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Pembroke voters go after delinquent sewer customers

Paying old bills and hiding new electricity lines dominated Pembroke’s town meeting yesterday.

With recommended spending by the budget committee and selectmen nearly identical, delinquent payments to the sewer department and the threat of tall towers, compliments of the Northern Pass project, were the issues that moved people to the microphone.

Voters amended the proposed budget of $7.66 million, created by the budget committee, and passed the selectmen’s figure, $7.67 million, adding $7,500 to beef up security to stop people from stealing books from the library.

In two articles passed by near unanimous ballot votes, Pembroke will issue $1.2 million in bonds or notes to improve seven local roads, and $300,000 for water line infrastructure.

The town also agreed to stash $583,500 in capital reserve funds, led by $175,000 for municipal facilities and $150,000 for fire equipment.

Pembroke’s tax rate rose 4.5 percent, to $28.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

All that stuff passed easily.

Late bills to the sewer department were another matter.

The problem has gotten so bad that the town voted last year to create a Sewer Study Committee, which gave its analysis and remedies, as was called for in yesterday’s article.

“There have been thousands of dollars in delinquent accounts for years now,” said Dan Crean, a member of the budget committee.

The committee suggested streamlining the payment system by asking residents to pay bills at the town hall through a tax officer. Late bills would be collected through a tax lien on property, and a $30 late fee would be charged for outstanding bills above $36.

The measure passed, but not before longtime Sewer Commissioner Paulette Malo received an ovation for her dedication to the town. Malo lost to Dan Driscoll in a close vote last Tuesday.

Next, debate centered on the Northern Pass project, a supercharged controversy that would bring a 187-mile hydropower line, featuring towers more than 100 feet tall, from Canada, through Pembroke, to Deerfield.

The idea, a collaboration between Public Service of New Hampshire and Hydro-Quebec, is still waiting for federal approval. The two utility giants say the project would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydropower into New England, add jobs and generate tax revenue.

Donald Girard, a senior citizen, used his walker to slowly approach the microphone, then gave Northern Pass a thumbs up. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “that’s free electricity.”

But that’s where support ended. The article called for Pembroke to “state its opposition to any new overhead development of alternating current and direct high voltage transmission lines within its borders; and in turn manifest the town’s strong preference for the burial of such lines.”

Residents want lines hidden, they said, because they worry about eyesores to picturesque land and sagging property values. They also questioned how much juice their town would receive.

“There will be 59 new structures, way above the tree lines,” said resident Mary Straiton. “This is yesterday’s outdated technology for tomorrow’s energy needs. Residents are outraged; they’re scared.”

Straiton added that neighbors such as Massachusetts have already moved away from tall towers. “Bury the lines,” Straiton said. “It’s a win-win.”

Elsewhere, voters chose to spend $40,000 to repair the 135-year-old clock tower on Main Street in downtown Suncook.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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