis Piotrow won budget committee seats, and Fiona Mills and Kristina Regan were elected Tracy Memorial Library trustees in the only other two contested races on the ballot.

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