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Orford rejects bid to make road agent an elected position

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2020 10:27:15 PM
Modified: 3/10/2020 11:11:55 PM

ORFORD — The Selectboard will continue to appoint Orford’s road agent, voters at Town Meeting ruled by a narrow margin on Tuesday night at Rivendell Academy.

The 76-74 result, by paper ballot, came amid several citizens’ complaints about a proposed increase of almost $125,000 in the Highway Department budget, and about the qualifications of — and the $62,000 salary for — recently-appointed road agent Terry Straight. The road budget amounts to more than a third of the total municipal operating budget of $1.16 million, which the gathering later approved by voice vote.

“Town Meeting ... is the only time we have a say on something like this,” resident Jim McGoff said before the secret-ballot vote on the petitioned article for an elected road agent, which ultimately failed by the two-vote margin. “We’re letting all (these decisions) go to three people, without really having our say as townspeople.

“We’re talking about a lot of money.”

That money includes between $1.5 million and $2.5 million worth of road-repair projects the town faces, resident Jordan Sutherland said, adding, “It is critical that we have the right person in the (road-agent) position. What we have right now is not the best.

“We really should consider other options.”

Noting that voters in recent years — most recently in 2018, by a count of 43-24 — have turned aside efforts to make the position elected, resident Mark Blanchard warned against voting for the elective position, given the unlikelihood of voters finding candidates who meet the “walk-on-water qualifications” required, and who also are willing to work for a salary that falls short of “what the real world pays for those qualifications.”

“We’re not a cheap town,” Blanchard said, “but we tend to get very picky about a person’s salary.”

In all, the operating budget amounts to $160,000 more spending than voters approved at Town Meeting in 2019. Among separate spending articles on the warrant, the gathering agreed to appropriate $276,700 to replenish 12 capital improvement funds.

Town Meeting voters did reject, by a count of 103-14, the town’s request to buy a new rescue truck with $200,000 from the fund for fire-department vehicles. Voters also rejected the police department’s request for $5,800 to buy two solar-powered radar speed signs.

In Australian balloting for elected positions, Selectman Fred Kidder II defeated Ruth Hook for a three-year term, 176-89. In 2019, Kidder had been elected to finish out the term of a selectman who stepped aside, while Hook finished third in a three-way race for a three-year seat.

All other elected posts on the Australian ballot showed incumbents running uncontested, and two open Planning Board seats with no candidates.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

 




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