Fire truck, recreation fields purchase will be on Amherst ballot Deliberative Session voters reject amendments to warrant articles

AMHERST – The Cemetery Fields controversy has been going on for almost a year, with strong feelings on both sides.

But discussions at last week’s Amherst Town Deliberative Session about warrant articles related to the issue were relatively subdued.

Article 26, which would allow selectmen to buy land at Cemetery Fields for $180,000, and Article 40, a petition article that would give the Cemetery Trustees’ duties to the Board of Selectmen, will be on the town ballot in March.

Some residents, especially parents, are unhappy with the trustees’ decision that all recreation use must stop at the Merrimack Road fields by Sept. 1.

During the Deliberative Session, one man called the article to remove the trustees “totally irresponsible,” because it would give more duties to the already overworked selectmen.

There was no attempt to amend the article, however, and town attorney William Drescher said it couldn’t be amended under state statute.

Although the Ways and Means Committee voted 6-1 in favor of the Cemetery Fields land purchase article, Chairman Robert Brewster noted that “more than one” member believed dual use of the fields – an idea promoted by those who want to keep sports fields – was not appropriate.

There were about 50 people at the Feb. 5 meeting, and it lasted less than three and a half hours. At one point, Town Moderator Stephen Coughlan commented on “the quiet crowd tonight.”

The Ways and Means Committee voted to support every article but one – Article 39, which would increase, from 50 to 100 percent, the amount of current use penalty revenue going to the Conservation Commission.

The town has been operating under a default budget for a few years, and Brewster said it is struggling in certain areas and is now in “catch-up mode.”

One of the longest discussions of the evening was on Article 27, to add $250,000 to a fire truck capital reserve fund that already has $350,000.

From the audience, Ted Landon argued for refurbishing, rather than replacing, the rusty fire truck, and he made a motion to amend the article to $100,000.

In response, Sally Wilkins, of the Capital Improvement Plan Committee, said they had studied the truck issue “in great detail” and are more than satisfied that the purchase is justified.

Fire Chief Mark Boynton said the 25-year-old truck is rusted beyond repair, and Addie Hutchison ,chairwoman of the Capital Improvement Plan Committee, said the town needs to stop putting off necessary maintenance of its roads and its vehicles.

The amendment was voted down.

An attempt by Mark Vincent to amend a $300,000 article to establish a highway vehicle and equipment capital reserve fund failed. Vincent said reducing the article to $100,000 would enhance its chances at the polls.

“Already this is an extremely expensive warrant. We can’t fix all the deficiencies in one year,” he said.

Selectman John D’Angelo said that to keep the Department of Public Works fleet in good shape, the town should be spending about $375,000 each year, or one-eighth of its total worth of $2.9 million.

Over the course of the evening, voters moved a total of 19 warrant articles onto the ballot for the March 11 elections:

? $11.77 million town operating budget is up by 4.32 percent. Two notable areas of increase are for Emergency Medical Services, where wages were increased to make them on par with other towns, and Fire Department pay, where money was added for on-call firefighters’ time spent at meetings and training sessions.

? $25,000 for a revaluation capital reserve fund.

? $15,000 for a communications center capital reserve fund.

? $100,000 for a contingency fund. By law the selectmen had to take the fund out of the operating budget.

? $36,075 for the first year of a police union contract.

? $15,000 for a previously established Communications Center capital reserve.

? $15,000 for a previously established town computer system capital reserve.

? $40,000 to continue mosquito surveillance and control with a larvicide.

? $70,000 to replace the landfill scale.

? $50,000 to add to the ambulance capital reserve fund. An attempt by Ted Landon to reduce the amount to $10,000 failed.

Tax impact

The operating budget would raise the town tax rate to $5.29 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $1,746 for a house valued at $330,000.

If the budget article is defeated, the default budget would mean a rate of $5.13 per $1,000.

If all the money articles pass, the town tax rate would go up by an additional 62 cents.

Among the nonmoney articles are two that ask for the reclassification of two roads: Grate Road from a Class VI to a Class V road, so that the town can maintain a parking spot for a new conservation area, and Old Joppa Hill Road from a Class VI road to a Class B trail, so that the town can control vehicle use on it.

Near the end of the meeting, there was a 15-minute discussion about a petition Article 41, to ask the state’s congressional delegation to support a Constitutional amendment that would regulate political spending.

An amendment from Mark Vincent to change the word “spending” to “speech” failed. Vincent said the change would clarify the article’s “practical effects,” which he said would be to add to the assaults facing U.S. corporations by limiting their ability to influence policy.

The article will be on the ballots of 38 towns in New Hampshire, Jeannie Ludt said.

Election Day is Tuesday, March 11, and Amherst polls are open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. in Souhegan High School.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.