March 15, 2012FREEDOM — The first Town Meeting of the season attracted about 100 voters to Freedom Town Hall Tuesday morning with a new fire truck passing the muster of the two-thirds ballot vote.
Selectmen scheduled several events prior to Town Meeting. This gave voters the chance to raise concerns and ask questions ahead of time including a public hearing on the entire budget, hearings about the proposed new fire truck, and a sort of town meeting rehearsal held March 10 where the entire warrant was reviewed again.
Tuesday's fire truck vote, Article Five, was by written ballot and asked voters to approve a five-year, $265,000 lease purchase agreement for a new tank truck for the fire department. Because it was a long-term financing issue, the vote had to be taken by paper ballot and had to pass by a two-thirds majority. There were 109 ballots cast in the one hour the voting was to remain open and that meant there needed to be 73 "yes" votes to pass the article. The article passed in a vote of 89 yes and 20 no.
Over the course of the nearly three-hour meeting, voters would go on to approve a total budget and warrant articles of $2,782,907, most with little to no discussion.
The final article, $3,000 for Carroll County Transit, brought the most discussion with most of the speakers talking in favor of the article that was presented by petition but the selectmen had voted not to recommend.
Selectmen said they voted against the article because they were concerned that voting for the article now would somehow obligate the town to pay more for the public bus service in the future.
Carol Anthony spoke on behalf of the transit program, saying there is a feeder bus route that started March 3 and will service Freedom on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The smaller feeder bus will pick up riders and take them to West Ossipee where they can connect to a bigger bus that will take them to Wolfeboro, Laconia, or Conway. "There are people in this town that need the service," she said.
Kimberly Reese pointed out that last year Freedom residents took 118 trips on the Blue Loon busses and 87 of those trips were medical appointments. "Twenty dollars a trip is a lot of money," she said. She added that First Christian Church volunteers already offer rides to people in town that need it, free of charge.
Another voter pointed out that while the Church volunteers are able to help provide transportation to those in need they are "inundated with calls" and can't fill the need. "You're asking people at the church to keep driving and driving and driving. Can't we just try it (Blue Loon) for a year and see how many people need it?" she asked.
In what Moderator Don Johnson called a "testament of the power of democracy, the turnaround of opinion due to discussion" all three selectmen changed their minds and spoke in favor of the $3,000 appropriation after hearing from voters at the meeting and receiving assurance from the town attorney that voting at this week's Town Meeting doesn't obligate voters at future town meetings to support the program.. The article passed with only a few voters opposing.
The rest of the warrant passed with very few "nay" votes:
- $2,251,727 operating budget, increased nearly 12 percent with the bulk of the increase going to salary increases, milfoil remediation, and the bond payment ($96,414) for the town's new public safety building.
- $27,480 for the property assessing contract
- $45,200 for the purchase of a new four-wheel drive police cruiser
- $25,000 to install a well, septic system and bathroom at the town's transfer station
- $15,000 for 10 sets of turnout gear for fire department members
- $68,000 for repaving town roads
- $12,000 for crack sealing town roads
- $10,000 to start a highway drainage capital reserve fund for future repairs to aging culverts and to have funds available in case of storm damage when funds are needed to match federal assistance funds
- $20,000 to the highway department capital reserve for future equipment purchases
- $5,000 to the town hall and office capital reserve fund for future improvements
- $2,500 to the library fund
- $21,000 for energy efficiency improvements to the town hall including additional insulation, window repair and retrofitting light fixtures
- $12,000 for a forester to oversee the administration of forestry activities in the Town Forest. This money will not be raised by property taxes but rather be taken from the money raised from logging in the Town Forest.