Conservation commission wins big

AMHERST – The conservation commission was a big winner in the elections last week, with voters approving two warrant articles, one that will allow all of the Land Use Change Tax to go into the commission’s land acquisition fund. The vote was an overwhelming 1,302-412.

The tax is what landowners pay when they take undeveloped property out of its low-tax category, typically agriculture or forestry, and develop it. Currently only 50 percent of the LUCT fund goes into the conservation fund, which currently has about $575,000, said commission Chairman Rob Clemens, in a phone interview.

“One of our challenges, he said, “is when desirable property comes on the market, having sufficient funds to move on it.”

Two years ago, the potential buy of the 227-acre Hazen property fell through while the town and the Piscataquog Land Conservancy were working on grant applications to raise $500,000 to supplement the $450,000 the town had voted for the purchase.

If the town had been able to act more quickly, Clemens said, perhaps the deal would have gone through.

Last year the commission identified priority areas for acquisition, he said, with a focus on the northern and eastern sections of town where there is already quite a bit of land preserved.

The amount in the LUCT fund varies from year to year, and last year there was $120,000, and the commission was given half.

Voters also approved a second conservation article that means $43,500 from the 2016-17 LUCT funds will go toward three uses: a trail match grant, forestry management and invasive species control.

Police station upgrade

Voters on March 13 also approved by a wide margin a $200,000 article to start a capital reserve fund to eventually expand and renovate the police station.

Four other capital reserve funds – for bridge repair, property assessment, communications equipment and fire-rescue equipment – also passed.

Reed Panasiti was the high vote-getter in the Amherst Board of Selectmen’s race for two seats, with 1,021 votes. John D’Angelo, a former selectman, won the second seat with 894 votes. Mike Akillian, a former selectman who had been appointed to fill a vacant position, had 760 votes.

All town and school operating budgets for Amherst and Mont Vernon passed easily and so did all collective bargaining agreements.

David Chen won re-election to the Souhegan School Board and Kevin Shea was elected to two posts: the Amherst Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Amherst School Board.

In Mont Vernon, Sarah Lawrence was re-elected to the school board in an uncontested race.

The Village School’s operating budget passed. Voters also put money into a captial reserve fund for school roof repair.

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

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