Deliberative Session Important but with Very Little Public Involvement
February 8, 2019
by Len Lathrop
The first of two phases of the Annual Hudson Town Meeting at the Community/Recreation Center on Lions Avenue began on Saturday at a few minutes after 9 a.m. Under the watchful eye of longtime moderator Paul Inderbitzen, the colors were presented by the HPD Honor Guard and HPD Officer Taylor Morin sang the national anthem.
The first article to be read to those assembled was number 8, the General Fund Operating Budget; then Ted Trost repeated the numeric information and mentioned that the amounts requested by department heads were below last year’s costs, but the department heads then had the option to request special needs in the budget or as a warrant article. The proposed budget is $26,918,799 with a default budget of $26,359,994. Trost also presented that the budget has a tax impact of $5.53, down 1 cent from last year.
Going to the public microphone first was Matt Keller. Keller announced himself as a Hudson police officer and president of the police union; he rose with an amendment of Article 8. His article was to remove $7,236 from the police department salary and benefits budget line. Keller explained that this amount was a raise to the police chief and, that it shouldn’t happen if the police union contract could not be settled in good faith and the rank and file go without a contract.
The negotiation of the contract was discussed in general terms with banter about it being about the amount of the raise. Chairman Coutu stood fast that the selectmen had authorized to accept a 3 percent rate and the union asked for 3.8 percent. There was statement by Selectman Martin about the amount being 2 percent, which quickly ended when President Keller stated that the union had accepted. As the discussion got more confusing with every statement, Keller spoke that there should be no confusion as money was not the issue, and that the union accepted a less than 3 percent raise to get a non-money issue resolved.
Keller late clarified that the impasse is not about money, general wording of the contract or the health care provisions. The union will meet with the selectmen very shortly to try to get the stumbling block resolved.
When the amendment was called for, the show of voters’ card was declared by the moderator to have failed. While it seems the issues and confusion around Question 8 and the police union contract will be discussed separately from the budget numbers requiring your vote.
Articles 9 for the Sewer Operating Budget and the Water Operating Budget Article 10 were moved to the March ballot without discussion.
Firefighters Union Contract is Article 11. The five-year contract represents a COLA of 2 percent in one year reported by Selectman Coutu, 3 percent in years two and three, and 2 percent in years four and five. Coutu mentioned there are 41 employees in the group covering lieutenants down. There was no question from the public.
Article 12 is the four-year contract that represents police, fire and town supervisors. Article 13 is a support staff union contract for three years, and Article 14 is the public works contract for one year, all moved to the ballot with little discussion.
Article 16 asks that money be committed to a capital reserve fund for future property revaluation. Citizen Kevin Walsh amended the article to take the $15,000 for the unassigned budget balance, instead of raising the tax rate to cover. Amendment was approved by the body.
The same amendment was raised for Article 17 for a replacement VacCon truck capital reserve fund and passed so the $15,000 will be taken from the unassigned budget balance fund. A question that was asked in the area where this reporter was sitting is worth noting, “When the truck breaks down, does it suck or not suck?”
Article 18 asked the voters to fund the need for medical equipment and ambulances from a revolving account. This account will be funded from revenue from the medical calls the fire department collects. This is approved under NH RAS 31:95-h (b), and allows for an equalized tax impact when large ticket medical equipment and apparatus is needed. All purchases still have to be approved by the board of selectmen.
An amendment was made to Article 18 to require that the funds be invested when in the custody of the town treasurer which passed.
What percentage of the Land Use Tax should stay with the general fund and how much should be in an accumulating pool for Conservation Committee usage such as acquisition of conservation land, conservation easements and development rights makes up Article 19. Currently the funds are split evenly 50/50; this would increase the percentage going to conservation to 75 percent. Brett Gagnon, a conservation member, spoke in favor with data as to the amount of funds available current and those numbers in comparison to neighboring towns. This matter does not affect the tax rate.
Article 20 is to change the date of the secret ballot portion of this town meeting from the second Tuesday of March to the second Tuesday of April. Chairman Coutu spoke about the interaction between the school board about changing their voting day and the language that invalidates this one if the other does pass. The question on the school ballot is by petition and is not supported by the school board.
Citizens have present Article 21, which defines 70 Rangers Dr. as a ”Town Forest.” This parcel is 29 acres, owned by the town tax deed. The selectmen want to sell it and return it to the tax rolls while concerned residents believe the town needs more conservation land and that it should be preserved. Ted Trost spoke about the value of the property and how with two undeveloped cul de sacs and trails it would be accessible for citizen to hike and do other passive activities. Selectmen reported a property value of $400,000 to $450,000 that would come back to the town upon sale and how selectmen have voted to limit development to a small number of single-family homes.
Article 22, also by petition, is to add $25,000 to the capital reserve account for library improvements. Ted Trost spoke about the importance of saving funds for improvement and, as the library trustees had not requested it, he felt a petition warrant article was indicated. After much discussion as to why the trustees did not submit the request and then Kevin Walsh amended the article so that the article is funded from the unassigned fund balance versus as a cost to the taxpayers on the 2019 ballot. There were many comments about the why and the who had done what.
Come on Feb. 9 and be involved in the school deliberative session at 9 a.m. Remember to vote on March 12.