Newport To Weigh Old Way

Newport — The presence of fewer than 1 percent of the town’s 3,600 registered voters at last night’s deliberative session was a clear signal why the town needs to return to the traditional Town Meeting format, said one resident.

“We need to get back to the old way of voting,” former Selectwoman Betty Maiola told an nearly empty opera house. “We have never had this few people before. It is very, very important we get rid of SB2.”

SB2 is shorthand for the state law that paved the way for towns to drop the longtime tradition of voting from the floor on Town Meeting day in favor of all-day voting at the polls.

Maiola was addressing Article 7 on the town warrant that calls for ending all-day balloting, which Newport adopted seven years ago. The Selectboard placed the article on the warrant and a 60 percent majority is needed to return the town to a meeting where most articles, except for the election of officers, are voted on from the floor.

“It is kind of sad,” said Selectwoman Virginia Irwin about the attendance, noting that of the 32 people in the hall, 17 “had to be there,” because they serve the town in some capacity.

With a lot of explanation but few comments, it took about an hour last night to run through the 12-article warrant, which goes to voters on May 14.

Article 5 requests $161,212 to buy a new ambulance, of which about $56,000 would come from grants, $26,800 from taxes and $78,000 through a bond.

Selectman Gary Nichols said they want to replace a 13-year old ambulance that has 100,000 miles on it. Nichols said that Newport is doing more and more transports, not only to Valley Regional in Claremont and New London Hospital but also to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. When he joined the ambulance squad in 1972, Nichols said, there were 325 calls that year. This past year the number was 1,460.

“This ambulance needs to be replaced,” he stressed.

Resident Tony Maiola spoke from experience when he commented on the importance of having reliable ambulances.

“It is the one thing the town should keep up,” said Maiola. “They saved my life a couple of times. Let’s get behind them and give them what they want.”

The proposed budget of $8.7 million is about $90,000 more than this year’s but would lower the tax rate by 28 cents because of higher non-tax revenues in the area of town fees.

Article 8 appropriates $250,000 for repairs to about a dozen roads. Irwin said the board decided to place the request outside the budget to give voters an opportunity to decide on the value of improving the roads in town. If approved in May, it would add 60 cents to the tax rate.

Repairs would be made to the Opera House if voters approve $82,000 in Article 9, with the money to come from the town hall improvements fund.

The Community Alliance of Sullivan County is asking for $5,000 for its bus service, volunteer driver program and family services program. The article was placed on the warrant by petition and has the support of the Selectboard and Budget Advisory Committee.

At the end of the meeting, Irwin, who is also a Democratic state representative for the town, asked for a show of hands on a proposed casino that some lawmakers would like to see built in Southern New Hampshire, which is up for a House vote shortly. The vote was 17-8 in favor.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at