Wilton approves all but one request at town meeting

WILTON – Voters at Town Meeting March 15, approved every request except one on a lengthy ballot.

After considerable, sometimes heated, discussion, they declined, by a vote of 144 no to 36 yes, to develop the New Reservoir area into a public park, a plan presented by a citizen committee.

More than 180 people attended the three-hour meeting at Florence Rideout Elementary School. According to Moderator Bill Keefe, it was Wilton’s 256th town meeting.

The Reservoir Park plan was not well thought out, many voters said, and they wanted a lot more information. The article asked for $20,000 to develop a small parking area, handicap access to the pond, landscaping, trails and a footbridge over a wet area.

Objections included a lack of a way to keep the area for Wilton residents only, should they issue stickers like the recycling center, adequate police coverage, and the fact that the plan had been presented by an ad hoc committee that was originally intended to be advisory only. Selectboard Member Kellie-Sue Boissonnault said no town boards had been involved in the planning and suggested waiting while another plan was developed.

Several residents pointed to numerous parking and vandalism problems at both nearby Garwin Falls and The Horseshoe, a popular site in the Souhegan River, both of which are on private property and not adequately policed.

Fire Chief Jim Cutler said parking on Sand Hill Road could prevent access by emergency equipment to the dry hydrant.

Because that vote failed, a petition to require a thorough study of the area before any work was done was tabled.

Voters did approve creation of a $100,000 expendable trust fund to cover engineering fees for a study of the Reservoir Dam and whatever is needed to meet the problems listed in a Letter of Deficiency from the state Department of Environmental Services. That work will done according to a state-provided time line. No one advocated removal of the dam, the only alternative to repairing it.

The earthen dam was built in 1936 and has been “seeping” for many years. It was created for the water system that was abandoned in favor of wells many years ago. The pond, which is more than 10 acres, and therefore “public water” under state statute, is currently used for boating, fishing and occasional swimming. Those uses will remain.

Voters passed, by almost unanimous voice vote, an operating budget of $5,293,508.33. The budget was amended to add $14,539.33 for the library. That amount was cut by the Budget Committee because of “a misunderstanding of the trust fund accounting system,” said Library Treasurer Molly Shanklin. The library has adopted a new system.

Also debated at some length was extension of a one-year of a lease with Quinn Brothers gravel operation on Route 31 south (Greenville Road). The Quinns’ 15-year lease will expire next year and they have requested a 15-year extension of that lease. Selectboard members said a year is required for reclamation and they would like that year to study options. The gravel operation is located over the aquifer that supplies the town wells.

A vote to allow Keno passed with little discussion, 121 yes to 49 no. The only venue in town eligible for the game is the American Legion Post 10. A representative said they would like “to give it a try.”

Five articles dealt with the ambulance service.

Officials said they wanted to switch to a leasing program for several new pieces of equipment, hoping to save money.

A new ambulance is required because the 2007 vehicle “has undetermined electrical problems,” said Director Steve Desrosiers, and leasing to buy was the quickest way to get a new one since the equipment is owned by the three towns that use the service and purchase requires town votes.

To accomplish their goals, a capital reserve fund was discontinued, and the funds put into a new revolving fund that the other towns could pay into. The ambulance lease, plus a lease of new heart monitors, would come from the fund, as would operating costs.

New radios will be paid for through the Florence M. Wheeler Fund and new turnout gear from general taxation.

The Economic Development Committee asked for $14,770 for new “Welcome to Wilton” signs and $13,500 for phase two of developing the Riverwalk. It was finally agreed that, while downtown Wilton will never return to what it once was, there was a need to move forward.

Voters created two new capital reserve funds: a heating system for the town hall and upgrade the fire protection systems.

Contributions were made to several existing funds including bridge repair, a new Public Works garage, and fire department vehicles.

Also approved was scanning of town documents ($30,000), combining the town clerk and tax collector positions into one office, allowing the Trustees of the Trust Funds to use trust income to hire a financial manager, and the selectmen to sell town property after discussions with the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.

A petition to ask the selectmen “to stand in opposition to any natural gas pipeline or expansion or construction within the town passed on a close vote.

Those still in attendance at 11 p.m. were asked two non-binding “sense of the meeting” questions, and they agreed to oppose the discontinuance of the Wilton-Bennington Railroad (which would return 80 to 100 gravel trucks a day to the town roads) and to encourage the town to pursue the use of solar arrays.

Retiring Selectman Bill Condra was honored for his 43 years of service to the town in several capacities.