TAMWORTH — Residents at town meeting Wednesday were told they would have to ratify their votes at another town meeting to be held at a date to be determined after a mistake was made in posting the warrant.
Voters approved articles to buy the Tamworth Village sewer system for $1 and to support the rec budget despite the selectmen’s objection. They also approved money for a fire truck and narrowly decided to buy the police department a Tahoe, but voted against fuel assistance. The entire meeting took about 3½ hours and ended just before 10:30 p.m.
But all of those approvals are subject to ratification, as moderator Chris Canfield explained at the outset of the meeting.
“Because of a glitch of when the warrant was posted, the Department of Revenue Administration has ordered us to hold a special meeting to ratify the decisions that this meeting makes tonight,” said Canfield, adding that it must occur at least 21 days from the town meeting, and the first available date, which would be determined by selectmen, would be April 4.
At the special meeting, residents will only vote on one article, which, if passed, would ratify all of the votes taken Wednesday.
“What if that meeting doesn’t ratify tonight’s vote?” Canfield asked rhetorically. “We will have another town meeting.”
Residents laughed and groaned at the news. Canfield said further questions about the situation would be addressed at the end of the meeting.
Revisiting the topic at the end of the meeting, Attorney Matthew Serge of Drummond Woodsum explained that the warrant was posted one day later than required by law. It was supposed to be posted 14 days in advance of town meeting. “We were a day off, and we can’t get around it,” said Serge.
During the course of the meeting, several articles were changed.
The public safety budget got an extra $1,500 for a grant writer, and the public works budget got another $11,000. But residents were able to shave $10,000 off a warrant article for the fire truck and rejected a $6,000 contribution for Tri-County Community Action.
The net effect was a savings of about $3,500.
Tamworth voters approved about $2 million to be raised by taxes, which is less than last year but the town could be in for a tax hike of an estimated $2 per thousand dollars of property value because unlike last year there’s not $700,000 in reserves to help lower the rate. The actual tax rate depends on a number of factors that will have to play out over the year.
One of the most significant votes of the night was residents’ decision to purchase the Tamworth Village Association’s septic system.
The system serves 26 residences, public buildings and businesses. It failed a few years ago because of poor design and construction and lack of oversight. Since then it has been repaired with funds from a federal grant.
Association President Norman Cloutier told the audience that the association was simply too small a group to be charged with running a septic system and that it would be much better handled by the town. The septic system will be paid for by users and will not cost property taxpayers anything.
Resident Jim Randolph asked pointed questions of Cloutier. He said it seemed to him that the only people who would benefit from the sale would be the septic users. But Cloutier said the system would serve the town offices, library and the town house, and several businesses as well as residences in the village.
“These benefit all of us,” said Cloutier. “The fact we can have these buildings so closely together in the village would not be possible without the septic system.”
Randolph wasn’t done. He said it sounded to him like selectmen were in charge of the septic system, but they would have a committee to help them.
“I don’t think any of you have the wherewithal on how to do that,” said Randolph.
Selectman Willie Farnum replied that another article allows for the creation of an appointed commission that would run the system.
After about an hour of discussion, the purchase of the septic system was approved by ballot, 127-55.
A warrant article asking for $400,357 for a fire truck passed with the amendment that $194,357 would come from taxation. The original figure was $10,000 higher.
Assistant Fire Chief Jim Bowles said the issue of the ratification meeting complicates the fire truck purchase contract because the town has a $10,000 nonrefundable deposit on the truck. He was supposed to get back to the seller whether the deal was approved by April 1. Bowles said he thinks he can extend the deadline three more days.
Another dramatic moment in the meeting occurred when former police chief Dan Poirier recommended cutting a $50,000 article for a police vehicle back to $35,000. The motion to do so was then made by resident David Little.
“I felt $50,000 for a new cruiser was extravagant,” said Poirier, who stressed that he believes the police need another vehicle. “I don’t feel we need to have a Tahoe at that expense.”
But Police Chief Dana Littlefield said an SUV or a pickup truck is necessary because of the rough roads and deep snow on long driveways that officers sometimes have to end up driving through.
Voice and show of card votes were inconclusive so Canfield called for a ballot vote. Residents sided with Littlefield and rejected the amendment, 81-74.
Other articles were modified during the town meeting, but the only one to fail was Article 20, which called for giving $6,000 to the Ti-County Community Action’s Fuel Assistance Program.
Farnum led the charge against it. At several points during the meeting, Farnum recommended that residents find as many cuts as possible to head off a substantial tax increase. Farnum said Tamworth would still receive fuel assistance even if it doesn’t make the $6,000 contribution because the program is federally funded. What’s more, Tamworth hosts the Tri-County CAP building and no longer gets a payment in lieu of taxes.
At the end of the meeting, residents managed to save $3,500 from what was proposed.