Assistant administrators for the 2012 Tilton Town Meeting were busy last Saturday morning as they counted the second of two secret ballot votes. One vote sought to rescind a bond authority that is no longer necessary, and the second was a petitioned article pertaining to betterment fees in the Lochmere district of the town. From left to right are Linda Burns, Robert Hardy and Center Sanders. Moderator Chuck Mitchell oversaw the day’s proceedings. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
March 21, 2012TILTON — With approximately 160 voters in attendance, the Town of Tilton experienced a relatively routine Town Meeting this year, during which they passed a $5,076,976 budget.
Discussion became quite lively for a time when they arrived at Article 7 on the Town Warrant.
Selectman Katherine Dawson was the author of the petitioned article, which addressed betterment fees for residents in the village district of Lochmere. At town meetings in 2004 and 2006, voters approved two bond articles calling for a total of $3 million for the construction of a sewer system to service 225 homes in that section of Tilton. The articles stated the bonds would be paid back through betterment fees by users of the system. Dawson's petitioned article this year asked all taxpayers to bear the expense of those bonds, not just those who reside in Lochmere.
"I do not pay a betterment fee, and will probably never have a sewer hook-up at my house. I'm looking to correct an extremely disproportionate tax rate placed on a small minority by a majority of the residents," Dawson said.
She said the installation of the sewer system was important to the environment, as it stopped the seepage of raw sewage into the Winnipesaukee River and Silver Lake. Clean water, she said, benefits everyone as the town's aquifer begins in Lochmere, therefore all residents were bettered by the project and should help with the expense.
Budget committee member Robert Zott disagreed on dispersing that cost. When the town voted on the bonds, he said, betterment fees to users of the system were part of the "total package" voters approved. He and others feared any articles approved at a particular town meeting could be changed in later years if Dawson's article were to pass.
Residents of Lochmere backed the article, though, and one by one took the microphone to describe the impact on their finances. With the betterment fees added to their taxes, they were required to pay as much as $3.59 per thousand dollars of assessed value in addition to the town tax rate of $6.70. Several have or are in danger of having liens placed on their homes.
Jeff Preston, who lives in Gaslight Village off Route 3, said his mobile home co-operative is not even hooked into the system yet all 29 units are charged the betterment fees.
"People are losing their homes. Our co-op's in trouble," he said.
His neighbor said he would gladly bear the burden of other sewer lines in the town if the expense was dispersed among everyone, not just a few taxpayers. In Gaslight Village, he said, residents cannot even use the service unless they spend up to a million additional dollars and build a pumping station to hook into the system.
Other residents who do not live in the Lochmere district felt it unfair for them to pay on something they do not use and pointed out they have to also maintain and eventually replace their own private septic systems.
Selectman Joe Jesseman, however, said placing the burden of betterment fees upon those directly affected could make a negative impact on Tilton.
"We have future projects coming up for sewer lines in downtown. Betterment fees could drive people right out," said Jesseman.
After a lengthy debate, voters headed for the ballot box, where a vote of 87 to 72 approved the article. The result means 43 cents per thousand in assessed property value will be added to the new tax rate for all.
Voters also approved that $35,000 be placed in a new Capital Reserve Fund for the purchase of highway equipment. Another $60,000 was placed into the Town Roads, Streets, and Bridges Reconstruction and/or Repair Fund.
"I don't have to remind you of the condition of our roads," said selectman Sandra Plessner as she introduced the article.
Article 13, calling for $5,000 to be added to the Recreational Facilities Capital Reserve was turned down, however. Budget committee Chair Toni Belair said her committee did not recommend the article, as no future project plans for the fund were brought forward by the Parks and Recreation Commission. She noted the account has a current balance of approximately $27,000, and has never been used until the commission purchased an ice skating rink this winter.
"They do have a line in the operating budget, so I don't feel this is necessary," said Belair.
Debate broke out once more over a pay raise for the Town Health Officer, recommended by selectmen due to the increase of responsibilities and time involved in investigations. An amendment to reduce that line in the budget failed, as did a second attempt to raise the budget by $9,000 more for the Pines Community Center. While PCC asked for $59,000 from Tilton for the coming year, the selectmen and budget committee lowered that amount to $50,000. Belair said all outside agencies and town departments were asked to lower or level fund their requests but PCC did not.
"They asked for almost a ten-percent increase over last year. We want them to go out and find grant funding. We've been asking that for years. This is the year to do so," said Belair.
As the meeting wound down, Belair thanked both her committee and the selectmen for their work in keeping the operating budget to a less than one-percent increase for the