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Jaffrey announces drive-in style Town Meeting on June 6

  • The Jaffrey Town Meeting has been officially scheduled for June 6, after the original March meeting was postponed twice due to coronavirus. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/1/2020 8:49:02 AM

After two delays and several months, the Jaffrey Town Meeting is moving forward with a socially distanced meeting June 6 in the parking lot of Hope Fellowship Church.

Issues on the Jaffrey 2020 warrant  – such as millions for a new water system and extensive roadwork – have languished in limbo since March, when Jaffrey postponed its Town Meeting after learning a Jaffrey town office employee had potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

But while restrictions on large gatherings remained in place, Jaffrey officials worked towards a solution allowing voters to make decisions on town issues while still observing social distancing guidelines.

Town Manager Jon Frederick said Friday the town has been struggling to put together a plan that would both meet Governor Chris Sununu’s social distancing mandates, while keeping as close to the traditional Town Meeting format as possible. The town received little guidance from the state on how to manage that, though, Frederick said, and arrived at their own solution after reviewing how other towns and school districts have accomplished their meetings.

“I spoke to the Municipal Association on Monday, and it was indicated that there would not be guidance from the state forthcoming. I took that as a message that we were on our own and would have to figure out something for ourselves,” Frederick said.

The solution will work similar to a drive-in, in a model used in May by the Winnisquam Regional School District for its district meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to be held Saturday, June 6, in the parking lot of the Hope Fellowship Church.

COVID-19 impactsthe budget

Frederick said in addition to delaying Town Meeting, COVID-19 has had other impacts to the town’s proposed warrant, and the Select Board anticipated making several proposed amendments to the warrant, to reduce or eliminate requests for future capital improvement projects. The reason, Frederick said, is because the town is now anticipating much less revenue from the state from taxes for things like room and board, meals and gas.

The expected amendments include reducing a request for $160,000 for the Highway Equipment Capital reserve to $80,000 and not purchasing a new 10-wheel dump truck for the highway department which would have used those reserve funds.

The town also plans to postpone until another year a request for $50,000 for the Town Office Capital Reserve Fund, which is used for saving for purchasing land and drafting plans for a new town office.

Finally, a request for $200,000 for the Municipal Building Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund is planned to be amended to $50,000.

Frederick said the revenue estimates from the state are just that – estimates – but given the coronavirus, the town is now anticipating much less revenue from that source. The budget currently estimates a total revenue from the state for $276,000 from the rooms and meal tax, and $165,200 from the Highway Block Grant. Frederick said the town hasn’t received any notice from the state about what estimates might be after the impact of the virus on travel and tourism, but he expects it to be significant.

How it will work

The meeting begins at 9 a.m., and voters will register with the Supervisors of the Checklist and receive their Town Meeting materials and ballots. The Supervisors request that voters have their identifications ready to show through the driver’s-side window and that residents wear a mask for registering.

After registering, vehicles will be directed to a parking spot. Vehicles will be parked centered in one space, and on the line of the adjacent space in order to allow for the appropriate social distancing. The meeting will be broadcast on radio channel 87.9 FM, as well as through a sound system, and voters are to remain in their cars throughout the meeting, unless approaching the microphone to speak or using the bathroom.

In the three articles required to have ballot voting, ballot clerks will go from car to car to collect ballots. In issues that would normally be settled by a voice vote, voters will hold a voting card out their car window for either a visual confirmation of a majority or to be counted, where a visual confirmation isn’t sufficient.

“It’s certainly not typical, but we’re trying to do our best to keep it as close to our usual as we can,” Frederick said. “These times are difficult. Nothing is normal right now.”

With social distancing taken into account, Frederick said the Hope Fellowship Church parking lot can accommodate 141 vehicles, with the assumption that registered voters sharing a household will arrive in a single vehicle. Frederick said the town believes there will be sufficient space for all voters who wish to attend. While the highest voter turnout in the last ten years, in 2011, was 373, average turnouts are typically much lower, usually under 200 participants.

Frederick said that town has designated overflow parking spaces, if attendance exceeds the church parking lot spaces.

Wearing masks when leaving your vehicle is highly recommended by town officials. Residents are asked to only run their vehicles if necessary during the meeting.


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