Hudson Town Deliberative Attracts Fewer Voters than the School Session
February 16, 2018
by Laurie Jasper
Hudson Police Officer Taylor Morin sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem after the Hudson Police Department Honor Guard Posted the colors, as the town deliberative session began on Feb. 10.
The town meeting was attended by 80 registered voters — fewer than half the number of people who attended the Hudson School District Deliberative Session the week prior. Review of the town warrant articles took half the time as review of the school district articles, despite the fact that there are more than three times the number of town articles than school articles this year.
Moderator Paul Inderbitzen explained that the first article will be the election of officers, and Articles 2 through 6 are amendments to zoning regulations that are not discussed at deliberative session. To view the town warrant articles in their entirety, go to www.hudson.gov/boards/budget/budgets and choose March 2018 town warrant articles.
Article 7, the proposed operating budget, totals $25,905,878 and represents a 20-cent decrease in the tax rate. There were no comments or questions from the public.
Article 8, the proposed sewer fund operating budget, is $2,243,192, and Article 9, the proposed water fund operating budget is $4,022,907. Increases in these two funds represent updates on equipment and other necessary improvements.
Article 10 wage and benefit increase for the town clerk/tax collector asks for $1,333, a 2-percent increase, for the current clerk/tax collector, who has held the elected position since 2007.
Article 11 seeks to establish a salary scale for the town clerk/tax collector office holder based on years of service.
Article 12 seeks the sum of $15,980 for wages and benefits increases for eight full-time library personnel.
Article 13 seeks to hire four firefighter/AEMTs for a total of $349,548, with 75 percent of the cost ($262,161) to come from a federal grant and the balance ($87,387) from general taxation. For the first two years, should this article pass, the town would pay 25 percent of the total, 35 percent of the total on year three and then be responsible for the full amount starting the fourth year and beyond. It was explained that after the third year, the board of selectmen would have to decide whether or not to continue and take on the full cost.
Dr. Alejandro Urrutia spoke in support of the article, stating first responders with the right training are often the key difference between life and death. With the opioid crisis and more aging residents, Urrutia stressed the importance of this article.
Article 14 asks residents to vote to hire a full-time associate IT specialist for $93,943.
Article 15 is for the design and construction of the widening of Lowell Road from Wason Road to the Sagamore Bridge. The project cost, $1.5 million will be funded with $1.2 million from NHDOT federal grant, and $100,000 from the Lowell Road Corridor Fund, along with $200,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance. Should this article pass, the money appropriated would not lapse until it is expended or June 30, 2023, whichever is the earliest.
One of the articles that received the most attention, Article 16, is to raise and appropriate $240,000 for the design and construction of a permanent restroom facility at Benson Park, as well as provide operational costs for the first year.
Selectman Vice Chair Marilyn McGrath said she voted to recommend this article only so that it would go to the voters to decide; she is not in favor of the article.
Benson Park Committee Chairman Jim Barnes explained that the park has used portable facilities since 2009, budgeting approximately $10,000 per year. In 2016, voters approved a warrant article to extend utilities into the park. Discussion seemed evenly split among those who favored the proposal and those who were against. Resident Vincent Pagan said he could guarantee vandalism to the bathrooms on the first day. Selectman David Morin said they have looked at what similar parks have built and explained this would have rugged equipment and would have automatic locks for overnight. Phyllis Appler spoke in support of having a place to wash up after working in the gardens at Benson Park. Budget committee members Normand Martin and Bob Guessford both stated they were against the project at this time.
Article 17 would add $20,000 to the established Fire Apparatus Repair/Refurbishment Capital Reserve Fund.
Article 18, would add $10,000 to the Property Revaluation Capital Reserve Fund.
Article 19 seeks to add $200,000 to the Communications Equipment and Infrastructure Capital Reserve Fund. The money is to come from the June 30, 2018, unassigned fund balance. The fund was established in 2013 and currently equals $499,894. Some were critical of the large amount of money. Budget Committee Chairman Trost stated that the current radio systems are at the end of life and are very expensive to replace.
Article 20 asks for $30,000 to add to the Library Improvements Capital Reserve Fund.
Article 21, if approved, will establish a Municipal and Transportation Improvement Capital Reserve Fund and will allow the collection of an additional $5 fee per motor vehicle registration, with exceptions for ATVs and antique vehicles. With approximately 30,000 registrations in town per year, this would equate to about $150,000. The article details the specific improvements allowed.
Trost proposed an amendment to remove the references to “electric vehicle charging stations,” saying the town shouldn’t subsidize the cost of driving electric vehicles. The amendment failed. Mary Joy Gasdia proposed an amendment to remove the board of selectmen as agents to expend. After discussion, it was time to vote. Moderator Inderbitzen asked by a raise of voter cards for ayes and nays. The chair was in doubt, so he asked for a count. The amendment passed 37-36. Article 21 as amended was then moved to the ballot.
Article 22 modifies property tax exemptions for the elderly. Net income and net asset amounts which allow for this exemption are increased; should this article pass it will take effect April 1, 2018. The last time these numbers were adjusted was 10 years ago. The assets exclude the value of the person’s residence. To qualify, a taxpayer must reside in New Hampshire for at least three consecutive years. Gary Gasdia spoke against Article 22, saying, “We would now be attracting people who struggle to pay property taxes into this town based solely on their age. We struggle year after year, and I come up usually on the school session and say we have to attract families to this town … that want progress.
“If we’re looking to help people who don’t have the money to pay property taxes then let’s strike all the age requirements,” said Gasdia.
“What this says to me is we’re just going to get 55-plus community after 55-plus community … our school budget is going to collapse,” continued Gasdia. “My heart goes out to anyone who can’t afford it … but, this is just attracting the wrong people to this town. This is just a death knell for this town. I’m against it more than I have ever been against anything I have seen up here before.”
Luszey replied that most people in 55 and older communities that have been built will not meet the criteria for the exemption because their net assets usually exceed the maximum allowed.
Marilyn McGrath responded to a question by informing those present that in 55 and older communities, only one of the residents has to be 55 and they may have school-age children, but, in 62 and older communities, both residents must be 62 or older. School Board Chairman Lee Lavoie stated that the school district does send school buses to the 55 and older communities.
Lori Robicheau-Pagan, a member of the budget committee, spoke in support of the article and said, “I’d hate to think we’re valuing our residents based on how much they make a year, and I don’t feel that the quality of people we attract to our town has to do with what their yearly income is.” She also said the elderly and disabled are on fixed incomes.
Article 23 modifies the property tax exemptions for the disabled. To qualify, the person must be a New Hampshire resident for five consecutive years. The net income and asset amounts allowed for this exemption would increase, as in Article 22.
Article 24 ratifies the agreement between the Town of Hudson and Hudson United Soccer Club, renewing their semi-exclusive use of Freedom Field 1 for 15 years. Selectman Roger Coutu said they have been great tenants of the property and he wants them to continue to play in Hudson.
Article 25 is a petition warrant article to allow Keno games in Hudson. No one who petitioned for this to be on the ballot was in attendance to speak to the article. Fred Giuffrida asked if there were any state representatives in attendance; there were not. In June 2017, NH lawmakers approved the “keno-garten” law. State funding for public education has a base rate of $3,600 per student, per year, with additions to the formula based on financial and special needs. The formula counts each kindergartner at a half-day rate of $1,800.
Starting in fiscal year 2019, school districts with full-day kindergarten will receive an additional $1,100 of Adequate Education Aid for each kindergarten student. In 2020, the amount per student will be based on how much revenue is raised from keno taxes, but not less than $1,100 per student. Towns do not have to approve keno to receive the additional money.
The meeting adjourned just prior to noon. Moderator Inderbitzen reminded everyone to vote at the March 13 election.