The Town Council’s second budget workshop focused on a proposed Special Warrant Article to fund improvements to the Town Common.
Chairman John Farrell said he has already heard concerns from members of the community with how the $300,000 allocation from the Town’s Undesignated Fund Balance would be used moving forward to complete the improvements.
“If we’re using money for the Town Common, what’s the plan?” he asked.
Town Manager Kevin Smith said the study completed by the Master Plan Implementation Committee will serve as the framework for improvements to be completed.
Additionally, the Heritage Commission plans to hold a public hearing to discuss plans for the center of Town, such as paving a pathway through the Town Common, installing additional lighting and fencing in appropriate areas, improving pedestrian crossings and potentially improving the Town Forest.
Smith noted there has also been some interest in a public skating rink.
“The Heritage Commission will be the primary conduit that will determine what the improvements are,” Smith said.
Farrell noted it will be important for the Town to address drainage issues on the Common, as well as to evaluate whether older trees on the site will be able to sustain dramatic changes to the Common, or would have to come down.
Additionally, Farrell emphasized they will have to reconcile the historic nature of the Common with the Master Plan’s vision for the site, which “is more futuristic.
“We should have some public meetings on that,” he said.
“Everyone understands it’s a very sensitive topic. No one wants to see anything dramatic done,” Smith said. “But the Heritage Commission and Master Plan Implementation Committee believe we could make it more aesthetically pleasing and more accessible; and improvements in the Town Forest could be completed as part of that.”
Councilor Tom Dolan additionally raised the issue of parking on the Common, saying it’s “nearly nonexistent there.”
“We need to think about how to incorporate some parking and maintain the historic nature of the area,” he said.
However, the studies completed by the Master Plan Implementation Committee revealed there is adequate parking in neighboring lots, such as the Lions Club and the church across the street, according to Smith.
“One thing that did come out in the studies was that no one wanted to see a paved parking area on the Common,” he said. “There is talk about having better pedestrian crossings on Mammoth Road and Pillsbury Road.”
Other issues raised as part of the budget workshop were managing traffic at the polls in the upcoming primary and general presidential elections; as well as the need for comprehensive water and sewer studies.
Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz said he has not seen the studies, which were two of the six priorities identified in the Master Plan Implementation Committee March meeting, addressed in the FY17 budget.
“As we finalize this budget, with an extra $5,000 under default, I hope you move on those. I think we’re already behind the eight ball,” Speltz said.
Public Works Director Januscz Czyzkowski said the Town is in the process of completing a water sewer study, which Speltz noted will be valuable to the Town in planning for substantial commercial and residential growth.
In regards to planning for the upcoming elections, Farrell directed Smith and the Town’s public safety officials to present to the Council by Dec. 7 a plan for how the Town will proceed with elections moving forward.
“The Presidential Primary will be a good test run for the General Election,” he said, calling for feedback on whether the Town needs to hire additional help to manage registrations and lines at the polls. “If it’s a matter of money, we need to know that earlier, as well. We don’t want to create such a congested election place people feel they can’t deal with it, or need to get a babysitter.”
Budget Committee Chairman Ted Combes suggested adding a polling location in Londonderry.
Combes additionally noted there has been discussion in the past of moving a warrant article to the ballot to break the Town into wards, which would require the Town to convene a Charter Commission.
“We would have to completely change the way we operate,” Farrell said. “We should exhaust all efforts of fixing the problem first.”
The Council agreed before closing the workshop the proposed budget is tight, and most increases are attributed to factors out of the various Town departments’ control, such as health insurance increases and contractual obligations.
“We have a budget that’s below the default and represents a significant reduction in taxes. I think we’re at a point, a sweet spot, that hopefully, with our strategic plan for smart industrial development at the airport, will yield additional tax revenue so we can continue the trend of decreasing the tax rate,” Dolan said. “I think that sets us up to be in a very favorable position.”
Moving forward in the budget planning process, the Council is scheduled to hold workshops on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7.