Webster tables bridge project, gives green light to solar array

  • Webster conservation commission member Sally Embley wears a garbage bag and tells town meeting goers about roadside cleanup day on April 29. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Clint Jones, center, joins the other Webster residents taking a brief break outside town hall Saturday during a ballot vote on whether the town should install a solar array. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Lauren Heath, 2, eats raisins and keeps busy during a secret ballot vote on a solar array at Webster town meeting Saturday. Elodie Reed / Monitor staff

  • Jane Difley pauses in her knitting to listen to a point of discussion at Webster town meeting Saturday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Webster held its town meeting Saturday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Webster resident Sue Roberts asks the select board about town policies, specifically those that relate to the police department, during Saturday's town meeting. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Lacombe watches the proceedings at Webster town meeting Saturday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Jon Pearson makes a comment during Webster's town meeting Saturday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, March 18, 2017

At the end of a lengthy back-and-forth over solar panels, some tense discussion about the police department and a decision to delay the town’s bridge replacement project, Webster voters put on a display of good-natured generosity for Saturday’s final warrant article.

While the Webster Historical Society initially requested $5,000 toward an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 restoration of the town’s meeting house, voters agreed to contribute $25,000.

“You should have asked for more money!” moderator Bob Pearson said.

It was a lighter moment following three hours of all business. Webster voters spent almost an hour debating whether a $115,260 solar array should be installed next to the Webster Elementary School soccer field.

Residents had various concerns: what if lightning hit the panels? Were they a fire hazard? How long would they be good for?

Others, like Chris Schadler, applauded the Webster energy committee for researching and putting together the project proposal.

“As a resident of this town, I am proud we’re thinking progressively and about the future,” she said.

Schadler was in the majority – the article passed by secret ballot, 123-51.

Saturday’s most heated conversation – about the police department – took place as voters examined the town budget. Several residents shared their dissatisfaction about police cruisers being taken home by officers, and one criticized the new police chief, Ben Liberatore, for not always appearing in uniform on official business.

“What level of professionalism is expected for our police chief?” Mike Schofield asked.

Select board members Mike Borek and Bruce Johnson said these either fell under personnel issues or were more appropriate for select board meetings – they didn’t see how this related to the budget.

“If you have a budget issue, I will answer it,” Johnson said. “If it’s not a budget issue, I will not answer it. I’m done.”

But Jon Pearson countered that his tax dollars pay for town operations and the formation of town policies.

“If things aren’t being followed, I don’t want to spend my money on it,” Pearson said.

Selectwoman Nanci Schofield said she was currently in the process of reviewing the town’s policies and that they would be discussing those policies soon.

“To me it’s crucial,” she said.

Voters ultimately approved the $1.4 million budget, and they passed every other warrant article except for one. A $575,000 request ($177,000 from tax dollars, $398,000 from capital reserves) for removing and replacing Clothespin Bridge was tabled.

After holding an emergency meeting Friday night, select board members recommended waiting on the project, since the town expects to get funding aid from the state and start construction by 2022.

Borek also said that New Hampshire Department of Transportation had some questions about the bridge replacement design.

“Basically, we’re not ready,” he said.

In the meantime, road agent Emmett Bean plans to maintain the bridge. In addition, voters agreed to put $177,000 into the bridge and culvert capital reserve fund for the future project.