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River Road, Route 10 zoning up for debate in Lyme

  • Workers crush stone removed from the site of the River Road bypass in Lyme, N.H., Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. After weeks of hammering the ledge and not making the desired progress, dynamite was used to blast through the rock. The resulting fill will be used to finish grading the road. (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 Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2020 10:02:11 PM
Modified: 2/29/2020 4:48:37 PM

LYME — Voters will be asked to approve a nearly flat municipal operating budget as well as appropriations for road improvements, a proposal to discontinue an old section of River Road that is being rerouted and funds to build a new fire station at Lyme’s Town Meeting this year.

The proposed town operating budget of $2.37 million is up less than 1% over the previous year.

In a February letter to town residents, the Selectboard credited “departmental and staffing reductions” for getting to the nearly flat budget, which they expect will result in a flat tax rate.

The board eliminated one of four positions in the highway department and did not include funds for a beach supervisor and lifeguards at Chase Beach.

In addition to the budget, voters at the March 10 meeting also will be asked to approve an appropriation of $425,000 for capital reserve funds and expendable trust funds; $200,000 for repairing River Road at the North Thetford Road intersection; $154,626 to pave River Road south to East Thetford Road; and several withdrawals from reserve funds for road projects and payments on town vehicles.

Road repairs have been a recurring topic in Lyme in recent years.

The town is in the midst of building a bypass to reroute a portion River Road, which has been closed since 2015 due to erosion from the Connecticut River. Members of the Selectboard said via an email to that they expect the bypass to be completed by this summer.

Voters also will be asked to discontinue the old failed section of River Road that is being replaced through the bypass project.

The Selectboard said that it recommends the measure, which would give the rights to the road to abutting landowners, as a way to save money and protect the town from liability.

“Holding taxes flat while employee benefits, equipment and materials continue to rise is a difficult balancing act,” the board said in the email. “To achieve such, the Selectboard has had to look at every expense and reduce or cut as responsibly prudent.”

The measure has some opposition in town, however.

Former Selectboard members Sue MacKenzie and Rusty Keith were among those who presented the Selectboard with a petition on Wednesday, asking that the measure be tabled to allow for more time to discuss what the town ought to do with that portion of road.

“I don’t believe a trail would cost them anything,” said MacKenzie, a River Road resident. She also disagreed that a pedestrian and bicycle trail would add to the town’s burden of liability.

In ballot voting, residents will be asked to approve a $500,000 purchase agreement, payable over seven years, for a new fire station to replace the current, aging structure on High Street.

Another article from the floor will ask voters to approve spending $400,000 from the Public Works Facility Capital Reserve to help fund the project.

An additional $500,000 has been raised through donations, the Selectboard said in the February mailing to residents.

Total municipal appropriations for 2020 would be $3 million, a more than 6% reduction from the amount voters approved last year, the Selectboard said.

Also by ballot, voters will elect town officers and decide amendments to the zoning ordinance.

Selectboard member Judith Brotman is running unopposed for reelection to a three-year seat.

The zoning amendment, which is opposed by both the Planning Board and the Selectboard, would allow for “planned development” on properties abutting Route 10 in the town’s rural district.

Planning Board Chairman John Stadler said in an email that the board opposes the measure because it “enables a scale, density and massing of buildings, both commercial and residential that are extreme, especially for a small town like Lyme.”

Stadler said the board is concerned the change could “overwhelm Town services, including the school, lead to traffic issues and be inconsistent with the principles of sound planning, the Lyme Master Plan and the results of the recent Town questionnaire.”

But MacKenzie and Keith said they signed the petition to put the zoning change on the ballot. Keith said the town currently allows some “non-conforming businesses” in the rural district that have been in existence since before the town instituted zoning regulations. Keith said the change would “make it fair” for other property owners in the district.

At the Lyme school meeting on Thursday, March 5, voters will be asked to approve a budget of $7.19 million, which reflects a decrease of about $130,000 or 1.78% compared to the budget voters approved for the 2019-20 school year.

Voters also will be asked to approve cost increases included with a newly negotiated four-year teachers’ contract set to begin next fiscal year.

The contract phases in benefits over the first three years, in which the district will pay up to 92% of a teacher’s health insurance premium, up from 87%, and will offer a new benefit of up to a 3% salary match on teacher contributions to a 403(b) retirement plan, said Jonathan Voegele, the School Board’s chairman.

The contract also phases in changes to the salary grid, with step-and-track increases decreasing from 4.25% to 3.8%, Voegele said.

“This is a great contract for the district and the teachers,” Voegele said in an email. “Nearly every teacher will see a 2% or more increase in total compensation each year for four years, while the district will secure long-term financial stability resulting from salary reform.”

Voegele said he does not expect school costs to result in any tax increases next year, but he said costs could rise in the future.

“Lyme continues to be affected adversely by expensive high school tuition rates, namely Hanover High School, which charges hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the actual cost to educate Lyme’s children who opt to enroll there,” Voegele said. “As a small community, Lyme also continues to struggle with the cost of unfunded state and federal mandates and the continued downshifting of the costs of public services.”

The Lyme School Board has two seats up this year.
Incumbents Hayes Greenway and Vincent Berk both running for reelection.

The annual School District Meeting will be held at the Lyme Elementary School on Thursday, March 5 at 6 p.m. Town Meeting will be held at the school on Tuesday, March 10, at 9 a.m. Voting by Australian ballot that day will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

Correction

Lyme Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 10, starts at 9 a.m. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect time.




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