Town Meeting 2016 Results, Article by Article

Budget passes, noise ordinance defeated

By Charlie Darling, Beacon staff

The 2016 Andover Town Meeting on March 8 began with Town Moderator Dan Coolidge introducing the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee. Next he read the moderator’s rules for the meeting and concluded by saying, “My job is not to take sides. It is to keep the meeting moving smoothly.”

Article 1

The election of Town and School District officers was handled by ballot voting prior to the meeting.

Article 11: Noise Ordinance

Selectman Jim Delaney moved that Article 11 be considered before Article 2, and the motion passed.

Police Chief Glenn Laramie introduced the article, a new noise ordinance: Andover has had a noise ordinance for a long time, but we don’t use it a lot. It only covers “misuse of power,” like squealing tires.

We needed to use it a few months ago, but found it was unenforceable. It doesn’t list any penalties and doesn’t fit the needs of the town. The judge said that it’s not a good ordinance and that we need a new one. The Board of Selectmen took the ball and ran with it.

Bill Keyser: This new ordinance is too restrictive for a small town. Some points don’t make any sense. (Applause.)

Todd Adams: I was one of the original complainants. This new ordinance was not my goal. My goal was the misuse of power, which is not enforced, and the state law on disturbing the peace, which is not enforced. This is an overreaction by the Board of Selectmen. It’s time to start enforcing the laws that are on the books for the town and the state. This is ridiculous. I can’t mow my lawn on Sunday. I can’t cut wood on Sunday. This is an overreaction.

Andy Guptill: This was done with the best of intentions, but it’s not what’s best for Andover. It outlaws jake-brakes on commercial trucks, which are there for safety. It outlaws yelling, shouting, hooting, and whistling on public streets; keeping of animals, birds, and pets that make long or continued noise; exhaust not through a muffler, which means you wouldn’t be able to start your race car to put it on the trailer. In the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say No.”

Selectman Vicky Mishcon: This ordinance is a like a speed limit; you’re not going to get stopped for a minor infraction. These are guidelines; you’d have to do it over and over for a long time for it to be a violation. It’s common sense. These are only violations if you misuse these things. It gives the officer a chance to investigate a complaint and do nothing, or issue a warning.

Becky Dobretz: I’ve lived with people starting up their trucks at 6 in the morning, and it doesn’t disturb me. If I have a problem with it, I’d go speak to my neighbor. Let’s be a community. We do not need to have an ordinance on this. It doesn’t disturb me, because I’m a neighbor and a friend. Noise is not an issue in this town. (Applause.)

Jim Delaney: The Board of Selectmen did not start this noise ordinance. We had a person knock on every selectman’s door on the Fourth of July complaining. Let the people who complained take responsibility for this.

Todd Adams: It was the 2 AM stuff. You told me you can’t enforce state law. Why not? Why can’t you answer the question?

A shouting match between the moderator and Todd Adams ensued, the upshot of which was Todd being removed from the meeting shouting, “Why can’t you answer my question?”

Jim Thompson: We have faith in our police. I think they’re the ones who should present to us next year the ordinance they think they need.

Wood Sutton: Could Chief Laramie tell us what’s enforceable?

Chief Laramie: We don’t use the state laws because they’re too detailed. If we don’t have a town ordinance and somebody spins their tires and we charge them under state law, they now have a criminal record and a $1,200 fine.

Reckless conduct is a major offense in New Hampshire; it would be three points on your license and loss of license for 60 days. Is that what you want for spinning your tires?

We need something we can use at our discretion. It’s the officer’s discretion, just like a speeding ticket or a warning. We don’t use the state laws because they don’t fit the crime.

Jeff Miller: I understand discretion; but at the end of the day, we’d be passing a law that would make three-quarters of this town criminals, and I think that relying on discretion is unfair to you and to the voters. (Applause.)

Carla Levesque: I’m opposed because the ordinance is very vague. Whose opinion prevails on what’s disturbing and what’s not? (Applause.)

Article 11 was defeated. A motion to restrict reconsideration of Article 11 passed.

Article 2: Proposed Budget

Arch Weathers, chair of the Budget Committee: This budget is a collective effort, but not necessarily unanimous. It acknowledges the critical need to continue to reinvest in our community. The bulk of the increases come from staffing; health insurance; legal expenses; election expenses (with four elections to run this year); highway projects; and Information Technology costs for off-site back-up.

On the good side, last year’s semi-annual billing produced $7,000 in savings.

The Capital Improvement Plan committee is on track for reporting in 2017 on a thoroughly-vetted capital needs projection and schedule of implementation, including clerical support for the Budget Committee.

Ed Hiller, Budget Committee member: Speaking to the bottom-line impact on taxes is complicated because you have to convert the gross budget we vote on to the net budget that impacts taxes by considering things like funds withdrawn from capital reserve funds or funds provided from the unexpended fund balance. Taking the gross budget plus the warrant articles we’ll vote on, less other funding sources, shows a net increase over last year of $300,711, which could add about $1.20 to the tax rate, raising a property’s total tax bill by about 5.9%.

Moderator Dan Coolidge walks the meeting through the sections of the proposed budget, asking for questions or comments on each.

Wood Sutton: I find this budget a disservice to the taxpayers. I think the increases are extraordinary. I think things that are left out of it are going to hit us in the future, like $200,000 for the Lawrence Street Bridge that was in there last year. Wood moves to reduce total budget, but Dan rules it out of order at this point, suggesting it would be in order at the end.

Toby Locke: Why has Town Clerk gone up so much?

Town Administrator Marj Roy: Part of it is that there are four elections in 2016. Vital records expenses have gone up, though it’s actually a wash because they come in as fees paid, but we have to show the increased expenses in the budget. You’d have to turn to the Sources of Revenue page to see the revenue that we expect to offset that expense.

Another increase in the budget is having 735-5018 as a direct line to the Town Clerk and Tax Collector’s office. Postage is up, too.

Toby: Tax Collector has gone up $3,600 – is that from semi-annual billing?

Marj: Part of it is postage. There are office supplies. Printers used to be taken care of by the state, but no more. None of it is additional wages due to semi-annual billing, because both the Tax Collector and her deputy are salaried, not hourly.

Wood Sutton: The Interest on TAN (Tax Anticipation Note) line item should be in Financial Administration. We didn’t spend last year’s $12,000 on TAN. I’d call it a slush fund. This year we have $5,000 in there that again won’t be spent and again will be some sort of a slush fund. I think we all understand that the budget line items can be switched around by the selectmen any way they want once we agree on the bottom line.

Wood moves to reduce the Interest on TAN line item to $0. The moderator rules the motion out of order because the line item appears at the end of the budget and the discussion is currently on the Financial Administration section.

Wood moves to move the Interest on TAN line item into the Financial Administration section, and the motion is seconded.

Marj: The budget is organized by state account numbers, which is why Interest on TAN is at the end. If we move it to Financial Administration, we’ll have to move it back when we do the state reports. It’s where it’s supposed to be in the chart of accounts. But you can move it if you want.

The motion to move the Interest on TAN line item fails.

A question was asked about the Longevity Stipends included in the budget.

Marj: Full-time employees who have been on the job between one and five years receive $250 on their hire anniversary; between five and 10 years, $500; 10 or more years, $750.

Bill Keyser: I was on Bud Comm when this came about. What this is is a bonus, but with state law you can’t give bonuses. I said that’s taxpayer’s money you’re giving away.

Toby Lock: Why did FICA and Medicare go up $10,000?

Marj: You have to budget for what they call “maximum exposure,” for anything that might come down the road. There are things in the budget that might bring new employees on board or increase current employees’ hours, and the FICA and Medicare line item need to cover the increased payroll.

Toby: What happens if those things don’t happen, and we don’t spend the money?

Marj: The money goes into the general fund.

Toby: The planning and zoning administrative assistant for $14,000: What are they going to do? How many hours will they work?

Marj: It’s actually a planning and zoning coordinator; I was supposed to have changed that title in the budget.

Nancy Teach, Planning Board: The new coordinator will work approximately 20 hours per week at $13 per hour. They will be responsible for filing correspondence, reviewing applications. We want to be sure we’re serving the town, but we’re finding we’re behind in the work we need to do.

We also need to be carrying through on the Master Plan, which we haven’t been able to do. We’ve been trying to bring several warrant articles forward, but we weren’t able to because we got bogged down in work. It’s going to be a posted position and will be up for review annually, like all Town positions.

The Planning Board has not turned in a budget for the last several years, which accounts for a lot of the increases you see. When expenses were incurred, Marj has had to be creative about finding the money to cover them.

Chuck Keyser: Could this part-time position become a full-time position with benefits and everything?

Marj: That is not the plan. That’s not even been talked about.

Toby: Why is building maintenance up over $4,000?

Vicky Mishcon: We had an energy audit of the Town Hall done at no cost several years ago, and it showed that there’s almost no insulation in the walls in the library section of the Town Hall. This money is going to be used to insulate those walls. We did fix the broken window in the attic. We also need ventilation in the vault, because there’s mold in there and the records are rotting.

Greg Stetson: Why is the Custodian line item up $5,500?

Marj: We haven’t had enough money built into past budgets to have anybody do anything but clean. This new position will be shared between the Town Office, the Police Department, the Andover Public Library, and Bachelder Library.

Chuck Keyser: Cemetery Labor went away last year when we hired two part-time Town employees, but now it’s back.

Marj: In this year’s budget, we’ve put those employees’ expenses in the departments that they’ll be working for. So their expenses show up in the Cemetery section, in the Recreation section for the work they do in Blackwater Park, and in Buildings for the Town Office mowing. We’re trying to show expenses in the sections where they actually happen.

Herbie Barton: What is the $7,700 in projects under Cemeteries?

Bill Keyser, Cemetery Trustee: In the East Andover cemetery, we’ll do some roadwork on the interior; at Proctor Cemetery we’ll extend the waterlines; at the church cemetery in East Andover we’ll repair and paint some of the roadside pipe. The hedge at Proctor Cemetery needs to be clipped and trimmed, which requires a small lift because the hedge is so tall. We’ll repair six or eight headstones; buy Memorial Day flags; pay the sexton; take down a maple tree in Proctor Cemetery, and remove two stumps. (Applause.)

Mark Stetson: Historically, the John Proctor Trust [one of the Cemetery trust funds held by Andover’s Trustee of Trust Funds] has paid for the hedge trimming.

Toby: $15,329 is more than we’ve been paying private people to take care of the cemeteries. My cousin Jackie did it a few years ago for $9,000.

Marj: There was a lot of clean-up that was done, and I believe that the cemeteries were mowed more frequently.

John Thompson, Road Agent: Proctor and East Andover cemeteries went to weekly mowing instead of biweekly or sometimes monthly. Some of the money in earlier budgets wasn’t reported in the right place; when you put it in the right place and add it all up, the cemeteries were well over $18,000. Now we’re at $16,000. Next year you’ll be able to compare apples-to-apples.

Herbie Barton: Why are we paying to have private stones repaired?

Bill Keyser: After 150 years, I’d say the Town owns them. Most of the stones getting repaired date back into the 1800s.

Herbie: I hope the Town doesn’t start paying for private stones that break. Does the Town own the shrubbery we’re trimming at Proctor Cemetery?

Marj: Yes

Andy Guptill: Usually when a cemetery plot is bought from the Town, it’s bought with Perpetual Care, which means that the Town is responsible for all maintenance from that point on, including the stones.

Toby: Why are we at $21,000 on health insurance?

Marj: Part is due to rate increases; part is that we have to budget for what they call “maximum exposure.” Because the Highway budget includes making the two part-time employees full-time, we have to show their new benefits here in the Insurance section.

We’re looking at other alternatives that might be less expensive. And everyone who’s on Town insurance went to a lower plan last July in order to cut the Town’s cost. We’re very aware and trying to keep it as low as we can.

Wood: What is MainStay?

Marj: MainStay Technologies, out of Belmont, is our IT department. That line item covers our contract with them for the Town Office, the Town Clerk and Tax Collector, the Police Department, and the Cable TV station. The service contract amount seems high, but we don’t pay them an hourly rate. We call them whenever we want, and they come and we don’t get billed.

IT is so all-encompassing at this point – there’s not a department that operates without it, not even the Transfer Station – that it needs to be a section in the budget by itself. The IT section includes software support for the Town Clerk, the Tax Collector, assessing software, and accounting software, each of which is a separate software package. It also includes the postage meter, the copier, and our Internet connection.

Tina Cotton: When there was a Cable TV Committee, Comcast was supposed to provide free service for the Town, the libraries, and the schools.

Marj: I’ve talked at length with them, and it’s only cable TV service they provide for free, not Internet access.

Karen Brule: Could you give us an update on Lawrence St Bridge, which isn’t in this year’s budget?

Marj: Jeff Newcomb suggested going to a bond when it comes nearer time to do the Lawrence Street bridge. That’s what’s being looked at now, and that’s why there’s nothing in this year’s budget for it. It could be 2022 before the state is ready to move forward on the bridge.

Karen: Seriously?

Marj: Yes.

Karen: Does the Town have an emergency evacuation plan for the people who live on the other side of the bridge, should it fall in tomorrow?

Marj: It’s not in that kind of condition.

Vicky Mishcon, Selectman: The part you drive on and the substructure that support it are in good condition. It’s the stonework and abutments that are slowly deteriorating. Water and sand have gotten in and are making the concrete slowly flake off.

We met with bridge engineers and they said it’s in no danger of falling down before it gets repaired. They said it will be useable, though we’ll have to limit weight.

The other news they gave us is the cost. The “Cadillac” version would be $2.5 million, and they’re not anticipating we’ll need the Cadillac version. It will be much smaller, probably less than $1 million burden on us.

Karen: I’d really like the Town to have a plan, just in case, for getting people and emergency vehicles in and out, even if just temporarily.

Vicky: There are temporary bridges that they can put over the river.

Lynn George: Two places in the budget show the grader operator for $21,000.

Marj: It’s an error.

Toby: What’s going on with the beaver deceiver? Why do you have $5,000 in there if they only cost $2,500?

Vicky: Whenever we do a major project near beaver activity, we’re going to use a beaver deceiver to prevent them from blocking up the culvert. We’re planning to put in one this year, but we’ve budgeted for a second one in case a culvert fails unexpectedly this year, as one did last year.

Lynn: We’re hiring the two part-time Town employees as full-time now, which means benefits. Doesn’t that have to be voted on?

Marj: It doesn’t.

Lynn: Part of the vote last year was that we wouldn’t hire them as full-time this year. I’d like to amend the budget to keep them as part-time.

John Thompson, Road Agent: The intention never was to keep them part-time forever. The intention was to start them part-time, see how it went, and come back to Town Meeting with updates and changes as this change went along. That’s what we’re doing tonight. The choice is still yours. We’re just putting out there what we feel is the best service for the Town for the best cost.

John Kinney: Has anybody considered adding a third part-time employee?

Jim Delaney, Selectman: It would cost more than making the two part-time employees full-time.

Marj: We have a spreadsheet that shows that the highway, cemetery, beach, ballpark, and Town Office work the two part-time employees did saved us $106,388 overall.

Pecco Beaufays: The beach and the streets have never looked better than during the last year. (Applause.)

Lynn: They did such a great job last year working part-time that we should keep them as part-time again this year.

John Thompson: One major confusion is that the labor budget covers more than just the two new full-time positions. It also includes the grader operator and anyone else we have to hire for special jobs.

Marj: It would take me a few minutes to work up a number for what the increase from part-time to full-time would cost. But it’s not a huge amount.

There followed an extensive, detailed discussion about what that number might be and all the different line items it would impact. Vicky estimates the increased cost from part-time to full-time is $10,000. The crowd seems to think that’s too low.

Brad Hardie: My understanding of last year’s vote was that we were going to try it out. As Pecco said, the town looks great. I think as taxpayers we have to think about quality of life for people who work for us and you only get what you pay for. I think we’re going to get a better quality product by having two full-time people who are invested in the community. Everyone here wants to work at a place that has healthcare. I think it’s ridiculous for us as taxpayers not to do the same for the people who serve us. (Applause.)

The motion to keep the part-time employees part-time is withdrawn.

Herbie Barton: Single-stream recycling (SSR) is costing us more per ton to send out than it costs to send out regular garbage. If we get rid of SSR, we won’t need a third person at the Transfer Station. We could recycle cardboard but send the rest to Penacook to burn it.

Andy Guptill: I move we reduce the Transfer Station line by $6,943 in order to get rid of SSR. That would give you enough money to take the 200 tons that was going into SSR and pay for it to be transported as trash.

Jim Delaney: I understand your concern, but if you cut the SSR line item, then we have to buy two balers to handle the cardboard for recycling. So we have to find what it will cost for two balers and go back to the old way, which I don’t have any problem with at all.

Herbie: My thought is to use the SSR compactor just for cardboard so you won’t have to buy a baler. It’s common sense.

The motion to amend the Transfer Station line item fails.

Toby: Why is there $3,000 for getting rid of glass.

Marj: We can’t keep stacking it there. We have to get rid of it.

Vicky: We can get rid of the glass at $30 per ton. If it’s in the SSR, it costs $74 per ton. If it’s in the trash, it costs $65 per ton. We would like to continue SSR, but keep glass on the side to get the big savings over the SSR rate.

Andy Guptill: After hearing Budget Committee’s explanation of the tax impact of the proposed budget, I crunched some numbers myself. Taking the total budget plus the warrant articles minus the revenues, I get $911,472. Last year’s amount was $1,021,829. That means the amount to be raised by taxes would be a reduction, not a $300,000 increase.

Ed Hiller: Last year we had non-tax revenue from a capital reserve fund of $225,000 and a small amount from the technology fund. That reduced the amount last year and makes the difference between last year and this year an increase.

A vote is called, and Article 2 passes. A motion to restrict reconsideration of Article 2 is made and passes.

Article 3: Capital Reserve Funds

Article 3 passes with no discussion.

Article 4: Expendable Trust Funds

Article 4 passes with no discussion.

Article 5: Forest Fire Truck

Arch Weathers: The Budget Committee is not recommending this article, but it’s not a stamp of disapproval by any means. We deliberated about this quite a bit. It’s a new capital item, and our plate was pretty full with other expenses.

The fact that the Capital Improvement Plan committee is at work means it makes sense for this to be one of the items they consider. There isn’t any question in the Budget Committee’s mind that this is a piece of equipment that is needed. Our firefighters are using their own equipment, so it’s a no-brainer to me that this is something that will be recommended next year. But we felt it could wait one more year.

Mr. Sava: Taking your own vehicle to a forest fire is something you don’t want to do. It’s not going to get any cheaper. Maybe we can cut money somewhere else. Trust me, you will need that truck.

Jim Delaney: The selectmen are for it because insurance companies are not going to cover our firefighters using their own vehicles for a forest fire. Who’s going to pay for any damage?

It will be used for more than just forest fires. It will be a multi-use vehicle for the Fire Department for times when we don’t need to send a big fire truck.

Pecco Beaufays: We’ve got to keep them safe so they can keep us safe.

Herbie Barton: How many times have we needed a truck like this over the last two or three years?

Steve Barton: It varies. You might use it three times, you might use it 10 times. We would have used it four times last year. Right now, the members use their personal vehicles to haul the Fire Department’s equipment trailer to the fire.

There followed much back-and-forth discussion about buying a used truck, a dump truck, etc.

Herbie: I’m tired of spending big dollars for something we’re only going to use once or twice a year.

Dave Blinn: If this truck gives them 10 more minutes and it saves somebody’s barn, somebody’s livestock, somebody’s home, it’s little enough to spend. I don’t want to be the one responsible for them not having that extra 10 minutes that would have made the difference. I think it’s a worthy investment. I think it behooves us to give these guys what they need. (Applause.)

Brad Hardie: We had over 500 acres burn statewide last year, which is twice as much as the year before. Forest fires are only going to get worse and worse with the weather we’re having. Just the thought that we’d even suggest they should be using their personal vehicles is … I can’t even say it. Let’s just pass this. (Applause.)

Howard George: I don’t have a problem with this vehicle, but I don’t want to see this go into the Highway Department, where it would be driving around and doing a lot of extra things. If it’s for forestry, it’s for forestry.

Steve Barton: What I said was that in the winter time if we have an ice storm or a heavy windstorm with a lot of limbs down, the Fire Department responds and helps out the Highway Department.  So instead of taking a $300,000 engine out during an ice storm, we’d be better off taking this forestry truck that’s already got chainsaws, safety equipment, etc. on it. It’s cheaper and smaller and more maneuverable, and it’s safer to drive in those conditions.

I think the department members deserve your support on this. (Applause.)

Andy Guptill: This cab and chassis rises in price, on average, 7% to 10% per year. The skid unit increases even more. So you’ll be saving by buying it this year.

Toby Locke moves that the meeting vote on Article 5 and Article 6 together. The motion passes.

Article 5 and Article 6 pass on a single vote. A motion to restrict reconsideration of Articles 5 and 6 passes.

Moderator Dan Coolidge asks if the meeting would like to take a break. The response from the audience is a resounding “No!”

Article 6: Equipment for Forest Fire Truck

See Article 5, above. The two articles were voted on and passed together.

Article 7: Highway Department Truck

Andy Guptill: The truck was originally purchased by the East Andover Fire Department (EAFD); as it aged, it was given to the Andover Fire Department (AFD) with the understanding that when AFD was done with it, it would go back to EAFD.

The EAFD commissioners were to sell it by whatever means they felt best. There was a rumor that someone was going to pay $5,000, but that rumor turned out to be false.

If this truck is set up for the Highway Department and works for 500 hours per year at only what we’re paying for the summer rate, not the winter rate; and if we budget $20 per hour for the driver and two gallons of fuel per hour, at $4 per gallon (and we pay much less), over five years there would be a savings of over $54,000. To me, that makes a lot more sense than selling the truck.

John Thompson, Road Agent: It is an old truck, but it only has 30,000 miles on it, and it is in good shape. We’re going to put a dump body, a plow, and a sander on it. This truck would take the place of one of the six-wheelers we rent now and would run for roughly 500 hours per year. So in a period of two years, we’re already coming out ahead.

Chuck Keyser: Who’s going to do the retrofitting? And what about the gear ratio? Has anybody done this before?

John: Different people around the area will do the work. Some are local, some are from Manchester, even our Town employees will do some of it. My company bought the last truck the fire department sold, and we did the exact same thing, and the truck’s still on the road 12 years later.

Article 7 passes. A motion to restrict consideration of Article 7 passes.

Article 8: Town Hall Roof

Toby Locke: I put the last roof on the Town Hall. I would recommend that you vote this article down, wait, put on a metal roof, and never touch it again.

Jim Delaney, Selectman: It would be $25,000 to put metal over the existing roof, or $25,000 for stripping the old shingles and putting on new shingles. It will go out to bid. We’re preferring to go with a metal roof.

A motion to amend the article to specify a metal roof passes.

Marj: We’re seeing if the failing shingles are covered under warranty.

Article 8 passes as amended.

Article 9: Morrill Hill Road Bridge

Toby Locke: Is this the money that we would normally put against taxes?

Jim Delaney, Selectman: Last year when we took $225,000 out of the bridge fund to set up the separate Lawrence Street Bridge fund, we forgot that there was $179,000 in the bridge fund for the Morrill Hill Bridge. So this housekeeping article corrects that problem.

Article 9 passes.

Article 10: Snowmobile Club Lease

A motion to amend the article to fix the lot number passes. Article 10 passes with no further discussion.

Article 11: Noise Ordinance

See above. Article 11 was moved to and acted on prior to considering Article 2.

Article 12: Land Purchase

Moderator Dan Coolidge explains that Article 12 is now moot, as the property has been sold. He further explains that by law, Town Meeting can’t adjourn until it has acted on every article on the warrant, and that any articles tabled by Town Meeting automatically “disappear” as soon as the meeting is adjourned.

The meeting votes to table Article 12.

Article 13: Any Other Business

There is no other business to come before the meeting, so the meeting is adjourned.