Petition article seeks more voter say on HUD grants

RINDGE — Save Our Town, a group of Rindge citizens founded by Larry Cleveland of Rindge will have several petition warrant articles on the ballot this March. The first would require the town to get voter approval before applying for or accepting grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“If you’re going to sign deals with the federal government, the town should have the right to say yes or no on it,” said Cleveland in a recent interview. “We just feel its very dangerous. There’s always strings attached, though they say there aren’t.” In an October letter to the Ledger-Transcript, Cleveland listed among his concerns, the amount of control HUD would have over the amount of low-income housing in town, and the higher crime rates and school taxes he feared would accompany it.

Cleveland clarified, though, that the article drafted by the Save Our Town group specifically refers to HUD grants, and that he does not agree with another petition article that will be on the ballot this year, which would require the town to get voter approval to apply for any federal grants.

“We stipulated HUD grants, period,” said Cleveland, who said the petition warrant referencing all federal grants was too broad, and would tie the town’s hands on too many fronts. “That would mean funds for highway, police and fire, too,” said Cleveland, about what grants would have to be approved by voters should that article pass at the polls. “I was shocked that got submitted,” he said. But on HUD grants, his group firmly believes that voters should have a say. “I’ve lived in Rindge my whole life, and I’m not trying to harm the town. We’re just trying to limit what they can do without [voters] having their say.”

Planning Board member Bruce Donati said in an interview Wednesday that the board had heard the need for greater review of grants, and that getting voter approval for HUD grants would be a good idea. “I think as far as the Planning Board is concerned, is that we have received a message from the people that any grant should be reviewed judiciously, and I think we all have the message on that,” he said. However, he too, thought that seeking approval for all federal grants was just too broad of a scope. “It’s an area that encompasses a lot of topics,” he said.

Cleveland and the rest of the Save Our Town group began objecting to the use of HUD funds after it was learned that they would be used in developing the intersection of Route 119 and 202, also known as the four corners in town. Another warrant article drafted by Save Our Town calls for the whole plan to develop that area of town scrapped from the town’s Master Plan. NH Plan, a nonprofit, has been working with the town on planning and design to determine what economic development in that area could look like. It’s not a direction Cleveland agrees with, he said.

“We keep hearing that this plan is supported by the town, but when I go to meetings, there is no one there supporting this plan, and 50 to 60 people there against it. We do not believe the town wants this,” he said.

Save Our Town has a third petition article on the warrant this year, seeking to end the town’s involvement with the Southwest Regional Planning Commission. It is the position of the group, according to Cleveland, that the town gives too much power to planning commissions, which are not comprised of elected officials or made up of town residents.

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