Money for new sidewalks will be on March ballot in Amherst

AMHERST – Sidewalks can be a very good thing, but will voters pay for them if there is no federal funding?

That’s what residents will learn on town election day, March 10.

Town officials want to build one and a half miles of sidewalks on Jones Road and on portions of Mack Hill, Manchester, New Boston and Boston Post roads.

The town had applied for a grant that would have covered 80 percent of the $328,000 cost, but Selectman Mike Akillian told the voters at the Feb. 4 town deliberative session that they recently learned there won’t be any federal funding at this time.

Selectmen proposed reducing the warrant article to zero, but a resident offered an amendment to change the article to read that all funding would come through local taxation.

“Sidewalks are desperately needed,” said George Bower, who serves on the town’s Traffic Safety Committee. “It’s time to put this before voters. There has consistently been a demand for more walkable roads. In Amherst, you either drive or you take your life in your hands.”

Three other men went to the microphone to support the plan.

Pedestrian safety is our number one project, said Rick Katzenberg, chairman of the town’s Safe Routes to Schools Committee. Sidewalks will bring safety to some of the town most heavily trafficed areas, he said, “and help get people out of their SUVs.”

The Board of Selectmen and the Ways and Means Committee had given unanimous support to the original article, but did not make a recommendation on the amended article.

Voters approved the amendment, and if the sidewalk articles passes, the cost was estimated to be 21 cents per thousand of assessed valuation.

The sidewalk issue was the only one that brought the two-hour deliberative session to life. Most of the articles were put on the warrant with no comment from the roughly 40 residents who were there.

”What a quiet body we are tonight,” noted Moderator Steve Coughlan.

Mosquito control

Article 30 will ask for $36 to continue the town’s mosquito surveillance and control program.

“All the towns east and north are in a higher risk category,” Selectman Mike Akillian said, and the board debated the issue and decided it was worth the expense, “considering the risk is moving toward Amherst.”

The budget committee, however, does not support the plan.

“As much as I hate mosquitoes,” Chairman Nate Jensen said, “we are unanimously opposed,” because there is not enough data available. Surrounding towns spend less or not at all on mosquito control and don’t do testing, he said.

“This will clearly be a decision by votes on what path to take,” Akillian said. “If we don’t do monitoring, we don’t know what the situation is.”

Pipeline

One article asks if the Board of Selectmen should have intervener status in its dealings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in regard to the proposal for a natural gas pipeline route through Amherst. The wording was amended at the request of Selectman John D’Angelo to include the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee. Voters approved the amendment.

The town could intervene anyway, but it will be taken more seriously, he said, “if the legislative body (voters) gives us the authority to intervene.”

A resident of Simeon Wilson Road, which is on the current pipeline path, said residents are petitioning for a special meeting, to be held probably in April, “so it will be very clear to selectmen” what they want.

Other warrant articles that will go on the town ballot with no changes:

? An operating budget of $12.4 million with an estimated tax impact of $5.32. The budget is $617,000 more than the current year plan or 5.23 percent increase.

Jensen, chairman of the Ways and Mean Committee, which unanimously supports the budget, called it the result of a strong collaboration between the board and the committee and “very transparent from beginning to end.”

? A $3.3 million bridge replacement bond to reconstruct two bridges, one on Mont Vernon Road over Caesars Brook and the other on Thornton Ferry Road I over Beaver Brook. The projects qualify for 80 percent state aid and have no estimated tax impact for 2016, Selectman Tom Grella said the bridges are in fair condition and the state could close them down.

? Four capital reserve fund articles, to put aside money for a property revaluation, the communications center, fire station renovation and fire truck refurbishment.

? Cemetery lot sale change. The sale of cemetery lots will be treated as sales of town property and funds would go into the general fund, according to the provisions of state law.

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