New London voters nix proposal to buy land for new police station

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 6:26 PM

NEW LONDON — Asked to approve a bond to buy property for a new police station, a bigger-than-usual crowd at New London’s Town Meeting stuffed the ballot boxes with mostly “no” votes.

The station has been housed in Whipple Hall since 1918. The town’s first jail was in the basement.

“I’ve been in New London for 11 years, and we’ve been talking about a new police station for 11 years,” Sandy Schmidt said, urging voters to finally give the green light.

But time, it turns out, still isn’t on the issue’s side. The article, which asked voters to appropriate $375,000 to purchase land for a new station on the former Bewley property, on Newport Road, failed, 302-85.

It took voters about two hours of debate to arrive at that decision and move on to the next article.

The police station bond vote landed on the warrant by petition and contributed to the largest attendance in recent memory at New London’s floor meeting.

With 387 voters in the room at the meeting’s peak, a steep increase over last year, packed into the Kearsarge Elementary School gym, additional chairs had to be unfolded and parking spaces improvised.

“This is democracy in its finest hour,” Moderator Michael Todd said, noting the impassioned turnout. “I’m just trying to help us through it. I don’t have all the answers.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kenyon: How much do Upper Valley landlords have to raise rents to stay in business?
A Life: Mary Koloski was ‘like an unfiltered version of Dear Abby’
Residents question Hartford’s payout to former superintendent
Lebanon halts paving of Miracle Mile due to asphalt mistake
West Lebanon warehouse damaged in fire
Hanover Selectboard gives $130,000 severance package to departing town manager

From the front of the gym, Todd fielded technical questions about article amendments and slugged water from a plastic gallon jug. A chorus of elementary schoolers led New London residents in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I feel very comfortable saying we’ve outgrown the space,” Police Chief Emily Cobb said about the current police station. The building doesn’t have the capacity to keep pace with advancements in policing technology, she said, and many rooms are “multifunction.” A defensive training room is also used to eat lunch in.

“Every major service facility in town — the town hall, the hospital — have all expanded or modernized to meet their needs,” resident Carolyn Lockhart said. “The only one that hasn’t is the police department.”

Other residents objected to the location of the land that would be purchased.

“Our police station should be in town,” Bob Bauer said. “In this day and age, I think it’s important for the police station to be near the elementary school, near the college and the town green.”

Still more objected to the fact that a site had already been chosen.

“This vote tonight is not to vote on a police station,” Bob Lyon said. “It’s to buy land. It’s backwards to me. Let’s vote on a police station and then buy the land. What if we vote on the land and then the town doesn’t vote on the police station?”

Voters rubber-stamped a $1.9 million general fund budget, a $2.7 million public safety budget and a $3.1 million highway budget.

Article 4 was amended on the floor by Nancy Rollins, chairwoman of the Selectboard, to draw the funds requested for repair to Whipple Hall and the Buker Building down to $186,000 from the $275,000 initially requested.

The bond vote passed by ballot, 368-16.

Voters approved by ballot, 261-4, a $300,000 bond to go toward upgrading the pump station’s standby generator.

Residents authorized the Selectboard to adopt the New London Community Power Electric Aggregation Plan and modified the requirements of the elderly exemption from property tax. The exemption, based on assessed values, will be as follows: residents of ages 65 years to 74 would be tax-exempt for up to $65,000 of their assessed property value; 75 to 79 years old, $80,000; and 80 years old or older, $100,000.

The exemption hadn’t been adjusted since 2009, and many who qualified then are now no longer exempt, Rollins said, adding that inflation makes the exemptions less impactful.

Delayed due to winter weather earlier in the week, ballot voting on town officers and zoning ordinances will take place March 28 at Whipple Hall, 25 Seamans Road. Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

]]>