Haverhill — Haverhill officials broke from school and Town Meeting tradition this year and achieved their desired result of a higher voter turnout.
Merging the meetings to one time and place — Saturday at Haverhill Cooperative Middle School — meant the annual events were separated by a mere lunch break instead of multiple days.
More than 450 participants were on hand for the morning business.
“This is what it should be,” Selectboard Chairman Wayne Fortier said, alluding to the large crowd. “This is democracy at its best.”
The morning session featured a debate about a proposed amendment to cut $400,000 from the proposed $14.38 million school budget on the school warrant.
Resident Amy Moore was one of several people who spoke out against the suggested cut.
“Now is the time to see the forest, not the trees,” Moore said.
Moore proceeded to raise some eyebrows in the large crowd when she cited some of her own research into town records. According to Moore, there are more than $1.6 million in uncollected taxes currently on Haverhill’s books. She advocated for focusing on collecting outstanding tax debt rather than cutting the school budget.
As it is, two classroom teaching positions are being cut from the school system in the proposed budget.
“We don’t like it,” SAU 23 Superintendent Laurie Melanson said. “We’re not happy about it, but we will make it work.”
The vote by ballot, which took more than an hour to conduct and tabulate, came down to the narrowest of margins, with the amendment to trim $400,000 from the school budget losing, 233-229.
“One vote does count,” commented Moderator Alfred (Jay) Holden.
The proposed school budget went on to pass in a voice vote. The morning ended with a discussion about the possibility of closing Woodsville High School and sending students across the Connecticut River to Oxbow High in Bradford, Vt., in the interest of saving taxpayer dollars.
The discussion topic, not a formal amendment or vote, was proposed by Ron Willoughby, the head of the Haverhill Taxpayer Association.
“Consolidation is the wave of the future, like it or not,” Willoughby told the assembled crowd. Fortier responded by citing a plan to join Haverhill’s elementary school with its middle school while putting more than $11 million toward high school renovations.
At Town Meeting in the afternoon, residents approved a municipal operating budget of just under $4 million.
Before the article was passed, an amendment was proposed to add $32,850 in order to maintain a local recycling contract.
The proposed amendment prompted a robust conversation about recycling access, but failed to secure enough votes.
Adam Boffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.