April 25, 2012SANBORNTON — During a public hearing last week, residents and town officials spoke out both for and against a petitioned warrant article that will appear on this year's election ballot asking voters to support RSA 40:13, which has come to be known as SB2.
If approved, the change would allow all matters before the town to be decided upon in the voting booth, as opposed to the traditional town meeting, where voters handle affairs of the town in a public forum.
Historically, this article has been presented approximately nine times over the years, and has yet to garner the necessary support for passage.
Earl Leighton, one of the authors of this year's article, said he hopes the time has come for the town to finally say yes to SB2.
"I know previously, it didn't pass, but it got 57-percent of the vote last time when it needed 60-percent. I'm hopeful this year it might pass," he said.
Leighton cited an aging population in Sanbornton as one reason it is important to change decision-making procedures in town, allowing more people the opportunity to join in on the process. Many, he said, cannot get to town meetings or sit through the lengthy discussions, which at times can continue late into the evening.
"It'd be nice for them to vote on monetary issues by ballot, or even absentee ballot," said Leighton.
With a population of approximately 3,000 residents, only 100 to 150 people generally attend town meeting to make the decisions for all, he said, and perhaps there would be greater participation with a ballot vote.
Supporting the article at the hearing was Roger Grey. A relatively new resident of Sanbornton, Grey said SB2 would mean a lot of work to "sell" proposals for new highway equipment, fire apparatus and other major monetary requests, but he felt it could be done through good communication and the deliberative sessions that are a part of the SB2 process.
"This is a reasonable, intelligent town, and that's one reason why we moved here," Grey said.
Residents Mark Ryba and Amy Hallowell agreed. Hallowell said she commutes to her job, and it can be difficult for people like herself to attend town meeting at times.
"We're all paying taxes. We all need to vote," she said.
Selectman Karen Ober said she is not in support of SB2, fearing even fewer people would take part in the deliberative session, an important component of ballot voting. It is at the deliberative session where the budget and warrant articles are explained, debated and sometimes altered before being placed on the official ballot for the final vote.
"I would hate to see the budget committee and selectmen work so hard on a budget, then have 50 to 60 people change it, and it's then voted down (at the polls). We'd then have to live with the default budget, and that's my fear," Ober said. "There's not always an informed decision being made in the voting booth."
Town meeting, she said, gives people a chance to hear what each article is about, and the impact it may or may not have on tax rates before casting their vote.
Selectman David Nickerson said he supported SB2 this year, understanding many older citizens and working families cannot take part in town meeting. He also felt ballot voting would allow more privacy as voters make their choices.
"At town meeting, everyone knows who voted against things, and a lot of times, that can reflect on a person or family because of the way someone voted," he said.
His opinions were shared by fellow selectman Guy Nickerson. Nickerson said the deliberative sessions would also allow voters the chance to take their time and research any articles they question before heading to the voting booth.
Grey said he understands that town meeting is a deep-seated tradition in many New Hampshire towns, and that a lot of people don't like change, but change is already happening all around, and it isn't always a bad thing.
"What we're talking about is adapting to change and getting a good representative vote," Grey said.
Ultimately, the decision on SB2 will be left to voters who head to the voting booth on May 8. Other than election of town officers, it will be the only other question they will face before heading to Sanbornton Central School the following night at 7 p.m. for the town meeting. There, they will openly discuss and decide upon 13 other warrant articles, including the proposed $3,690,044 operating budget for the next fiscal year.