Quint Fire Engine Purchase Tops Dialogue at Town Deliberative Session

February 17, 2017



by Barbara O’Brien

Similar to the school district deliberative session that was held the previous evening, the turnout for the town’s deliberative session in Windham was sparse.

Slightly fewer than 40 registered voters showed up for the town’s annual deliberative session the morning of Saturday, Feb. 11.  Just over 40 had come out to participate in the school district meeting the previous night, despite millions of dollars of proposed spending being at stake.  And many of those, who had had no trouble finding a seat in the high school auditorium, were seen leaving long before the meetings were adjourned.

Although attendance was low, there was no lack of discussion during the five-hour session at the town’s deliberative session, with the majority of debate focusing on three proposed warrant articles.

Nearly an hour was spent on a presentation and subsequent discussion of the proposed purchase of a Quint fire engine at the cost of $850,000.  The Quint would replace a now defunct 1980 ladder truck that was donated to the town in 2002.  It is anticipated that the purchase would involve a 12-year bond with annual payments of approximately $85,000.  Despite the efforts of Fire Chief Tom McPherson, the warrant article did not obtain the full support of the board of selectmen, however.  While Selectmen Joel Desilets (chairman), Ross McLeod (vice chairman), Bruce Breton and Jennifer Simmons voted to support the proposed purchase, Selectman Roger Hohenberger stood firm in his opposition of the proposal, stating that he feels 2017 is not the right year for such a purchase, as there are so many other proposed expenses pending; particularly on the school side.  Hohenberger said he agrees with the judgment of the Capital Improvement Committee that the purchase, although a priority, should be put off until 2019.  Chief McPherson emphasized the need for the new equipment due to safety concerns for both the community and firefighters.  The majority of residents in attendance expressed support for the purchase of the multi-use fire truck.

The proposed by-laws for the McIlvaine Town Forest, formulated by the town’s Forestry Committee; also dubbed “the selectmen of the forest,” also generated substantial debate and attempts to amend.  The issue that caused the most “conversation” was whether or not to allow target shooting in the Town Forest.  As proposed in the existing warrant article, target shooting is not allowed.  Under Section III of the proposed by-laws, “the discharge of firearms for target shooting is prohibited within the McIlvaine Town Forest.”

Windham resident Daniel Popovici-Muller, who also serves as a member of the Windham School Board and is employed as the town’s finance director, initiated a lengthy discussion by offering a motion to allow target shooting in the town forest.  During the discussion, a number of residents living in the area of the McIlvaine Town Forest expressed concerns regarding the level of noise that might be generated through target shooting.  Others complained of the danger of target practice to others who might be hiking or camping in the area.  Following the debate, on a show of voter cards, Popovici-Muller’s motion was defeated by a vote of 21 opposed and 12 in favor.

Resident Bob Coole then made a subsequent motion, asking that the word “firearms” be removed from that portion of the by-laws.  It was Coole’s contention that other weapons could be used for target shooting, other than firearms, if the by-laws proposal remained as presented.  Coole’s motion died for the lack of a second.

Also cause for lengthy debate was a proposal for the Windham Conservation Commission to negotiate and enter into a long-term lease for the town-owned Campbell Farm; purchased through a prior year’s warrant article and paid for with Conservation Commission funds.  The agreement, as proposed, included a lease-to-own clause.  Conservation Commission member Betty Dunn explained that the goal is to hire a live-in caretaker; someone who would be responsible for monitoring, maintaining, repairing and restoring the historic property.  Dunn said that it is the commission’s belief that a responsible caretaker would be more easily hired if that individual could eventually have the option to purchase the property.  A motion by resident Ralph Valentine received sufficient support from voters, however, to remove the option to purchase the property, after an extended lease term.  The warrant article will be printed on the ballot as amended during the deliberative session.

A citizen petition, submitted by Timothy Pitcher and signed by the required minimum of 25 registered voters, was amended slightly on the suggestion of Selectman Ross McLeod.  The petition, which would allow the board of selectmen to enter into specified agreements relating to wells and related structures intended to service parcels of land located within the Village Center District, was successfully amended to stipulate that any such agreement must be completed no later than Dec. 1, 2019.

The proposed 2017 town operating budget, totaling $13,706,200, generated no discussion, either by selectmen or the few people who were in attendance at that point.  Should the proposed operating budget fail to receive enough support at the polls, the default budget for this year would total $13,446,415.

Registered voters can cast their ballots on the proposed operating budget and all other proposed warrant articles on Election Day; Tuesday, March 14.  The polls, which will be located at Windham High School, will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Residents may register to vote on Election Day, if they have not already done so.  Hopefully, more people will turn out to vote on these issues than showed up to deliberate about them.