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Effingham Town Meeting approves all but one warrant article



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ERIC POTTER addresses his fellow voters at Effingham Town Meeting held last Saturday, March 15. The five-and-a-half-hour meeting attracted about 70 people to decide on the town's 2014 budget and warrant articles. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
March 20, 2014
EFFINGHAM — Town meetings in Effingham tend to be an all-day event and it was no different this year with about 70 people turning out to vote on the town's 2014 budget. Several votes taken by secret ballot lengthened the meeting, which lasted five and a half hours.

In the end, voters passed the $1,258,007 operating budget and set of 16 much-debated warrant articles.

The first order of business was a request to move the ambulance contract discussion and vote to the top of the list. Up for discussion was a warrant article asking voters to approve $130,000 for the first year of a two-year ambulance contract. That dollar amount was amended to $96,000. After the warrant was printed selectmen had put the contract out for re-bid and received the lesser bid from LifeStar. They now intend to contract for two years with that company.

Selectmen cited their reasons for choosing LifeStar, included a willingness on the company representative's part to work with town residents who cannot afford their ambulance bill and do not have insurance. Additionally, the company plans to relocate part of its operations to Ossipee Corner near Hannaford, in addition to their West Ossipee location, making for a quicker response time to Effingham. The article was voted on by secret ballot and passed with 61 in favor and five opposed.

In another secret ballot vote, voters approved $37,100 for the purchase of a new police cruiser in a vote of 51 in favor and 14 opposed. Without any discussion, voters also approved setting up a fund with $5,000 to be used to purchase protective gear, equipment, or garments for Effingham police officers.

Selectmen had hoped to abolish several capital reserve funds that the town had been putting money into every year. Voters agreed with abolishing three of the funds and putting the money into the town's General Fund in the hope of using that $41,000 to help offset the town's tax rate.

In a secret ballot vote, with 27 in favor and 37 opposed, the town's $49,767.92 public safety building fund will not be abolished. Erik Jones said when the fund was originally established the purpose was not just to save for future construction of a public safety building. He said the fund could also be used to make renovations to current buildings. He suggested the amount might be enough to convert the old fire station on Route 153 into a police department. That department currently shares a modular behind the town office building with the zoning officer and the town's welfare officer.

Jones pled with his fellow voters not to abolish the fund containing $31,000 that was originally established to fund the formation of a parks and recreation department for the town and to pay the cost of other recreation projects and activities. The voters did not agree with him and voted 44 to 16 in favor of abolishing the fund. Voters did approve the annual allotment of $3,500 that is paid to Ossipee Recreation Department so Effingham youth can participate in its programs.

Jory Augenti said the roads throughout town are "deplorable" and said someone needs to be held accountable. He motioned to reduce the selectmen's salaries by $2,000 each. His fellow voters did not agree. Augenti had many harsh words for selectmen throughout the meeting with regard to the road conditions and for the ever-expanding police department. As for the road he lives on, Granite Road, Augenti said the contractor the selectmen hired has not maintained the ditches so the crown has been lost. "It's your fault, you have no idea what you are looking at, you should be held accountable," said Augenti. He also questioned whether the selectmen are following the law when it comes to putting out for bid projects over $5,000.

Selectman Henry Spencer said that regionalization is gaining momentum in a lot of different areas, with towns partnering in different ways to provide services. He vowed that researching any options that might work for Effingham will be at the top of his priority list this year. This seemed to satisfy Augenti's questioning about whether or not Effingham could contract with the sheriff's department for police services as other communities do.

Spencer also took time during the meeting to recognize Theresa Swanick for her work on the board of selectmen. He specifically pointed to the grant-funded project of installing a wood pellet boiler at the town offices, a project that would not have been done without Swanick's work. Swanick lost her bid for re-election last week to Lawrence Edwards.

Planning and what the future holds for Effingham was a topic woven in to several budget line discussions during the Town Meeting. Effingham Planning Board is currently working on updating the town's Master Plan, to include a capital improvement plan. Communication between town boards and town residents was also discussed and the selectmen indicated that a priority this year is to continue to update the town's website at www.townofeffingham.net to include meeting minutes and other public documents.

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