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Town officials disagree over Rindge’s budget conundrum

RINDGE — When voters rescinded a 2012 vote at the polls in March that would have changed the town’s fiscal year, town officials said the one-time 18-month budget, which also passed, was not applicable. But one month later, some aren’t so sure.

In a memo handed to the Select Board at its meeting Wednesday, Town Administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini wrote that the town’s attorney, Gary J. Kinyon of Keene, is of the opinion that Rindge needs two special town meetings, not just one as previously thought, to adopt a 12-month budget. The first meeting, Pini said, would be to reconcile two contradictory votes: the vote to rescind the town’s fiscal year conversion and voters’ adoption of the proposed 18-month budget.

But Select Board member Roberta Oeser said at a special Select Board meeting Monday afternoon that voters do not need to rescind the adopted 18-month budget as Kinyon has suggested. “The vote on the budget article is totally irrelevant to the issue,” Oeser wrote in a memo, which she handed to the Select Board on Monday. “The voters did not have a choice between an 18-month budget and a 12-month budget. They had a choice between a $5.4 million, 18-month budget or a $5.5 million, 18-month [default] budget.”

And the town cannot implement either of those 18-month budgets, according to Oeser, because doing so would be in violation of state statutes, which govern the fiscal year and its adoption. Because voters chose to rescind a 2012 vote that enacted the fiscal year conversion, Oeser said that vote takes precedence over the approval of the proposed budget.

Voters approved the 18-month budget in March with 558 Yes votes to 381 No votes, while the vote to rescind passed 530 Yes votes to 394 No votes.

The rumor in town is that Rindge must hold two special elections this year, Oeser said, and that’s just not true.

But Pini told the Ledger-Transcript in an interview Monday after the Select Board meeting that Kinyon has consulted with the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration and both are in agreement that the town needs to hold a vote to rescind the 18-month budget.

“It is possible that the Superior Court will say that’s not necessary, but we won’t know until we draft our petition,” Pini said, referring to the petition Rindge must submit to the Cheshire County Superior Court to hold a Special Town Meeting this spring. “As I’ve said before, this is uncharted territory for the state of New Hampshire.”

Pini said town counsel has also advised that Rindge have a proposed warrant before it petitions the Superior Court, meaning that town officials must develop the proposed 12-month budget first and on a tight timeline.

The town needs to act quickly and efficiently, Pini said, to develop a 12-month budget that is ready for public hearing in mid-May. By May 29, Pini has suggested that the Select Board finalize the warrant, which will be submitted with the petition to the Superior Court.

While town counsel thinks its likely that the Superior Court will grant Rindge’s request for a Special Town Meeting, there are no guarantees, according to Pini.

At a Select Board meeting in January, Oeser suggested that the Select Board add to the 2013 Rindge warrant an article that gave voters the option to rescind last year’s vote, and she received the backing of the board. Although a majority of voters approved the proposed 18-month budget, Oeser said that was because the budget was $156,129 less than the default budget of $5,580,458. If the article to rescind did not pass, she said, voters did not want to risk defeat of the budget.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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