Why wait? Allenstown Town Meeting dates go unchanged

  • Lyla Scheyd, 6, goes into the voting booth wih her grandmother Joann Scheyd at the St. John’s Parish Hall in Allenstown on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Lyla Scheyd, 6, goes into the voting booth wih her grandmother Joann Scheyd at the St. John’s Parish Hall in Allenstown on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/28/2021 4:03:23 PM

While scheduling town meetings is a difficult job for local officials this year, Allenstown’s strategy isn’t complicated at all.

Unlike the other towns that have delayed meetings or are exploring replacement dates due to COVID, Allenstown, is simply staying the course: Deliberative session, as planned, on Saturday at 9 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Parish Hall. The town’s polls will be open on election day, March 9, as well.

Keith Klawes, chair of the town’s Budget Committee, said the last election provided needed experience.

“In November we had large numbers of people lined up to vote in the general election,” Klawes reasoned. “Everyone wore masks, and if they did not want to wear a mask, we had special areas and policies in place, so based on voting in November, I do not think this will be an issues.

“These meetings are not well attended, anyway, unless something big happens.”

Up for debate is a $4.34 million proposed budget, a 6.2% increase from last year. The default budget is $4.2 million. Town administrator Derik Goodine said the tax rate will hold steady at about $9.62.

But in the strange world of the pandemic, six weeks shy of a year-long run of life-altering consequences, this time of year extends beyond the nuts and bolts of town budgets and taxes. The safest way to hold annual meetings during a pandemic looms larger than the warrant articles themselves.

Some towns have taken a cautious approach, postponing their meetings into the warmer months – April, May, June or July –after Gov. Chris Sununu announced last week that towns have options to do as they please within the framework he established.

Town officials in Allenstown realize that their business-as-usual mindset may very well come with complaints from worried voters, especially seniors, who are more vulnerable to the COVID virus than anyone else.

Conversely, postponing both the meeting and election day, officials said, would have drawn the same ire from residents if the town had chosen to wait.

“There will be blow-back, always a group of people who will not be happy with a decision that is made,” Klawes said.

More static may be on the horizon. Saturday’s deliberative session will allow voters who stay home to follow along remotely, with instructions on how to join the meeting online posted on the town’s website.

And while people can submit questions and suggestions from home, those thoughts will not be entered into the official process that, in the SB2 format, determines the final town warrant that voters will see on Election Day.

Goodine was disappointed with that decision, made by state politicians in Concord.

“My biggest frustration is that they are not allowing me to have interaction through Zoom,” Goodine said in an email. “I get it if they don’t want people to be able to vote from Zoom (on election day), but asking questions or commenting should be allowed in my opinion, given the fact that the drive-thru voting concept allows people to leave voice mails, emails, or call and ask questions.”

Klawes had a suggestion for those who plan to participate from home, saying groups of people can organize and send someone in person to Saturday’s deliberative season to relay their thoughts and questions into the record.

Klawes said the town has an incentive to forge ahead as opposed to delaying.

“If we do not vote until May, that could impact and get in the way of this highway garage we want to build,” he said. “If this passes in March, the town can move forward on getting the garage started.”

That article calls for moving $125,000 from an unassigned fund into the already-established Highway Garage Capital Reserve Fund. The tax rate would not be affected.

There will be discussion on the proposed Sewer Operating Budget of $2.3 million, with a default budget if the initial one fails of $2.314 million, the same cost as last year.

Voters, in a repetitive theme on the warrant, will choose which capital reserve funds should be dissolved and which ones will increase their balances.

Any and all town-related topics will be discussed, things like the COVID-related loss of revenue from the meals and rooms tax, which Klawes said is not as damaging as people might think.

He’s feels the same way about COVID.

“As far as I know, the meeting is still on,” Klawes said. “I am still planning on being there, and I have heard nothing differently.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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