Very Few Changes to Warrant Articles at Litchfield’s Deliberative Session

February 17, 2017

 

 

by Mike Falzone

Only a couple of minor changes to the proposed warrant articles and talk of a future fire station and a new tax cap provided the lead story at Saturday’s Town of Litchfield Deliberative Session.

About 50 people were in attendance for the meeting at Campbell High School.

The budget committee’s proposed budget is a 43-cent decrease per $1,000 on tax rate due to changes in revenues and town valuation, according to the presentation made by Litchfield Selectmen.

Highlights in the 2017 budget included an increase of $187,000 in the police budget due to a new contract and an officer being deployed.  The town has to both fill the officer’s position, and hold the position open.  A new police officer position is being proposed.

“This allows us to work towards the goal of two officers on 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” explained Selectman Frank Byron.

Because of the tax cap endorsed by voters in 2016, both selectmen and budget committee members were reluctant to endorse projects proposed for the 2107 budget cycle.

Litchfield uses its block grants money ($201,000) and budgets and additional $200,000 to continue to resurface Litchfield roads, many over 30 years old and in need of repair.

This election cycle, Article 7 asks the voters to support $200,000 in road improvements, with a list of proposed street repaving projects.

When a longtime former budget committee member asked why the support for the article wasn’t unanimous (recommended by the board of selectmen (3-2-0) and by the budget committee (5-4-0), taxes were the issue.

Frank Byron responded, “I just felt that we had been working on the roads for many years now, that maybe we could take a year off, marshal our monies in other needed areas this year, and pick up again in the future.”

Selectman Steve Perry added, “The question I am asked most is why did you raise my taxes?”  He agreed taking a year off with other priorities and the impact of the tax cap might be a good idea.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Cindy Couture explained many things came into the decision not to support the article for some members, although the committee did vote 5-4 in favor.

“With the tax cap looming over the budget creating uncertainty, we thought maybe the road agent would be able to do more this year with lower asphalt costs to offset some of the money not budgeted.”

Selectman Brent Lemire reminded the audience that “the 77 miles of roads are the town’s largest asset, and need to be taken care of.

Litchfield’s 60-year-old fire station was the subject of the next longest discussion.  Article 13 asks that voters support $66,000 in architectural and engineering fees for new fire station.  This fee is to come from unassigned fund balance and have no tax impact for voters.  An additional $34,000 is to be added from the fire station and municipal office impact fee accounts.

The town has plans for a building that were drawn up in 2004.  It would like to use those plans, but with modifications that have become necessary because of new requirements for departments that have developed since the plans were created.

The station wouldn’t be built this year.  The money being asked for during this year’s meeting would be to modify the plans in anticipation of going forward with a new station next year.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” exclaimed one budget committee member.  “I would like to know the costs, location and design before I support a project this large.”

Many residents spoke of the history of the old fire garage, and agreed it’s time for the town to move on.

Byron and others stressed this is a very critical need for the town.

“Someone’s going to get hurt when a truck tries to back into the garage at two in the morning after a fire,” stressed original building volunteer Warren Adams.  “It has happened, and this is just an accident waiting to happen.”

Selectman Lemire reminded the attendees that “we’ve been asking the voters to replace this building since 1988!”

“We have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting outside every night.  It’s just not right.  It’s time to fix the problem.”

While there was discussion of a safety complex bringing the police, fire and other departments together in one building, Byron asked voters to “focus on the fire department right now.”

A full rundown of all the warrant articles, the school and town budgets and the televised meetings can be found on the www.litchfieldnh.gov website.  There is also the 125-page Fire Station Study performed by Warrenstreet Architects.  Voting will be held March 14.