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Fire District stays intact with overwhelming voter support



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Voters lined up in an orderly fashion to cast their secret ballot on the proposal to dissolve the Tilton-Northfield Fire District at Monday night's annual meeting. With a two-thirds majority required for Article 6 to pass, 298 of the voters opted to keep the district intact while 117 voted to dissolve. The article failed by 169 votes. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
March 17, 2010
TILTON — With a two-thirds majority required for voters from the Tilton and Northfield to dissolve the fire district and go their separate ways, the article decisively failed to reach the 286 votes needed, with 117 residents voting for the dissolution and 298 voting to keep the district intact.

The annual meeting was held Monday evening in the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium, which was filled to near capacity, and sparked many comments from the public prior to a secret ballot vote. Moderator Kent Finemore began the night by asking for respect on both sides and limited comments to seven minutes for anyone wishing to address the issue. Kevin Waldron, in his final night as a Fire Commissioner, led off discussion, saying he was speaking to the conscience of the people of Tilton. Waldron, a resident of Northfield, addressed the Tilton selectmen and members of the Life Safety Building Committee in particular, quoting them as never wishing to "shove anything down anyone's throat," a reference to the Tilton-based proposal for a joint fire and police department.

"Voting for dissolution will allow you to build the department of your dreams. As sure as I'm standing here, if this fails tonight, the divisiveness between the towns will only grow, and the issue of dissolution is guaranteed to return," he said.

The people of Northfield, he continued, had made their wishes known at their Town Meeting on Saturday and he urged voters in Tilton to help make that wish a reality.

Lana Dearborn, also a Northfield resident, pointed out that only 200 people were at the Town Meeting. She said the evening's vote was by far the most important vote and was glad to see such a large crowd in attendance but advised, "Not everyone wants out."

Richard Dearborn reminded voters that 100 people in Northfield voting for the dissolution does not speak for the entire town, which has over 3,000 registered voters.

But Lisa Swanscott, a member of the Northfield Budget and CIP committees, said Northfield could not afford a Life Safety Building and urged voters to pass the article. Fellow resident Gretchen Wilder, a member of the Fire Services Committee, agreed. A 62 percent increase in costs over the next five to 10 years, as she projected, was something she did not want to see.

Tilton resident Heather Bishop Dumka countered by pointing out there has been only talk of a life safety building and no action has been taken to construct one.

"We as Tilton residents don't want to pay for it either. We're concerned about our taxes, too," Dumka said.

Discussion lasted for over an hour as people voiced the pros and cons of a dissolution before Charles Mitchell of Tilton called the matter and set the stage for the vote.

Cheers erupted as Finemore read the results and firefighters from the district, who had been concerned on their future employment in the event of a dissolution, were visibly relieved as they stood watching the proceedings.

Many people filed out the door after the vote was read, but a larger than normal crowd stayed to continue the business of the district, which generally has seen fewer than a hundred voters turn out for the annual meeting.

Bylaws for the district were handily approved, but an article to allow for $10,000 to be withdrawn from the Land and Building Capital Reserve for a study on expanding the Park Street station failed. Residents said now was not the time for any unnecessary expenditures. Currently there is $230,486.82 in the account and voters decided to keep that amount for the future of the district.

Commissioner Tom Gallant asked to have Article 9, asking for $100,000 to be placed in that same account, tabled and a hand count showed most voters agreed. Upgrades to Center Street station, providing better sleeping quarters and office space as well as a fire escape for the building, were presented in Article 10. A Northfield resident spoke on the article, saying the firefighters put their lives on the line for district residents every day and asked voters to consider their safety and comfort. The article, allowing $15,000 for this project, passed easily.

The only other article to bring much discussion was Article 13, which asked for $103,418 for purchase of fire, rescue and EMS equipment. Waldron read what he termed a "wish list" of purchases the chief had compiled and Wilder asked to amend the amount to $89,418, removing the cost for a Power Cot from the amount requested. Firefighters explained the cot was needed to assist them in moving patients, allowing them to move an increasingly heavier population into ambulances without requiring a call for assistance. Paul Laraway, a firefighter/EMT in another department, agreed that the cots would help keep workers compensation costs down and were a small price to pay in order to save thousands of dollars on an injured EMT. The amendment failed and the article eventually passed as written.

Following the meeting, Stephen Bluhm, Northfield selectman and a member of the Fire Services Committee, said he was "okay" with the results of the secret ballot as he always felt the people were the ones to make the decision. With the vote to stay with the district, he hoped residents would continue to make their wishes known.

"I've always been in favor of controlled spending," he said. "People need to vote for what they can afford now."

TNFD Chief Stephen Carrier said it was nice to be reassured that the majority of the district supported the fire department.

"That's always important to us. Staying together, I think, is the best thing for the district. The voters did the right thing tonight," he said.

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