After a six-hour long meeting, Boscawen approves town budget and warrant articles

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-26-2023 8:25 AM

In a meeting lasting six hours, over 180 residents packed into Boscawen’s elementary school gym Saturday to vote on a modified version of the proposed budget and warrant articles after residents previously expressed criticism over a plan to increase spending.

Following calls to rein in spending at a February hearing, the select board and budget committee presented a smaller budget at the annual town meeting. However, voters raised concerns that the modified budget remained too high and would pose a significant burden on taxpayers, particularly amid ongoing inflation.

Lorrie Carey, the select board chair, said that following public input, several reductions were made, including cuts to salaries. The select board’s ability to make donations has also been restricted due to budget constraints, she said.

“We just needed to make it as bare bones as we possibly could, and we’ve heard feedback from the public that they’re concerned that a lot of the reduction was done on the back of employees,” said Carey. “This is true. There are some employees here who have not got merit increases since 2016.”

Despite an amendment to reduce the operating budget by $75,000, the revised budget of $4.8 million was eventually approved. While it represented a 6% increase from the previous year, it was still a lower figure than the original proposal, which called for an 11% increase.

When it came time to vote on the funds to be put into the town’s capital reserve fund, the debate echoed the previous discussion on the operating budget, with an amendment proposed to reduce the funds by $34,000.

The proposed amendment aimed to decrease the budget for the fire station and municipal buildings by $35,000 and $34,000, respectively. However, the funds for the public works building were raised by $25,000 to cover replacement costs.

Kim Kenney, the wife of the town’s fire chief, spoke up in response to the amendment. She stressed the importance of providing funds for the fire station to install shower facilities for firefighters and explained that firefighters need to clean themselves after responding to rescue calls that put them in contact with sick people.

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“If they go to a fire and they’ve been in a burning building, they should not be coming to their personal houses and bringing everything from the calls into our homes and I don’t know if $15,000 is enough to build a shower,” said Kenney. “These [firefighters] people need to be supported and taken care of because they’re doing it out of a passion to do it for our town.”

The amendment passed by a narrow margin of 71-70, but the moderator, Charlie Niebling, voted against it, resulting in the amendment’s defeat.

The town ultimately decided to approve an addition of $351,000 to the capital reserve fund, which included money set aside for the purchase of a fire truck and police cruiser.

One of the articles that was rejected after much discussion was the proposal for the town to collect an additional $5 fee for motor vehicle registration. The fee was intended to cover the expenses related to road improvements, such as street lighting, bridge repair and road paving. While some saw it as a necessary step toward future preparedness, others considered it an unnecessary expense.

Bill Bevans, a recently elected member of the select board, opposed the idea, calling it a “nuisance tax” that could add up for people who owned multiple vehicles.

“I understand it’s only a $5 cup of coffee but why would you have to raise that?” asked Bevans. “I would have to pay $50 for the amount of vehicles that I have with my business.”

The article was defeated by a 122-48 count.

Another issue on the ballot that drew mixed reactions from voters was the choice to end tax benefits for property owners with rooftop solar systems. Some residents had argued that the exemption gave unfair advantages to solar power users and that it was time to end the tax break. However, a majority of voters disagreed and chose to keep the exemption in place.

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