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Sanbornton voters approve expanded budget, police cruiser and dump truck

After tacking on some $30,000 for its police and fire departments, Sanbornton voters last night passed a $3.8 million operating budget, an increase of about $153,000 from last year.

The budget included an additional $19,871 for salary increases for police officers and $10,925 for the fire department to hire part-time help two days per week.

Police Chief Stephen 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.

Hankard, who said he’d been with the department for 17 years, described his current staff as the “best group of officers we have had.”

But a persistent turnover issue due to comparably low salaries threatened to disrupt that unity, Hankard said. He cited the example of his lead investigator, Mark McSweeney, who recently accepted a position in the Hillsboro police department, where he will eventually make $10,000 more per year than he would in Sanbornton.

“There’s two things that affect staffing: morale and pay,” Hankard said. “And the morale is certainly not a problem.”

Sgt. Justin Howe, who motioned to add the funds to the budget, told the crowd they were essentially throwing time and money away to train young officers only to lose them after an average of three years to other departments with more attractive salaries.

But some residents questioned whether the pay increases would alleviate the problem.

“I don’t think this is going to prevent the turnover,” resident Don Gagne said, “unless there is some sort of contract for them to sign.”

Others said they supported the motion.

“We have a chief that is doing one heck of a job and he’s making less than a corporal in Tilton,” resident Craig Davis said. “I’m a conservative. I’m not about spending money. But when money needs to be spent it needs to be spent, and I’m all in favor of doing this.”

The additional funds for the fire department would be used to hire part-time help two days per week, said fire Chief Paul Dexter.

Dexter said that before last night’s meeting he had submitted a budget that was below last year’s, and that by reinserting roughly the same amount into the budget he could offer the town more and better service than he had before.

“The town has been outstanding to the fire department for years,” Dexter said. “Now it’s time to invest in putting boots on the ground so we can better protect the citizens of Sanbornton.”

Resident Bill Tobin commended Dexter’s leadership, and said he supported the additional funding because he wanted to see the department “as capable as possible to handle emergencies.”

Voters also added $1,500 to the budget to rent a new pavement roller to temporarily replace the one they have now, which breaks down often.

Town officials had yet to calculate how much the total amended budget would affect the tax rate.

Voters also approved the purchase of a $34,000 police cruiser and the lease of a $168,000 dump truck.

In addition, they green-lighted $5,000 for EMS billing and Paramedic Intercepts, $5,000 for emergency medical equipment and $10,000 for firefighter protective clothing, all to be paid for with existing emergency funds.

And they approved $509,000 for capital expenditures, including $400,000 for roads and the remaining sum for lease payments on various town vehicles and equipment.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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