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Joyce Endee

Tuftonboro public safety building reconsidered and rejected

Reconvened Town Meeting votes down modified building proposal 354-268

TUFTONBORO VOTERS reconvened at Tuftonboro Central School on March 26 to vote on an amended $2.9 million combined fire and safety facility. The proposal lost, 354-268. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
March 31, 2011
TUFTONBORO — At the reconvened town meeting in Tuftonboro on March 26, naysayers showed up in greater numbers than before to defeat Article 3. An amendment offered by the Public Safety Facilities Committee to reduce the dollar amount to $2.9 million was approved and then Article 3 was soundly rejected in a 354-268 paper ballot vote.

The Saturday vote was just one of a string of rejected Tuftonboro building proposals that began in 2007 when a $3.9 million fire and police combined facility was defeated 403-125. A library building proposal was rejected that same year, and in 2009, it again fell short, that time by just 20 votes. Two weeks ago, the original $3.2 million proposal failed with a 60 percent majority voting in favor, but not enough to meet the required two-thirds bonding approval, and a $1.5 million alternate fire-station-only proposal presented by resident John Simms was rejected outright, 188-74.

Between the March 9 Town Meeting and last Saturday, printed signs urging voters to vote "no" on Article 3 and saying "What part of no don't you understand?" appeared on Tuftonboro resident Paul Zimmerman's Clarke Plaza property in Wolfeboro and dotted the roadways of Tuftonboro.

The Tuftonboro Central School gymnasium filled to its 627 capacity with a standing-room-only crowd. The amendment reducing the cost to $2.9 million passed quickly, and Simms stood to list several concerns he had about the proposal's layout, including a need for more storage, a larger meeting room and no plans for a bunk room, which he said would be necessary if the ambulance attendants were to house the ambulance on site. He also offered cost comparisons to specifics of his prior proposal, but he was speaking to a restive crowd.

When Moderator Dan Barnard noted that others were waiting at microphones to speak, some audience members clapped and shouts came from several quarters, indicating a crowd anxious to get on with a vote. Simms urged voters to vote no, and suggested that the plan be considered next year with modifications.

George Noyes came to the microphone to declare that the fire and police departments "deserve the best facilities that money can buy." He said he believed in the article and would have voted yes on March 9, but he was unable to attend because of an illness in the family. Having said that, he went on to label the move to reconsider (which passed 75-47 following the vote on the operating budget) a "secret plan," referred to "collusion," and said that he hoped voters "would remember the tragic event that brought us back here."

Former selectman Sue Weeks noted that the Wolfeboro Ambulance service would take 18-20 minutes to get to her house and that a new station would lower response time to her home to five minutes. She also said that a combined facility would allow for efficient, coordinated responses. With the police able to perform bookings in town rather than in Ossipee, that would lower their response time to urgent police matters, such as domestic violence.

A motion to move the question passed at 10:35 a.m. Those already standing at microphones, however, were allowed to speak.

John Beaulieu urged voters to take a proactive approach and take action, noting that Tuftonboro is not in compliance with the rules and laws applying to fire and police stations and warning that if the Department of Safety was to bring an injunction against the town, "the state would dictate what has to be done." He also said that the signs around town were illegal for they did not bear the sponsor's name.

Barry Ennis said that he was "upset" about the reconsideration, asserting, "Don't go against 'we the people.'" He went on to add another idea to the mix, suggesting that a station should be built on the corner of Union Wharf Road and Route 109A.

The vote left selectmen Dan Duffy and Carolyn Sundquist, who both served on the building committee, along with the fire and police chiefs and the codes officer, dispirited. "We did the best job we could," said Duffy. "It's very discouraging to work so hard" and spend so much time on it and be defeated. He said he heard that a part-time resident flew in from across the country to vote and noted the cost of the flight was likely more than a year's portion of the taxes attributed to a new facility.

"The fact that we could pay for it didn't seem to make any difference," said Sundquist. She bemoaned the line up of space needs that remain unaddressed for the fire, police and library, saying, "We've made no progress. The needs just keep getting greater and greater."

As for the vote to reconsider, Sundquist said that she was surprised at the strong reaction in response, for it's a legal option that is not uncommon, especially when there is a clear majority, as in the case of the first vote on Article 3 on March 9. The subject came up when she, Barnard and Simms had met to talk about the meeting process, and Barnard had to have a place and time to offer if someone made such a move. He called the school to be prepared for that eventuality. She was prepared to suggest it if there was a clear majority, but Ric Friend happened to speak first from the floor.

No one knew how the vote would turn out. The first vote was a pleasant surprise for the committee, but the second was a disappointment.

At this juncture, Bill Stockman, newly-voted chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said," Let's give it a rest, regroup and discuss it again."

Martin Lord Osman
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Varney Smith
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