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Minot Sleeper Library proposal falls short in Bristol

Central Square Water and Sewer article fails

Town Administrator Michael Capone and Select Board Chairman Rick Alpers listen as Library Trustee George Corrette presents the new proposal for an addition to the Minot Sleeper Library at Bristol’s Town Meeting on Saturday morning. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
March 16, 2011
BRISTOL—It was a long day in Bristol on Saturday, as voters assembled in the Newfound Regional High School auditorium to discuss and vote on a wide range of issues on the Warrant at the 2011 Annual Town Meeting.

When it was all said and done, after nearly six hours of deliberation, voters defeated proposals to construct a $1.3 million addition to the Minot Sleeper Library and another $250,000 for engineering work needed to repair aging water and sewer infrastructure in Central Square, but also defeated attempts, by petitioned warrant articles, to force personnel cutbacks in the Police and Fire Departments.

A proposal to build a cell tower in a residential neighborhood on Chestnut Street was also soundly defeated.

The voters also defeated several amendments to reduce the Budget Committee's recommended operating budget, finally approving a sum of $5,192,780 for FY2011.

The Minot Sleeper Library proposal, Article 8, fell short of the two-thirds supermajority needed for a bond vote to pass muster at Town Meeting, with 167 voting in favor of the project and 108 voters opposed.

A proposal to build a two-story addition out the back of the existing Minot Sleeper Library was narrowly defeated at Town Meeting last year. This year, the Trustees had come back to the town with an entirely new proposal for a less-costly one-story addition to the library onto the adjacent lot, with a separate children's wing and a repurposing of the historic facility as a community meeting room. Trustees of the Library said they would to return to Town Meeting at a later date with another attempt to find approval of the proposal, which a majority of voters support.

However, several voters spoke in opposition to the new proposal, objecting to the timing and the impact on taxes during a difficult economic year for many residents on fixed or declining incomes.

One opponent of the library, Amin Khalif, questioned the utility costs of the proposed expansion on the grounds that with so much changing in information technology, the traditional model of a library, as a place for the housing of books, was becoming obsolete.

Other voters, including parents of young children and Tapply Thompson Community Center Director Les Dion, responded that kids are reading books more than ever before despite the advent of the Internet era. Others said they viewed the library less as a place to "house books" than a resource where the community comes together for learning.

Article 9 asked voters to approve a bond for $250,000 to complete the engineering study needed to design water and sewer upgrades and replacement of the aging infrastructure downtown in time to coordinate the work with the Central Square road and sidewalk improvement project (currently scheduled for spring of 2013). This measure also failed to achieve the two thirds supermajority needed for a bond vote. The vote, by ballot, was 175 in favor of the article, 97 opposed.

Article 12 asked voters to approve a contract, with Maxton Technologies, to construct a 200-foot-tall cell phone tower on town-owned land in a residential neighborhood off Chestnut Street. This plan ran into a solid roadblock, with abutters and Trustees from the Slim Baker Recreational Area speaking out against the proposal on the aesthetic grounds and questioning the economic and technological utility of the project. For the Trustees of Slim Baker, Jim Nyberg and Betty Seeler rose to oppose the project, questioning whether it was likely to result in enhanced cell phone coverage for most people in town, and arguing that it would harm the view (from Inspiration Point at Slim Baker), as well as endanger property values for nearby residents.

The article was overwhelmingly defeated on a voice vote.

The petitioned warrant articles to reduce the number of full-time professional police and fire department employees engendered considerable debate.

For the petitioners, Charles Carpenter presented the argument for reducing the number of police officers in Bristol from nine full-time officers to six by limiting the size of the department to two full-time officers per 1,000 full-time residents, a standard he argued was more in line with state averages and other towns in New Hampshire. He said that the purpose was to "reduce the tax burden on residents without jeopardizing the safety and security of the town."

While making it clear that the petitioners have no "reservations, issues or complaints" with the existing police and fire departments, he said that in consideration of the state of the economy, reduced departments would be "adequate" to meet the town's needs.

"We have to become proactive to see that our citizens are not taxed beyond their ability to pay," said Carpenter. "We cannot see how any government can find it prudent to maintain current expenditures or even increase them with stagnant or declining home values, a dead real estate market, declining incomes, and in some cases looming foreclosures."

He said the Bristol Police Department budget has more than doubled in the past ten years.

Police Chief Michael Lewis was asked to respond. Lewis said that he would carry out whatever the wishes of the legislative body might be, but he pointed out that calls for service have risen steadily, to 15,000 this past year, and included an increasing number of felony cases handled by the department.

"We wouldn't be able to provide the level of service that this community has deemed appropriate over the years," said Lewis.

Select Board member Phil Dion explained that in the opinion of town counsel, the article would be advisory only, and would not be binding on the select board, which has the responsibility to determine levels of policing in town.

Selectman Joe Denning said that many people in the town of Bristol are in support of the present level of policing for the town.

"One thing we are very good at here in Bristol is service," said Denning. "When your house is burning, when a crime is being committed, you want somebody to be there right away."

Article 14, to limit the size of the Police Department, was defeated by ballot, with 46 voters in favor of the measure, and 82 opposed.

Article 15, to return the town of Bristol to an on-call volunteer fire department, was then immediately tabled without discussion.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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