$350K Town Hall restoration bond approved

Cressy Hill Road debate settled after voters weigh in; $1.6 million budget passes without amendments

FRANCESTOWN — The restoration project for the Town Hall will move forward after residents voted to appropriate a $350,000 bond to match grant funds for the project cost.

Under 200 residents attended Saturday’s Town Meeting at the Francestown Elementary School and passed the budget and all articles except one regarding public funds to maintain and repair a portion of Cressy Hill Road.

Article 9 asked residents to raise $350,000 for a capital project to rehabilitate, reconstruct and repair the Town Hall located on New Boston Road so that it may be usable again by the town. Since no town funds are currently available, Heritage Commission Chair Maureen von Rosenvinge said the town would use the bond to acquire matching funds from grants. Residents voted in favor of the bond, 132 to 46, following a lengthy discussion.

Originally estimated to cost $880,000, von Rosenvinge said the project will now cost an estimated $1 million. She explained that the increase of $120,000 came from a request by the Select Board. The board told the Heritage Commission that they would feel more comfortable if there was a “little extra cushion” set aside for the project.

She said the 10-year bond the town plans to get will enhance the probability of getting other funds. Von Rosenvinge said that for the first time since it began, the state authority LCHIP is fully funded for 2014 and 2015. LCHIP may lose funds, she said, noting it has happened before. In 2011 and 2012, there were no funds available for grants from LCHIP because the state used the money to pay for road maintenance elsewhere.

Von Rosenvinge said there are numerous uses for Town Hall, including town meeting, voting, meet the candidates, public hearings, recitals, auctions, the fireman’s supper, educational events, dances, holiday programs and celebrations, private parties, weddings — and the list went on. Most importantly, as von Rosenvinge put it, the building would meet all the state and federal requirements for handicapped accessibility, if the improvements are made.

“It’s a focal point of the community at large... It’s a recognizable symbol of the town, and most importantly, it’s a community gathering place,” von Rosenvinge said at Town Meeting.

“It’s always been a community center,” Bart Hardwick said. He talked about the number of graduations and other ceremonies he attended at Town Hall over the years. “I think it’s important to pass those things on to future generations.”

Resident Dennis Orsi said that if the town doesn’t vote to restore the building then in a few years there will be an article on the warrant to tear it down. “I think this is a pivotal point,” Orsi said at Town Meeting.

Several residents expressed concerns over the cost of the project since they see repairing roads and bridges as a priority.

“There’s always going to be roads that need to be fixed,” Deputy Town Clerk Pam Finnell said.

The second-longest discussion was over Article 10, which asked the town to require that no municipal or other public funds may be spent by the town for engineering studies, maintenance, repairs or replacement of Cressy Hill Road and any bridges located thereon. This petitioned article was voted down, 132 against, 36 in favor. The article addressed the fact that most town documents classify Cressy as a Class VI road, to be maintained only by residents of that road. But as discussion at Town Meeting showed, the town maintains and will continue to maintain a portion of the road, which includes the bridge, and the rest of the road is maintained by Select Board Chair Betsy Hardwick, the only resident of Cressy Hill Road.

Before discussion began, Moderator Paul Lawrence read a memorandum from the town’s attorney, Bart Mayer, which read that “the documents are highly conflicting” regarding the classification of Cressy. This memorandum did not state what the documented classification of the road is.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Orsi said at Town Meeting. “I think this is only up for a vote because it’s a selectman’s driveway.”

Residents eventually asked Hardwick to explain her understanding of the agreement she signed before building on Cressy. She said she has maintained the portion of Cressy from just past the bridge up to her driveway for the last 17 years and the town maintained the portion from Russell Station Road to just past the bridge.

Hardwick said that in 1997 she petitioned the Select Board to make Cressy a Class V road. “[The Select Board] responded to me and asked me to stake out the end of the Class V portion of my property. I later met with the road agent and we put a stake just past the bridge and said this will be the Class V portion. My understanding was that the agreement was only relevant to the Class VI portion of the road, and that’s where it began.”

Although residents asked Hardwick numerous questions about her responsibilities to the road, no one specifically defended the article. Retired Francestown Fire Chief Don Abbott said that the town always plowed to just past the bridge for fire safety and that the town has fixed the bridge multiple times that he can remember. He believes it’s the town’s bridge.

Before voting began on Article 10, Finnell discussed the “toxic” behavior exhibited by many residents in the last few weeks. “We really need to stop with any comments as far as personal vendettas, personal attacks,” Finnell said. “There is a handful of people in town that continue to display this behavior on both ends of the aspect. Just because someone poses a question as to whether something is legal or appropriate in town, doesn’t necessarily mean it is an attack. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We have no idea, so those comments really need to stop.”

Residents also voted in favor of the $1,592,670 budget without any amendments. All warrant articles passed, except for Article 23, which was tabled for a year. This article asked voters if they want to vote that the Select Board is authorized and required to adopt purchasing policies governing the expenditure of town funds to ensure that efforts shall be made to see that purchase prices reflect optimum utilization of funds.

Because voters passed Article 12, $477,200 will be added to the capital reserve funds for future projects. The largest portion of this sum, $350,000, will be set aside for future bridge repairs or replacements. Article 13 passed, which asked voters if they want to raise $95,000 to complete town building related maintenance projects and equipment upgrades.

The bridge over Scoby Pond is up next to be replaced now that Article 14 passed. This will allow $110,000 to be taken from the bridge capital reserve fund for a replacement bridge over the Scoby Pond Outlet. Select Board member Abigail Arnold said at Town Meeting that the Scoby Pond bridge will not last the eight years that it has to wait to get on the State’s Bridge Aid list.

Residents voted in favor of Article 15, which will allow the town to take $70,000 from a highway department capital reserve fund to purchase a dump truck. Article 16 also passed, which asked if the town wanted to raise $38,000 to purchase and outfit a new police cruiser. The money will come from the police vehicle capital reserve fund.

To complete the town’s statistical re-valuation of all real estate, residents voted in favor of raising $25,000, to be removed from the “Future Appraisal of Real Estate” capital reserve fund, to pay for the re-valuation.

The town voted in favor of spending $17,020 for milfoil treatments at Scoby Pond, as addressed in Article 18. To coincide with this treatment effort, Article 19 also passed; it asked residents if $2,500 should be spent to fund boat monitors from Memorial to Labor Day in 2014 to check for milfoil in and on boats using the launch on Pleasant Pond.

Article 20 passed, $10,000, to establish an expendable trust fund titled “Master Plan Update Fund,” for the purpose of funding updates to the Town’s Master Plan and related documents.

Residents voted in favor of Article 21, regarding a traffic monitoring device to be used by the police department and potentially other departments. The article read that the device would cost $3,600, $1,800 would come from taxation and the remaining $1,800 would come from grants. Police Chief Steve Bell said the department would not be able to purchase a traffic monitoring device unless grant funding is received.

Article 22 passed, which will allow $2,200 to be taken from the Undesignated Funds Surplus and put into the General Cemetery Maintenance Trust. This sum of money represents the amount of revenue from cemetery lot sales in 2013 according to Board member Carbee. Because town revenue is put into the Undesignated Funds Surplus, the town must vote to remove any of that money into related trusts. This way the cemetery commission can use this revenue for future cemetery repairs or purchases.

Article 24, which asked for the town’s support on a Granny D-like endeavor regarding the Citizen’s United decision, passed in a voice vote.

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