Henniker okays keno, approves much-discussed shift of historic road

  • Perhaps in honor of St. Patty’s Day, green cards were used to vote at Henniker town meeting on Saturday. David Brooks / Monitor staff

  • Henniker town meeting, March 17, 2018. David Brooks—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/17/2018 8:19:39 PM

A proposal to shift 900 feet of historic dirt road in a historic district, moving it away from a historic house but into a protected conservation area, was approved by voters at town meeting Saturday, 83-56, but not before it produced impassioned debate for the second year in a row.

In other business Saturday, voters also:

Voted to allow keno, the lottery-like gambling game, to be offered in town by a 50-36 margin.

Passed without discussion a $5.09 million operating budget, which is $109,000 or 2.1 percent more than last year’s budget. The tax impact, they were told, would be small to none because of unexpected revenue since the town report was written.

The meeting at Henniker Community School lasted more than six hours, one of the longest in years largely because it contained five secret-ballot votes on five separate items, two of which required polls to be kept open at least an hour.

As also happened last year, perhaps the most heated discussion occurred on the request by Walter and Katherine Pollard to be allowed to shift a portion of Quaker Street, which runs between their 19th-century home and barn in a historic portion of town. The Pollards, who live in Boston, bought the house four years ago and occupy it most weekends with their four children; they argue that the road is unsafe both because it passes within 11 feet of their house and because of its curves through their property.

After the vote was announced, Walter Pollard said the family would be inviting the move’s opponents to discuss the matter.

“It has gotten very emotional,” he said of the debate. “There are people who have lived in the area for multiple generations, we’ll get input from them as we proceed.”

The actual move of the road will have to be approved by the town planning board.

Opponents argued that the change would alter a beautiful historic district and were particularly concerned because the new road would be moved into a conservation easement established by the Davison family.

“This is chipping away at a conservation easement,” argued Marty Davis. She read a portion of a letter from Lucy Davison, who helped establish the easement held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, who objected to the move out of fear that making “unnecessary charges to suit each new owner, the beautiful neighborhood will be destroyed.”

Another topic of long discussion was a petitioned warrant article to establish an elected municipal budget committee. It was soundly rejected, 126-35.

The municipal budget committees would prepare budgets for both the town and the school districts and present them at annual meeting, instead of having budgets presented separately by the select board and school board.

Stephanie Payeur, a member of the current budget advisory committee, which is appointed by the select board and only concerns the town budget, argued that this approach would allow better oversight of spending. About 140 towns in New Hampshire have such elected committees, she said.

“We felt it was quite rushed. We didn’t have time to do enough research,” she said of the current arrangement. The appointed committee only operates in the winter, while an elected committee would be established year round.

She said looking at both town and school budgets would help control taxes.

Opponents of the idea, however, said the plan was a back-door attempt to cut spending that added an unnecessary layer to town government and would undercut more knowledgeable boards.

“This is a big change. It’s not something we should be talking about at just one meeting,” said Barbara French. “Most of us don’t understand the details.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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