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Town Offices Up for a Vote

Grafton Residents to Choose From Three Proposals

  • Selectman Jennie Joyce, Administrative Assistant Sue Smith, and Selectman Sean Frost review numbers on the Grafton town warrant prior to signing it the Selectboard's office in the Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Selectman Jennie Joyce, Administrative Assistant Sue Smith, and Selectman Sean Frost review numbers on the Grafton town warrant prior to signing it the Selectboard's office in the Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    The Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Selectman Jennie Joyce, Administrative Assistant Sue Smith, and Selectman Sean Frost review numbers on the Grafton town warrant prior to signing it the Selectboard's office in the Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • The Grafton Town Office Building in Grafton, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Grafton — With the town under the gun from the state to solve space problems and health hazards at its municipal office building, voters at Town Meeting will face choices ranging from a $296,000 do-over to a $112,000 makeover to a $12,000 “Band-Aid.”

At a hearing Monday nigt, Budget Committee chairman Ed Grinley described his proposal to erect a new building as the best way to solve years of wear and tear.

He pointed as examples to rotting window sills, overloaded support beams and the continued shuffling of town workers and offices.

“The town has spent way too much money on this building,” Grinley told the Selectboard and an audience of about a dozen residents. “It’s old. It’s falling apart.”

Grinley estimated that if voters approve the five-year bond issue to pay for a new building, the average property owner in Grafton would see a tax bill increase about $37 a year.

Selectboard Chairman Steve Darrow pegged the annual cost per household at 50 to 60 cents per $1,000 of a house’s assessed valuation.

The fiver-year bond for a new building would require a 60-percent majority of yes votes to pass.

The Selectboard recently voted 2-1 against recommending the new building, one of a long list of one-time spending articles on the Town Meeting warrant in addition to the proposed operating budget of about $1 million.

The Selectboard, however, is recommending a $112,000 article to remove the former office of the town clerk and replace it with a two-story addition, and to make other repairs and renovations to remedy violations that the New Hampshire Department of Labor identified during an inspection last spring.

If the $112,000 renovation article fails, the selectboard would encourage voters to support the $12,000 article aimed at fixing the violations.

While saying that he still embraces the idea of “putting the Band-Aid on” with the $12,000 article, Darrow added that he welcomes the opportunity for voters to give long-term directions.

“Maybe,” Darrow said, “People will realize: ‘Hey, it’s time to do something.’ ”

Selectman Sean Frost added, “I’m happy that Ed went through the work to do this. Now the town is going to show us, come March, what they want us to do.”

Voters will take their first swing at those spending proposals, as well as a renewed effort to cap the annual budget increase at 1 percent, during a deliberative session on Feb. 8, in advance of the March 11 town meeting.

After the hearing, former town welfare administrator Maureen O’Reilly said that she hopes that more voters turn out than did so the last two Town Meetings — at each of which voters rejected her proposals to raise $10,000 toward a fund to deal with the building’s problems.

“And this is where we are today,” O’Reilly said.

Looming over all proposals for spending is a second effort by members and allies of the libertarian Free State Project to sharply limit spending.

In an article for which he collected enough signatures to put on the warrant, resident Jeremy Olson proposes a tax cap — under which the Budget Committee could not recommend an increase in property taxes of more than 1 percent over the previous year’s spending package. The cap would remain in effect year to year, unless a 60-percent majority voted to repeal it.

In 2013, at a sparsely attended deliberative session 4½ weeks before Town Meeting, Free State supporters won preliminary approval of a cut of more than $128,000 from the $954,000 budget that the Selectboard and the Budget Committee had recommended. Voters at the subsequent Town Meeting rejected that cut, leaving the town with a default budget of $940,000 — about the same amount of spending as the previous year.

Olson last year also proposed a warrant article for a tax cap, which failed to receive the 60-percent majority vote to go into effect. At Monday night’s hearing, Olson said similar caps are working in Franklin and Manchester, under the state law allowing voters to institute them. He added that voters at the deliberative session could raise the cap to 2 percent or 3 percent.

O’Reilly described the cap as “an insulting warrant article. Everybody works hard to keep their budgets low.”

Selectwoman Jennie Joyce added that if the town had to face rising and unexpected expenses with a cap at below the rate of inflation, “we’d go to hell without the handbasket.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.

PHOTO CORRECTION

Grafton Selectboard members Jennie Joyce and Sean Frost were photographed with administrative assistant Sue Smith as they reviewed numbers on the town warrant prior to signing it. An earlier version of the caption on a photograph with this story inaccurately described what they were doing.