Tilton says no to new police station
April 27, 2011TILTON — At the Town Meeting on March 13 this year, Tilton voters walked away with some unfinished business when a warrant article for a new police station at 61 Business Park Drive failed by only two votes and was put up for reconsideration, resulting in a Special Town Meeting.
That meeting was held last Thursday evening, when 400 people crowded the cafetorium at Winnisquam Regional High School, but this time, the no's carried 48 percent of the vote and the article again fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Following a brief presentation by the Life Safety Building Committee on their studies and proposal for the new station, Budget Committee Chairman Toni Belair took the microphone to address voters. She said she had many concerns, and among them were questions about the added expense for proposed water line installation to the property and access roads to Route 3 for police responding to calls.
Belair said she and her committee had been working hard to lower taxes, and did not feel now was the time to commit to a $2.7 million project. She said more exact information on the total project should be presented before it is approved.
"We've got the building. It's not going anywhere," said Belair.
Selectman Pat Consentino, who was also on the LSBC which studied the matter over the past six years, countered many of Belair's points.
On the issue of water lines to the property, Consentino said a firm contract agreement had been signed with Guy and Casey Nickerson, who own nine of the remaining lots in the business park. The Nickersons agreed to split the cost of the project to bring water to the road at a guaranteed cost to the town of no more than $325,000.
The Nickersons further agreed to pay any unforeseen expenses that should arise, along with engineering costs for the water lines.
Contrary to Belair's claim that a water tower would also be necessary for a police station at the park, Consentino said that was untrue, and installing a water main would be cheaper than a well or cistern, as it would also become a revenue for the town.
"Bringing water to the site will mean others who purchase lots in that park will pay the town 10 percent right off the top (for taking the land out of current use). They also then have to pay the Town of Tilton and the Nickersons to tie into that water line. Just one lot sold would pay for installing water lines to Business Park Drive," she said.
Residents also spoke both for and against the article for the proposed station. Many were in favor, saying the time had come to move the department into a safer location with handicapped access and room to perform their jobs efficiently.
Others, like Pat Clark, felt the location was wrong, and urged people to vote against the article.
Clark admitted he had been an "early cheerleader" for the site, but had since changed his mind.
"It's the wrong site, the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I hope you feel as I do and vote no tonight," Clark said.
In the end, most voters agreed with Clark, as the article failed to meet a two-thirds majority, with 208 people voting yes and 192 who said no. There was some discrepancy with the polls, however, and one voter stepped forward to say neither he nor his wife or son had their voter cards punched when they received a ballot.
"We could have voted twice, and I know several other people didn't get their cards punched, either," he said.
Moderator Chuck Mitchell acknowledged he had been made aware of other issues. Eleven people had received approval by one of the Supervisors of the Checklist to vote early and leave after marking their hand ballot, thinking they had cast a valid vote.
Mitchell said he was also told by an out of town resident that they had been able to obtain a ballot for the police station without question. That person immediately notified he and Attorney Scott McGuffin, and handed them the ballot without casting a vote.
Despite those situations, McGuffin said the vote could be considered valid if the discrepancies did not change the final results.
"The question is how many orange cards were treated as ballots. If the number does not add up to enough to equal the two-thirds vote, it is considered a harmless error," said McGuffin.
After a brief recess, McGuffin and Mitchell determined that errors made at the polls did not alter the outcome of the vote.
Of the 17 cards turned in as early ballots, six indicated "No" and 11 were in favor of the article. Had those votes been allowed, they would not overturn the results.
The two men also considered the number of voter cards handed out when people registered upon arrival, and found it equal, or close to equal, to the number of votes cast, and therefore declared the article had legitimately failed.
A move to protect the vote then killed any other action on the warrant article for 2011.
Officers were discouraged as they heard the news, and selectmen were concerned about conditions at the current police station, which leave the town vulnerable for future lawsuits.
"We'll just have to try and find the money to put some type of 'band-aid' on conditions at the station for now and see what happens next year," Consentino said.
The second article to be addressed at the meeting concerned extending the public water supply on its own, brought forward since the previous article for both the police station and water lines had failed. In that vote, the final tally left it only one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed. A motion to reconsider was made and passed, leaving Tilton with another special meeting on May 20, when they will again take the matter under consideration.