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Grafton Rejects All 3 Town Office Proposals

Grafton Elections Moderator Susan Frost, left, and Town Clerk Bonnie Haubrich count absentee ballots at the fire station in Grafton, N.H., on March 11, 2014. 
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Grafton Elections Moderator Susan Frost, left, and Town Clerk Bonnie Haubrich count absentee ballots at the fire station in Grafton, N.H., on March 11, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

Grafton — Voters on Tuesday rejected all three proposals to solve space problems and remedy code violations at the town office building.

One of the options, which asked taxpayers to appropriate $12,000 to fix the most immediate violations, resulted in a 263-263 vote, meaning “it lost, because it didn’t win,” Selectboard Chairman Steve Darrow said after the polls closed Tuesday night. He said a recount is likely. The town clerk said a petition with 10 signatures is required to call a recount. The 550 or so residents who cast ballots also unseated longtime Selectwoman Jennie Joyce, electing newcomer Leon Dugan to the seat.

Voters rejected, 387-140, a proposal recommended by the Budget Committee — but not by the Selectboard — to borrow $296,000 to construct a new town office building on vacant town land behind the existing building on Route 4. Voters also refused, 375-152, a $137,000 appropriation to remove the old town clerk’s office and build a two-story addition in its place. All three proposals would have fixed building code violations identified by the state Department of Labor, including the lack of a second exit in the town clerk’s office, open electrical outlets, leaks that could lead to mold, and the lack of an entry window for the administrative assistant to the Selectboard’s office, which is a security issue, Darrow said.

“The board will have to convene and decide what we are going to do,” Darrow said. “We will need to appeal to the Department of Labor for advice.”

In the meantime, Darrow said, the board would decide what violations it could remedy on its own. For example, the clerk’s office has been moved to the meeting room, fixing the issue of the second exit.

“What would really remain to be done would be to put a window into the Selectmen’s office so the administrative assistant is separate from the public,” Darrow said. A rough estimate of the cost of the work is $5,000, he said.

Resident Scott Clang voted against the bond and building addition proposals. He said the lack of planning and not having legitimate design and architecture studies for a new building were driving factors behind his refusal to back the bond.

“How do you vote on something when you don’t know what you will get?” Clang asked before leaving the polls on Tuesday. “The information was just not there and you don’t give money away when you don’t understand what you are getting.”

Clang wasn’t alone.

“If you saw the plans, they were on graph paper. It wasn’t professionally done,” said resident Steve Kudlik.

Even the town clerk didn’t support the bond, though she supported the building of an addition.

“Doesn’t everyone want a nice new office?” Town Clerk Bonnie Haubrich asked at the polls. “Do I support the article? No. I wasn’t asked for any input as to what I needed for space and I don’t know how they came up with the needs of the staff.”

Darrow said the Selectboard, too, didn’t vote in favor of the bond. “The board wasn’t included in the plan and the board felt that the plan was not thoroughly thought out,” Darrow said. He said Budget Committee Chairman Ed Grinley came before the Selectboard with the plans. “It was Ed going out and making that plan by himself, and that was an issue,” Darrow said.

Grinley denied the assertion that he did not have “concrete” plans. In calculating the bond amount, he said, he asked local contractors for their advice on what it would cost to complete the work.

“I threw it out to the general contractors for carpentry and said give me a price on all of that. I went to a concrete guy and said give me a price on the foundation. I went to a couple guys who do landscaping and digging and did the same, so when I was done I had concrete numbers to base it on,” Grinley said.

Some residents at the polls Tuesday felt appropriating $12,000 to bring the building up to code was appropriate.

“We have to comply with the state. We have to do something in between,” Clang said. But that ultimately failed. And not all residents felt the bond should have been shot down.

“We really need this building,” former welfare administrator Maureen O’Reilly said at the polls, noting the welfare department’s office sits in the “hallway opposite a bathroom.”

The town operating budget of $993,500, up more than $53,000 from last year, passed on a vote of 381-111.

The default budget, which would have been adopted if the proposed budget failed, was more than the proposed budget, at just over $1 million.

“I voted for the budget because the default budget is higher,” said Jeremy Olson, who identifies himself with the Free State Project, a libertarian group that works to sharply limit spending.

Voters also rejected a tax cap, which would have prevented the Budget Committee from recommending an increase in property taxes of more than 1 percent over previous year’s spending.

Former Selectwoman Jennie Joyce said the tax cap “would essentially tie the town’s hands.”

A similar article, which would have implemented a 2 percent cap, narrowly failed last year.

Russell Poitras will continue to fill the position of police chief. He garnered 456 votes to 77 for newcomer Paul Howard Vogt. Catherine Mulholland beat Cindy Kudlik, 281-223, for a seat on the Budget Committee. Daniel Demers will be the trustee of trust funds after winning, 286-146, over Robert Forshee.

Dorothy Campbell will act as treasurer after a 280-247 vote against Margaret “Peg” Emslie. Jim Dugan will sit on the Planning Board after winning 368 votes to 134 for Robert Hull. Jeffrey Weiss will be the supervisor of the checklist as he won over 313 voters compared with Jeremy Olson’s 157.

School Board votes were still being counted late last night.

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