Few Changes to Warrant After Another Chaotic Meeting in Grafton

Sunday, February 08, 2015
Grafton — By the end of a 10 -hour deliberative session yesterday, no substantive changes had been made to the 36 articles on the warrant that Grafton residents will vote on next month.

In some ways, the meeting resembled last year’s — an 11-hour slog that, despite Free Staters’ efforts, resulted in no cuts to the operating budget. This year, attempts to slash the budget were once again rebuffed.

The spending plan voters will decide on in March is much like the current one, Steve Darrow, Selectboard chairman, said in an interview last week. “When we do budgets, we look at everything to see where we can make cuts. The budget committee is very astute at doing that. They try to hold the line as much as possible.”

The proposed operating budget of $1,023,681, about $30,000 more than last year’s, includes a contractual obligation to conduct a property revaluation in 2015 , Darrow said.

Yesterday, Brian Fellers , a member of the town Planning Board, proposed cutting the operating budget by 20 percent, but that motion was shot down, 67-29, in a secret ballot vote. Fellers was recently found guilty of disorderly conduct for disrupting last year’s deliberative session. He has appealed the conviction.

A number of factors affect the tax rate, but if those are unchanged, passing the budget w ould result in a 24 cent increase on $1,000 of assessed valuation , Darrow said at yesterday’s meeting. That would mean an increase of $48 on a $200,000 home. If the remainder of the articles pass, voters could see an increase of $1.34 per $1,000.

Yesterday, several people emphasized the need to keep things moving. Many see Free Staters’ focus on procedure as a ploy to drag out the meetings so other residents will become frustrated and leave, allowing those remaining to vote in changes to their liking. Yesterday frequent calls for secret ballots, which tend to be time-consuming, elicited groans.

“It is clear how the majority is voting today,” said Sue Jukosky. “We would all appreciate being able to get through the next part of the meeting without these delay tactics.”

Several residents said it was not their intention to hamper proceedings.

Neil Alexander said he thought the secret ballots would promote discussion of various topics, including the budget, a subject “a lot of people do not want to talk about.”

Frequent questions about which state statute allowed which actions in the meeting also raised hackles.

“It’s important to understand there are not a bunch of attorneys sitting in this room,” said Selectboard member Sean Frost, adding that the board would not look up every statute, which prompted applause.

“We could spend weeks here. We need to do the business of the town meeting and move on.”

Free Stater Jeremy Olson was among two dozen people who supported “going line by line” to examine the budget.

The idea, eventually voted down, sparked a lengthy discussion, including a comment from resident Karen Meyers that drew applause.

Delaying the meeting, part of a “blatant philosophical” approach, is based on the idea “that the only thing in town that counts is minimizing the bottom line,” Meyers said. “I don’t think that’s true at all.”

Procedural snarls, including confusion over which motions residents were being asked to vote on, also slowed the meeting. Town Moderator Susan Frost, who took on the role last year, consulted several times with Town Clerk Bonnie Haubrich, the former longtime moderator, on procedural points.

In the beginning of the meeting, Alexander asked for a moderator pro tem to be chosen. “Last year you were unable to control the proceedings,” he said to Frost, who is board member Sean Frost’s mother.

“I wonder why she wasn’t able to control it,” someone called out.

Susan Frost denied the request.

While the tenor was similar to last year’s meeting, the venue, Millbrook Christian Fellowship, was new.

“We decided to do that because when we have it in the fire station, we have to move all the emergency vehicles outdoors. In the winter, there could be a problem with (equipment) freezing up ,” Darrow said Friday. “The church was gracious enough to allow us to do this .”

It was a change he welcomed. “It might a long meeting, but at least it will be a more comfortable meeting,” he said.

Voting on the budget and warrant articles is set for Tuesday, March 10, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Grafton Fire Station.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.

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