Voters back $6 million budget
Highway requests approved; petitions on voting machines turned down
JAFFREY — Residents met at Town Meeting on Saturday to discuss and vote on articles in the town’s warrant, passing all but two petition articles, which asked that all voting machine results for town elections be verified.
Voters approved this year’s budget of $6,103,813 with little discussion.
The warrant included 34 articles, 23 from the town and 11 by petition. Of the articles, all passed except petition Articles 32 and 33, regarding the voters’ right to verify that ballots are counted accurately. Article 33 was more specific and asked if voters wanted to comply with a 2009 State Advisory Committee Report on electronic voting machines, which suggested electronic results are not always correct and may be subject to tampering and/or malfunctions.
Article 32 petitioner Debbie Sumner asked officials how the town is ensuring that electronic ballot counters are being monitored and protected from tampering.
Town officials spoke to the article, assuring voters that the machine they use is secure and that tampering is nearly impossible with the security protocols in place to protect it. Deputy Town Clerk Dawn Oswalt explained the process by which officials must use the machine. According to Oswalt, three people must sign a document verifying the number that was attached or removed from the bag covering the computer.
The computer can’t be removed from the bag, she said, without cutting or logging the seal. When bag is replaced, a new seal is attached. The computer is tested before elections and the memory card is locked into the machine and cannot be removed until after voting, when the voting machine company requests the machine’s return. The computer can only be accessed with a single electronic key.
Town officials agreed with Oswalt, and a resident added that machine votes have been recounted by hand in the past and had identical numbers. Several voters stood up to speak against the articles, which they believed showed a lack of faith in town officials and the system.
The issue was called to question and a secret ballot was held. The article did not pass.
Article 33 drew similar discussion and was decided by in a division vote and also did not pass
Article 8 asked voters to establish a revolving fund for the Police Department, in order to retain money year-to-year obtained from special details including traffic details and security at events. Resident Bill Raymond asked why the town needs the fund now, and Clay Hollister asked what the chief envisions money from the fund could be used for.
Chief of Police William Oswalt said that the money would be used to pay for police details mentioned in the article.
Chairman of the Budget Committee Norm Langevin said that the town is cleaning up their accounting methods. He said a revolving fund is an “in and out fund,” that is easier for the town to manage. Langevin said if someone comes to the Police Department requiring services for a private function and they need to pay the town, the money will now go directly into the revolving fund.
Resident Frank Sterling supported the article, citing that the Recreation Department already uses a revolving fund.
The vote passed overwhelmingly with the exception of a single loud “No.”
The Water and Sewer Departments asked for a combined $2,961,934, to be raised by user fees and non-property tax resources. The article went by with little discussion. Resident John Fields asked if property owners would pay more in a given time if there was a one-time adjustment. Select Board member Donald MacIsaac said “I hope not,” and town officials are planning ahead to avoid any big one-time expenses.
Resident Laura Mackenzie asked how equipment for the department would be funded and replaced, to which Langevin responded that equipment costs would be handled in separate warrant article.
Langevin then spoke about the town’s municipal budget, which he said comes in under $11,000 dollars less than last year, even with major purchases requested through other articles, including $97,200 for a dump truck for the Highway Department, $143,500 for a backhoe for the Highway Department, $132,500 for a six-wheel dump truck, and $56,000 for a new command vehicle for the Fire Department. Those articles and the budget were all approved.
Langevin emphasized that the town was focused on fiscal responsibility by planning for the future and purchasing capital equipment and improvements before any major or expensive problems.
Article 25, submitted by petition by the Jaffrey-Rindge Memorial Ambulance, asked voters for $30,000 to put toward their operating budget of approximately $350,000. The ambulance service recently announced difficulties meeting operating costs and said they need help from residents.
“This is money that helps make our ends meet,” said Marc Winiecki, president of the group’s Board of Trustees. “We have dwindling reimbursements and fewer transports and it’s an essential service.”
Medical reimbursement rates are hard to pin down, he added, and an additional $30,000 or more could be asked for again on next year’s ballot.
“So you’re asking for roughly 10 percent of the budget from the town of Jaffrey,” asked Bill Schofield. “For 24-hour service, seven days a week, that’s a bargain we’d be foolish to pass up.”
Sterling spoke in favor of the request, saying services far outweigh the amount asked of the town. He mentioned a town committee which had been formed to explore options for folding the ambulance service into the Fire Department.
Fire Chief David M. Chamberlain said he wasn’t told about the committee or report but that he would be interested in seeing it.