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Opposing voices speak at SB2 hearing

February 23, 2011
MOULTONBORO — Selectmen voiced their disdain over SB2 during a public hearing, with some residents also voicing opposition.

On Thursday, a public hearing was held on a petitioned warrant article for the town to adopt SB2. The Official Ballot Act, also known as SB2, would replace the traditional town meeting with a deliberative session and ballot voting on warrant articles.

Members of the Board of Selectmen have been strong opponents of the measure. Resident Hollis Austin asked the selectmen if any of them would be willing to step down from their seat to speak as residents against SB2. Members of the board said they would speak respectively as residents and selectmen, Selectman Betsey Patten saying she would speak against it as a resident, a selectman, and a state representative.

Public comment at the meeting was mostly in opposition. Resident Don Muscavitz said the issue has already been voted down for four years and bringing it up again is exhausting to the town and its residents.

"I think it's just a waste of everybody's time," Muscavitz said.

Resident Sally Humer spoke in strong opposition to SB2, saying she talked to the town clerks of communities such as Hampton Falls and Epping about their experiences with SB2. Humer said she learned Hampton Falls had a budget with drastic cuts that was rejected by voters and the town went to a default budget that was thousands of dollars more. Articles have been on the ballot to bring back the traditional town meeting, but not enough votes have been received to repeal SB2.

Humer said she spoke to Epping's clerk, who has done extensive advertising and promoting of the deliberative session and warrant articles. Humer said she was told by the town clerk that warrant articles for capital projects are seldom passed

"She said to me in a sad voice, 'We have no money for any improvements in this town and this has been going on for 10 years,'" Humer said. "It really sounds like Epping is in a death spiral."

Humer said that Epping does not have the tax base and demographics of Moultonboro, saying more affluent people come to Moultonboro who might want more nice roads that might not get done if SB2 is in place. Humer also spoke of how a small group could come into the deliberative session and change the amount in articles.

Board Chair Joel Mudgett said that the town budget has been close to a zero increase for the past three years. To keep staying at that level for too long would mean something would have to be cut.

"If we go to SB2 and the town stays on a default budget the town is going to lose," Mudgett said. "If you don't put any money at all into the roads, pretty soon you have no roads."

Selectman Karel Crawford said she has always been against SB2 from her time on the school board through now.

"We can only vote no so many times," Crawford said. "I will fight SB2 every time it comes up because it's flawed."

Crawford said actions taken at a deliberative session, such as reducing the amount of an article to zero or $1, makes the decision for the voters and does not give the voters an opportunity to decide.

"I'd rather see 200 informed voters at town meeting than 200 uninformed voters at the polls," Crawford said. "This form of government works; why do we have to change it?"

"Personally I was disappointed that it came back again," said Selectman Ed Charest, saying he questioned the later timing of the petition's submission.

Charest said other alternatives could be examined, such as a charter government. While he said he was happy to see the change in state law against eliminating the content of articles at the deliberative session, Charest said money amounts could still be changed.

Patten said she did vote in favor of SB2 and charters when they initially came up in the legislature.

"I will fight it and fight it at the local level," Patten said. "I have seen that community lose their togetherness when Senate Bill 2 gets in."

Patten said SB2 has created a wedge in communities and how it creates bad feelings.

"I don't want to see Moultonboro end up that way," Patten said. "If Senate Bill 2 comes to town, I really believe we lose a part of Moultonboro that to me is precious."

Patten said town meeting has been a way for people to come together after a long winter and put the selectmen on notice, something hat is lost if SB2 is voted in.

Mudgett said if voters do not like how the selectmen come up with the budget then they should vote them out.

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