As it turns out, the most controversial part of Jaffrey’s Town Meeting was the decision to move the annual meeting back a week due to Winter Storm Stella.
About 100 voters poured into the Jaffrey VFW on Saturday morning and approved all 30 articles discussed, including the early payoff of two outstanding water department debts for a future savings of $209,701.
“It’s like paying a car loan off early,” said Selectman James Moore, prior to the vote.
With the article passing, the town will take $675,298 from the Water Restricted Fund and $332,610 from the General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance to pay off two of the town’s highest interest bonds that were eligible for early payment. Additionally, $329,378 of the debt will be forgiven through the state’s principal forgiveness program.
Perhaps voters were inspired by the lyrics of Fleetwood Mac’s classic song “Don’t Stop,” a song that has been played to start Town Meeting for at least three years according to outgoing Selectman Don MacIsaac.
MacIsaac said the song serves to purposes: to get voters in the mood for Town Meeting and to make sure that people are thinking about the future of the town.
“Sometimes people focus on the tax rate too much. It’s good to think about, but we need to make sure we are planning for the future,” said MacIsaac, in an interview Monday.
Voters approved the Budget Committee’s proposed $6,357,088 budget, a $73,350 increase over last year’s approved figure. Despite the increase, Budget Committee chair Norman Langevin said it is anticipated that the town portion of the tax rate will go down four-cents.
“We tried to not increase taxes,” said Langevin. “We wanted to make sure our cuts were sound.”
Resident Laurel McKenzie at one point suggested cutting $200,000 from the operating budget, saying that last year’s actual expenses are almost $400,000 less than the 2017 proposed budget, but a motion was never officially made after Budget Committee members defended the budget.
“We could be looking at cutting heads,” said Langevin, of the proposal. “Is that what you want?”
A petition article asking the town to affirm its commitment to the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution by not requiring anyone to sign a registry or declare their religious or philosophical beliefs was passed without much debate. Most who stood up to speak about the article spoke in favor of it, calling it a good move for the town.
“I can’t think of a better message for the town to send,” said Joan O’Donnell, who said the article was a win for social justice and kindness.
Some people in the audience were concerned about the article, saying that the petition was too broad and had the potential to be restrictive. Bob Sherman said he felt the article could put churches, nursing homes, and other organizations in a bind, as the petition could be interpreted in a way that would not allow them to ask such information when it is relevant.
Changes to the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Plan were approved after voters agreed to establish a TIF District Capital Reserve Fund and place $40,000 into it for potential improvements to the downtown area.
The fund was created to save money for downtown enhancement projects, according to Selectman Frank Sterling. A number of projects are being considered to enhance the downtown area in conjunction with a federally funded project that will look to make changes to the town’s five way intersection in the coming years.
Those in attendance approved the discontinuance of a portion of Cheshire Street that runs through the DD Bean and Sons property after a small amount of discussion. Mark Bean stood up and told the audience that the road would still remain open for those with deeded access to it.
Three new funds were established this year: a Fire Special Details revolving fund, a Town Office Capital Reserve Fund, and a Bridge Rehabilitation Capital Reserve Fund.
After some discussion about how much money should be raised for the future town office project, $50,000 was approved to be placed into the fund. Voters also approved $50,000 for the bridge fund, money that will be used to help repair the bridge on Nutting Road.
The Water Department Capital Reserve Fund, created in 2006, was discontinued. The project that the fund had been set up for has been completed so there was no need for the fund.
The following dollar amounts were placing into existing funds: $138,000 into the Highway Equipment Capital Reserve Fund, $60,000 into the Fire Department Capital Reserve Account, $5,000 into the Land Acquisition Capital Reserve Fund, $1,000 into the Cemetery Trees Trust Fund, $1,000 into the Gravestone Restoration Trust Fund, $1,000 into the Meetinghouse Trust Fund, and $1,000 into the Municipal Building Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund. Additionally, $7,500 was pulled from the Property Revaluation Capital Reserve Fund.
The town’s water and sewer budgets were approved at $875,652 and $2,006,959 respectively.
Changes to the town’s veterans’ tax credit were approved. Now all veterans who served at least 90 days as active duty and were honorably discharged and are not already receiving other veterans’ benefits are eligible for the $500 tax credit.
Voters also approved nine petition articles from various community non-profit groups totaling $83,632.