Voters made no changes to any warrant articles at Saturday’s Town Deliberative Session, with all articles now set to face residents at the secret ballot election March 11.
The Deliberative Session attracted just 71 residents out of the Town’s 15,944 registered voters. The session lasted about two and one-half hours.
Among the articles eliciting comments was Article 2, which seeks to divide the elected Town Clerk/Tax Collector into two separate positions. The elected Town Clerk would not be eligible for retirement and medical benefits and would be part time. The Tax Collector would be appointed.
Town Manager Kevin Smith said the combined position currently costs $140,000. By separating it in two, the Town Clerk would receive $30,000 with no benefits and the tax collector portion of the job would be absorbed by current staff, thereby saving $110,000.
Resident Al Baldasaro asked if a part-time town clerk would be able to handle the work. Smith responded that many towns have part-time Town Clerks.
Resident Bob Saur questioned whether a part-time clerk would have time to work elections. Resident Pauline Caron said a part-time Town Clerk was short-changing residents, as his or her availability would be reduced.
Article 4, the fiscal year operating budget of $28,054,908, with a default of $28,086,186, brought a question from resident Robert LeBreux, who asked if it included four new firefighters and a deputy chief. Smith said that was not the case; at the last Town Council meeting, he said, money was put in the budget to cover fire department overtime but no new personnel.
Baldasaro asked about spending on legal services, and Finance Director Sue Hickey said there was an overage of about $250,000 this year. Baldasaro asked if there was an insurance policy to cover legal expenses and Town Council Chairman John Farrell said there was no reserve for legal expenses, but the town was adequately prepared for any legal issues.
Smith noted the proposed budget is lower than the default budget and represents a 1.6 percent increase in expenditures over the FY 14 budget. The budget went to the warrant unchanged.
Article 7 asks voters to raise and appropriate $180,000 to upgrade the Highway Garage. Public Works Director Janusz Czyzowski described through a visual presentation the need for the upgrades. LeBreux said the facility was “appalling,” and fellow resident Greg Warner said the article was a good interim solution but eventually the facility should be rebuilt.
Article 12, a citizen’s petition to transfer management of the Town Forest from the Conservation Commission to the Town Manager, with the advice and recommendations of the Historic District/Heritage Commission, Conservation Commission and Town Council, led to discussion about the liability that could be incurred by the Town if volunteers were used for the cleanup.
Resident Kent Allen, who initiated the petition, said the Town Forest needed a cleanup and the article would allow that to happen.
Baldasaro asked if liability wasn’t also incurred by allowing Beautify Londonderry volunteers to do clean-ups around town. Town Attorney Mike Ramsdell said that was different because they were not asking the town to oversee their efforts, while the petition would put the volunteers under the Town Manager’s purview.
Resident Chris Paul, Londonderry Times photographer, asked for clarification. “Either way, they are not going to allow volunteers in the town forest, right, because of the legal aspects of it?” he said.
Smith said that if the approval of the Town Manager were requested, then the advice of counsel was that there was added liability.
Ramsdell reiterated that not only he but the town’s insurance carrier said that once the town manager is put in charge under the town’s imprimatur, the likelihood of lawsuits increases.
Another citizen’s petition, Article 13, which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that only humans, not corporations, have constitutional rights, and money is not speech, led Baldasaro to say, “This is a push in order to get taxpayer money to fund elections.”
Resident Tim Siekmann said the article was driven by “the flood of money into the election process by public interest groups, wealthy individuals and unions.”
As the session drew to a close with Article 15, transacting any business that may legally come before the meeting, LeBreux requested emphatically that the Town Report be made available no less than two weeks before the deliberative session. Smith agreed to that arrangement.
All other articles elicited little or no discussion.