Tracy Hall project vote challenged

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/16/2020 10:05:38 PM
Modified: 3/16/2020 10:05:33 PM

NORWICH — A longtime Norwich resident who campaigned against a $2 million plan to eliminate Tracy Hall’s dependence on fossil fuels is calling for a redo of this month’s vote approving the project.

Doug Wilberding, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Selectboard, intends to petition for a special Town Meeting, hoping residents will reverse an earlier vote and kill the 20-year bond needed to fund construction.

“It’s a significant ticket item for the town and there’s going to be more of these,” Wilberding said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “This was only a portion of the (town’s) energy goals or endeavors. There will be more.”

Residents voted, 850-801, earlier this month to OK a slew of improvements to the town hall, including renovation of the building’s aging HVAC system, heating controls and new lights.

The proposal also includes the installation of a geothermal system, which uses constant underground temperatures to heat or cool a building, as part of a performance contract with Merrimack, N.H.-based Energy Efficiency investments.

A recount of the vote held Monday produced the same results, according to Town Clerk Bonnie Munday.

Officials have said the improvements would replace Tracy Hall’s annual reliance on 5,000 gallons of fuel oil and 870 gallons of liquefied propane. That amounts to roughly 15% of the fossil fuels consumed for municipal purposes.

But Wilberding contends the project is too costly and says officials should be looking for other options to combat climate change.

For instance, he said, Norwich could purchase domestically manufactured road salt or install solar panels at its transfer station.

“I just think we can approach this in a more thoughtful manner,” Wilberding said.

Town officials have estimates the Tracy Hall project would add 1.9 cents per $100 of valuation to the municipal tax rate, which amounts to an additional $75 in taxes for a home valued at $400,000.

Linda Gray, chairwoman of the Norwich Energy Committee, said she hasn’t heard of Wilberding’s petition drive and declined to comment on Monday.

State law allows residents to call for a special Town Meeting, to be held within 60 days of the initial vote, so long as they can gather the signatures of 5% of registered voters.

Norwich had 3,248 registered voters as of Monday, meaning a petition would require about 162 signatures, according to Munday.

Wilberding, who lost to Rob Gere for an open Selectboard seat on a 997-514 vote, said he’s optimistic voters will overturn the initial vote, adding that about 80 people chose not to vote on the warning article. With campaigning, he hopes to change their minds.


Meanwhile, officials in neighboring Hartford are preparing to hold a special Town Meeting to validate the results of this year’s budget vote at Town Meeting.

Residents voted, 2,263-697, earlier this month to approve a $17.38 million municipal budget. However, that vote will require a redo after a warning published in January put the budget at $17.24 million.

The warning was amended after town officials noticed the error and another Australian ballot vote is scheduled for Saturday, April 25.

The Hartford Selectboard will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday to approve a special Town Meeting warning and hear an update on the town’s response to COVID-19.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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