Epsom voters re-elect Bowes, okay town and school budgets

  • Candidates stand outside the polling place at Epsom Central School on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Voting was postponed in response to last week's winter storm. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tim Riel walks to the voting booth at Epsom Central School on Tuesday. Voting was postponed after winter storm Stella struck the Northeast last Tuesday, when most elections were scheduled to take place. ELIZABETH FRANTZ Monitor staff

  • Declan Fified, 15 months, helps his grandmother vote at Epsom Central School on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Voting was postponed in response to last week's winter storm. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Election workers Mary Fanelli and Janet Howe wait for voters at the town hall in Wilmot on Tuesday. Wilmot was another town that decided to postpone voting due to the snow. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Epsom voters joined the citizens of several other New Hampshire towns Tuesday in casting their town meeting ballots a week late – but in balmy weather – having postponed voting after a nor’easter collided with the second Tuesday in March.

Incumbent selectman Chris Bowes kept his seat, with 355 residents casting their ballots for him instead of budget committee member Virginia Drew, who got 297 votes.

On the school board, incumbents William Yeaton and Gordon Ellis, along with challenger Alison Scheiderer were all vying for two, three-year seats. Yeaton handily kept his seat with 469 votes, and Scheiderer just barely edged out Ellis by two votes – 330-328. A recount is likely given the narrow margin, town moderator Jeff Keeler said Tuesday night.

Both the town’s $3.34 million budget and the school’s $10.89 million budget also passed Tuesday. But the town’s budget – which was projected to result in a 55 cent decrease on last year’s tax rate – passed much more easily. The school’s budget, which was estimated to require a $1.22 bump on the tax rate, eked by, with 325 voting for it and 317 voting against it. All other school warrants also passed.

Meanwhile, the question of what to do with the Epsom Bible Church – or the Meeting House – will continue to bedevil officials.

Epsom voters have rejected multiple million-dollar proposals for a new town office – including one to renovate the church into an office – and so the select board this year pitched a plan to squirrel away money in two separate accounts pending new ideas for projects.

Voters approved Article 9, which put $50,000 from the year-end surplus into a new account dedicated to acquiring a new home for the town’s offices. But they nixed Article 10, 408-247, which would have put $150,000 away for the repair and maintenance of town-owned buildings.

Article 10, which included a 12 cent impact on the tax rate, wasn’t specifically earmarked for the church, but officials had said the money could potentially be used to renovate it and turn it into some sort of community resource, even if it wasn’t a town office.

Sheila Commerford said she voted to approve both the school and the town’s budgets, which she said were “within reason,” but against Article 10.

“I think the increase in taxes is not good for the elderly,” she said.

All other town warrant articles passed.

Last week’s storm left town officials wondering whether or not they could legally postpone elections in weather emergencies, and after an 11th-hour conference with state officials, some decided to do so. A bill was introduced by Democratic lawmakers late last week – Senate Bill 248 – in hopes of protecting towns that delayed voting from legal challenges.

Keeler said Tuesday turnout hadn’t been particularly high, but that while more may have come out to vote in recent town meetings, there had also been bonds on the ballot.

“It’s been a light turnout. But not unexpected because the only thing we have of consequence is a contested Selectmen’s race,” he said.

Keeler said he made the call to postpone the election because he was worried about public safety generally, but also because he thought getting out to the polls might be particularly difficult for people with disabilities or the elderly. He’d been thanked “many, many times” that day by voters, he said.

Diane Masters was one of those grateful voters. She said she wasn’t sure if she would have come out last Tuesday.

“It would have been hairy. I might have come out, but I think it would have been the unwise thing to do,” she said.

But Peter Muise said he would have absolutely come out to vote last week if the town hadn’t postponed. He even admitted to giving town officials some grief about moving the date.

“I mean, what’s some snow? This is New England,” he said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)