Grafton: Free Stater Bid to Slash Budget Rejected; Wind Farm Fails

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Grafton — Attempts by Free Staters and their allies to cut spending in Grafton failed yesterday, as voters rejected a budget that had been drastically slashed at last month’s deliberative session and approved other spending articles.

Voters also resoundingly rejected a proposed wind farm in town.

The $825,956 budget lost, with 270 voting against to 256 in favor, forcing Grafton to move forward with the larger default budget of $940,366. The default budget is slightly less than the $954,523 plan the Selectboard had originally proposed, but will nevertheless keep in place some of the services that may have triggered cuts had the budget that was put before voters yesterday been approved.

Grafton voters also approved spending articles to buy a new police vehicle, pave town roads, buy a plow truck and upgrade the heating system in the fire and ambulance building. Voters rejected a petitioned article to implement a tax cap, with 202 voting in favor to 296 against.

Selectman David Rienzo, who lost his re-election bid yesterday to Sean Frost, said Grafton voters sent a clear message to the libertarian activists in town who have sought to scale back local government services.

“I’m seeing the town starting to push back on the Free Staters,” Rienzo said last night.

The Free State Project received national attention a decade ago after announcing that its followers had selected New Hampshire as a future homeland for its movement favoring small government. Grafton was among the towns where the Free Staters took hold.

The budget was cut during last month’s deliberative session when Free Staters and their allies proposed an amendment to reduce the Selectboard’s budget by 13 percent to $825,956. The amendment passed by one vote, 33-32, and thus the lower figure ended up on yesterday’s ballot.

Frost joined Rienzo in celebrating the outcome of the budget vote. Having served on the budget committee before, he said he understands all the hard work that goes into setting the town’s finances.

“To take that bottom line and cut it by another 13 percent is over the top,” Frost said.

Yesterday in Grafton turnout was largely driven by a $21.8 million bond vote to renovate Mascoma Valley Regional High School. Grafton rejected the proposal, 304-215, tipping the scales against the project in the five-town school district.

By comparison the town’s budget seemed relatively minor, said voter Dave Tupper, who was the first in line to vote yesterday morning at the fire station.

“That’s not an issue,” Tupper said of the town budget. “Your budget on the town is nothing compared to the school.”

Meanwhile, Sherry White said she objected to the reduced figure on yesterday’s ballot because it would likely mean cutting town departments.

“I’m against (lowering) it,” she said. “I’m not into taking jobs away from people.”

White was also against a proposed wind farm in town, joining a majority of voters yesterday who rejected several articles on the so-called Wild Meadow Road wind project.

Iberdrola Renewables, which has two farms in New Hampshire, has been planning a 37-turbine project by Wild Meadow Road in Grafton as well as Alexandria, N.H., and Danbury, N.H. A separate farm operated by another company went online on Dec. 28 in Groton, N.H.

An article that asked residents whether they supported the Wild Meadow Wind farm project failed yesterday, with 160 in favor and 366 opposed. A petitioned article that asked whether voters wanted the Selectboard to “reject” the proposed wind farm passed 334-190. Another petitioned article asked whether voters should discontinue Golden Valley Road 150 feet from Wild Meadow Road “in a southeasterly direction to the Sulloway Place for 1,349 feet.” That article passed 311-188.

White said the wind farm would “trash our roads” and would cost taxpayers more money. Conrad Russell said he favored the wind farm. “I’m for the windmill,” he said. “I think that it’s a good thing.”

In all, there were 18 petitioned articles on yesterday’s ballot. Four of those related to the wind farm and passed. All of the remaining petitioned articles failed.

In contested races, Bonnie Haubrich won re-election as town clerk, Robert Bassett was elected road agent, George Curran won election as supervisor of the checklist, Catherine Mulholland was elected trustee of the trust funds, Ed Grinley was elected to budget committee, and Genevieve Smith was elected library trustee.

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