Enfield keeps floor meeting, approves budget increase

Tim Lenihan comments on increases in the Enfield, N.H., budget during Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Tim Lenihan comments on increases in the Enfield, N.H., budget during Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Barbara Gaudette, right, takes a handout from David Beaufait, left, showing a comparison of Enfield's town budget compared to seven other New Hampshire towns that he and other residents produced independently before the Enfield, N.H. Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. Beaufait won election to the town budget committee in ballot voting on Tuesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Barbara Gaudette, right, takes a handout from David Beaufait, left, showing a comparison of Enfield's town budget compared to seven other New Hampshire towns that he and other residents produced independently before the Enfield, N.H. Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. Beaufait won election to the town budget committee in ballot voting on Tuesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Sharon Phinney, left, and Jay Adams discuss the town warrant while staffing the Enfield Mascoma Lioness Club snack table before the start of Enfield, N.H., Town Meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2024. They offered coffee, donuts, sandwiches and chips by donation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Sharon Phinney, left, and Jay Adams discuss the town warrant while staffing the Enfield Mascoma Lioness Club snack table before the start of Enfield, N.H., Town Meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2024. They offered coffee, donuts, sandwiches and chips by donation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Enfield, N.H., Town Manager Ed Morris casts his ballot in the town budget vote during Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. The $9.4 million budget was approved by voters. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Enfield, N.H., Town Manager Ed Morris casts his ballot in the town budget vote during Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. The $9.4 million budget was approved by voters. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Ballot Clerk Tiffani Price, left, and Assitant Moderator John Carr, right, count ballots from the budget vote at Enfield, N.H., Town Meeing at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. The $9.4 million budget was approved by voters. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ballot Clerk Tiffani Price, left, and Assitant Moderator John Carr, right, count ballots from the budget vote at Enfield, N.H., Town Meeing at Enfield Village School on Saturday, March 16, 2024. The $9.4 million budget was approved by voters. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-17-2024 7:51 PM

Modified: 03-18-2024 12:35 PM


ENFIELD — For the second time in three years, residents narrowly defeated an effort to switch from a traditional floor meeting to ballot voting.

The vote — which needed to be approved by 60%, or three-fifths, of voters present — failed by 13 votes, with 121 voting in favor of ballot voting and 103 against. The measure needed a 60% super majority — 134 votes — to pass.

The article was one of many — including a proposed $9.4 million budget, a short-term rental ordinance and a list of potential projects to add to the town’s TIF district plan — that elicited robust debate during a roughly seven-hour long Town Meeting at Enfield Village School on Saturday.

The budget passed by a paper ballot vote, 156-97, after about an hour of discussion. The short-term rental ordinance failed by a paper ballot vote, 124-117. The TIF district project list was ultimately approved after residents voted down amendments to remove electric vehicle charging stations and studies of properties on Route 4 and Lovejoy Brook Road.

The town’s TIF district — or tax increment finance district — is around 340 acres of land primarily along Route 4. Taxes raised from properties can be used to fund proposed projects within the district.

During the debate about voting, supporters of traditional Town Meeting argued that it is a centuries-long tradition worth keeping. They said it’s important for people to attend to hear what their neighbors have to say and, after hearing other points of view, they may be more inclined to change their minds.

Enfield Police Chief Roy Holland said there is a lot of wrong information out in the community.

“Then at Town Meeting, you can come with your bad information and get good information,” he said. “We can hash it out.”

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Supporters of the change said switching to so-called SB2 voting to conduct all town business would make it more accessible to residents who are unable to attend the meeting due to other commitments, and it would open up absentee-ballot voting for people who may be away for the in-person meeting. They also pushed back against the notion that those who vote at the polls are less-informed about town affairs.

“It upsets me to no end,” said Kristin Harrington, adding that those who cannot attend may be working, coping with family emergencies or physically unable to sit for hours to discuss town business.

“I should not have to give up my entire day just to vote,” Mark Tarantelli said. He pointed to the turnout numbers for ballot voting last Tuesday, which this year numbered 455 and are traditionally higher than Town Meeting attendance.

That “shows we should be voting SB2,” he said. There were 253 ballots cast in the budget vote at Town Meeting.

The hashing out characteristic of in-person town meetings was on display earlier in the meeting when voters addressed the proposed $9.4 million budget, which is up nearly 13% from the previous years.

During a presentation, Budget Committee Chairman Dimitri Deserranno said that nearly half of the increase is caused by debt payments due on bonds voters approved in 2022 to renovate Whitney Hall, which includes the town offices and library, and to construct a new public safety facility. The other half of the increase is primarily due to higher solid waste fees, as well as health benefit costs for town employees.

“We’re not budgeting fat,” Deserranno said.

At several points in the meeting, residents mentioned the two building projects and the roughly $12 million in loans went to fund them. They asked if the project costs could be reduced.

“That loan payment is fixed for the next several decades,” Deserranno said, reiterating that residents voted in favor of both projects two years ago and the town is responsible for the money owed.

Some residents questioned how sustainable the budget increases — and the accompanying tax bills — are for people who live in town.

“Increases that large have consequences. They really have consequences,” said Brad Rich, who was reelected to a three-year term on the Budget Committee on Tuesday, referencing a “silent majority” of residents who will be affected. “They’re going to struggle in silence.”

Fiscal responsibility was on the minds of members of Concerned Citizens of Enfield, a resident advocacy group whose members seek to reduce town expenditures. The group proposed three articles meant to reduce town spending.

After learning from the town’s legal counsel that, if passed, the articles would be “advisory only” — meaning that town officials would not be beholden to follow them, petitioners withdrew one that addressed how the officials could use the unassigned fund balance. Another referencing how the town purchases land was withdrawn because the town already follows state law.

A third, which proposed changing the way the town uses its capital improvement reserve funds, failed by a vote of 88-39. During that debate, residents brought up concerns about the process town officials went through to make a $500,000 purchase of land on Route 4 for the public safety facility.

“It was done sloppily,” David Stewart said.

Town Manager Ed Morris pushed back, saying that the town did its due diligence before making the purchase, including testing soil samples and talking to real estate agents about the cost.

“We made sure this property was fully the right property to support the public safety building,” he said. “Yes, it did not come to the town for a vote … but we talked for two years” before buying it.

Another petitioned article addressing legal expenses related to Johnston Drive, which legal counsel said would be advisory only, was voted down by voice vote.

Meanwhile, residents approved two warrant articles, one that asked that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited at the start of every Town Meeting and another that allocated about $5,700 for Advance Transit. While the Pledge of Allegiance article was deemed advisory, Moderator Lindsay Smith said the advice would be taken seriously.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CLARIFICATION: Enfield residents voted down switching to SB2-style of government, in which voting is conducted by Australian ballot, during Town Meeting in 2022 and again in 2024. A previous version of this story was unclear about how many election cycles took place between votes.