With low attendance, a speedy deliberative session in Pittsfield

The sign outside Pittsfield Town Hall is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

The sign outside Pittsfield Town Hall is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz


Monitor staff

Published: 02-05-2024 5:51 PM

The deliberative session of the Pittsfield Town Meeting last Saturday attracted less than two dozen residents, who flew through 30 articles in an estimated 30 minutes.

“We knocked them right out of the park,” Pittsfield Select Board Chairman Carl Anderson said. “There was almost no discussion.”

And while some voters no doubt were pleased they could be home before noon and have more time to enjoy their weekends, Anderson longs for the old days, when a town meeting included a warrant created ahead of time by various committees, then an actual meeting to approve, reject or amend the articles, putting a final stamp on budgets and expenditures and relying on a show of hands to determine the official count.

The statute for Senate Bill 2, or SB2, surfaced in 1996 and now includes more than 70 schools in the Granite State. Voters can discuss and amend warrant articles at their deliberative session, but the final vote on the articles is a secret ballot at the polls on Election Day, which this year is March 12.

“It’s a complete reversal from old town meetings,” Anderson said. “I’m disappointed because I don’t think the SB2 does taxpayers justice.”

Using the SB2 method, Pittsfield approved an operating budget of $5.74 million. If passed at the polls, the tax impact would be $9.04 per thousand dollars of assessed value, or $168 more a year for a house valed at $300,000. Last year’s tax impact was $8.48.

Big-money ballot items approved included $250,000 to buy a dump truck for the public works department, authorizing the withdrawal of $176,000 from the public works dump highway truck capital reserve fund, leaving a balance of $74,000, to be funded by taxation.

Elsewhere, a $400,000 grant was approved for a new tanker for the fire department, and $63,000 was allocated for a police cruiser, paid for with $3,000 from the police special detail fund and $60,000 from the police cruiser capital reserve fund.

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Also, the town’s union negotiator, Jim Adams, hammered out two separate union deals for salaries and benefits, agreeing with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union 633 for an increase of $65,650 for the upcoming school year, $37,317 next year and $42,534 in 2026.

The AFT-NH Local 6214 Union agreed to an increase of $63,697 for the upcoming school year, $56,009 in 2025 and $38,898 in 2026.

Local 6214 represents two police sergeants and one lieutenant. Chief Joe Collins has the freedom to expand the budget to fill those roles, Adams said, but the department is running well with the staff it currently employees.

The Teamsters represent six officers, including four who are full-time.

“We’re fortunate,” Adams said. “We give and take. What happens behind close doors stays there. We have to be competitive to pay for firemen, police and public works, and we did the best we could to meet in the middle.”

As an SB2 town, residents must wait for results on Election Day before knowing which articles passed and which did not. It’s a system that has caused controversy among residents and town officials, some of whom prefer the traditional town meeting of voting for and finalizing articles in an open forum.

Anderson said he had no idea how the SB2 format would work when his town adopted it a few years ago. He says he soon learned that more people showed up for the traditional town meeting to vote on articles and finalize the warrant than they do for SB2’s deliberative session. “We get no where near the people that our town meeting used to get,” Anderson said.”

“At the start of (SB2 meetings), I didn’t know,” Anderson continued “But it has made itself abundantly clear that too many people go to the polls who are looking at issues and who have not gone through (the) vetting (process), so it puts people at a disadvantage because they have not heard both sides of the articles, and it makes for outcomes that are not necessarily made by well-informed voters.”

Anderson hopes interest in the Pittsfield Town Meeting will one day increase, although he believes that that goal is made more difficult with the SB2 style.

“They want to get the voting done in one swoop and not have to take up a Saturday or be there for one that lasts into the night,” Anderson said. “We have low voter participation at any of the budget meetings or any other informational meetings, so it’s a little discouraging that voters are making up their minds after reading the article for the first time.”

Meanwhile, the Pittsfield School meeting, also the SB2 format, will be held on Thursday night at 7 at the Pittsfield Middle High School Media Center.

Voters will address a proposed operating budget of $10.9 million, which would be an increase of $520,400, or 5%, over the current budget. Most of the hike comes from an 18.6% rise in health insurance costs.

Also, the school district wants more special education para-educators, after three roles were cut last year. Other potential cuts to lower the budget include the yet-to-be-filled foreign language and math teachers, and cutting money from the school budgets and grants for the reading and guidance specialists.