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Barnstead voters deny historical society, approve budget increase

Concord Insider's Ben Conant and Keith Testa

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Concord Insider's Ben Conant and Keith Testa (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

The Barnstead Historical Society’s quest for a new home will have to wait, as voters at yesterday’s town meeting rejected a proposal to purchase land in town for that purpose after a lengthy and often emotional debate.

Voters were otherwise in an agreeable mood, passing all other warrant articles and an amended operating budget of $3,662,415 that exceeded recommendations from both the budget committee and the selectmen. The budget represents a roughly 10 percent, or $353,101, increase over 2012.

The most hotly contested issue of the morning stemmed from a pair of warrant articles asking the town to purchase the Pinkham property near the center of town for $189,000 and appropriate $40,000 more for necessary renovations, for the purpose of storage and display of the historical society’s artifacts.

Historical society member Ed Tasker was at times overcome with emotion in delivering a speech in support of the request, saying “our extensive collection needs a home, a place to show schoolchildren what Barnstead was 100 years ago, even 150 years ago.”

He noted that only two of the original members of the society are still alive and that the group has been seeking a home essentially since its inception.

“After 40 years, please, Barnstead, let the historical society have its piece of the pie.”

Voters were hesitant to serve that slice, though. Several opponents of the articles noted that with potential plans to build a new school and new town hall in the future, current town buildings could soon become available for other uses, such as a place to store historical society artifacts.

Other concerns centered on the potential operating costs and upkeep needs of the older building, while Mary Clarke pointed out that the price was roughly $40,000 higher than the building’s assessment.

“With property taxes now equal to my mortgage, it’s getting awfully hard to stay in this town,” resident Andy Houle said, wary of absorbing what Tasker estimated to be a 40.5-cent increase on the tax rate if the warrant articles were passed.

While many had questions, several residents supported the move, pleading for the town to appeal to its sense of community.

“I keep hearing ‘maybe, maybe, maybe,’ ” Suzanne Allison said of the proposals to use vacated town buildings in the future. “There are a few unanswered questions, but we could be really passing up what feels like a perfect opportunity.”

After nearly an hour of back-and-forth, the question was voted on in a secret ballot, ultimately failing, 128-25.

That wasn’t the end of the matter, though, as Tasker later tried to amend a warrant article to increase a potential $5,000 addition to the historical society’s building capital reserve fund to $50,000, a move that was roundly rejected by voice vote.

Allison then tried to amend the amount to $10,000, which was rejected by a vote of 81-43. Voters ultimately approved the original $5,000 allocation to the fund.

There was little other controversy during the meeting as voters approved $62,927 for a first-year lease payment on a new grader to replace the town’s 27-year-old model, elected to spend $30,000 to replace a police cruiser that was totaled and also opted to upgrade the police department’s computer system for $35,000.

They also approved a new $30,800 exhaust system to improve air quality inside the fire department. The department has applied for a grant that would make the town’s portion of the exhaust system $1,540.

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