Grafton Looks to Add Police Officer

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ballot voting in Grafton for Town Meeting and the Mascoma Valley Regional School District will take place from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 13 at the Grafton Fire and Ambulance Station.

Grafton — Voters in Grafton will decide next month whether to change how the town selects its road agent.

A petition article on the town’s warrant calls for the job, now held by Robert Bassett, to become a post appointed by the Selectboard rather than elected by voters.

“I just think we need to be a little more aware of how we control quality and costs,” said Catherine Mulholland, who proposed the article, which would take effect in 2019.

The effort isn’t meant to slight Bassett, she said on Tuesday, but rather to prepare for his departure.

The road agent soon will be looking to retire, Mulholland said, adding she wants town officials to choose a replacement solely on qualifications.

“Your job shouldn’t be dependent on the whims of the populace every three years,” she said.

Phone messages left for Bassett on Tuesday were not returned.

Mulholland said the switch has precedent in the Mascoma Valley, with Canaan recently choosing to appoint its top road officials.

Residents in that town voted, 520-379, in 2012 to discontinue the elected road agent position and replace it with a highway supervisor appointed by the Selectboard.

The change took effect in 2013, when officials decided to continue Bob Scott’s tenure leading the Canaan Highway Department.

Grafton voters will be asked to approve a $1.1 million operating budget for 2018, which amounts to a $8,647 increase over last year’s.

If that budget fails at the polls, a $1 million default budget will take effect.

While town officials found savings within the highway budget, more money was needed to fund another full-time police officer, according to Selectboard Chairman Merle Kenyon, a former police chief.

The department previously had two officers, with Police Chief Russell Poitras working full time and an additional officer assisting on a part-time basis, Kenyon said. But Poitras has found it difficult to fill openings.

“He’s having a terrible time hiring anybody part time,” Kenyon said, adding there’s a lot of competition among New Hampshire communities for certified officers.

In response, the town is requesting a police department budget of $192,793, an increase of about $54,000, to hire another full-time police officer.

If the budget is approved, the town expects to raise about $1 million in taxes, a roughly 12.6 percent increase over last year.

Voters made few changes to the budget during the town’s deliberative session, held on Feb. 10, aside from adding $700 for supplies at the Grafton Public Library.

The town initially budgeted $14,114 for operations at the library, but that left too little for books, ink and other equipment, said Deb Clough, the library director, according to minutes of the meeting.

Supporters of the library have argued its annual budget, which usually hovers around $14,000, comes up short compared to other communities’ offerings.

Last year, a petitioned article asked for an additional $7,735 to increase salaries and keep pace with rising internet costs. However, that was defeated by voters, 159-142, last March.

Residents will see another article on this year’s warrant requesting $25,000 for the town’s library capital reserve fund. The money would be used to help build a new library building.

Grafton hopes to someday construct a new library on a piece of donated land on the corner of Route 4 and Library Road. The current library, which was built in 1920, does not have a bathroom and has limited space for patrons and staff.

Warrant articles also call for $40,000 for road paving, $25,000 for dirt road repairs, $35,000 for a highway capital reserve fund and $30,000 for a bridge fund.

Voters will decide a four-way race for an open Selectboard seat. Albert Bassett, Steve Darrow, Dennis McKean and Maureen O’Reilly are running for the position.

The town treasurer position is also contested this year, with Dorothy Campbell and Margaret Emslie vying for a three-year term.

Steve Kudlik and Jeffrey Weiss are running for one open position as town moderator, and Pamela Curran and Brian Fellers have filed for an open budget committee seat.

Residents will also choose between Catherine Mulholland and Deborah Black for a six-year position on the supervisors of the checklist, and Daniel Moore and Brenda Walker for a seat on the trustees of the trust funds.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.