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February 5, 2013

Deliberative sessions see poor attendance

In Derry, less than half of 1 percent add $800,000 to budget

Just 83 of Derry’s 17,789 registered voters made a pretty big decision Saturday.

Voters who showed up for the school district’s deliberative session decided to restore $800,000 to the proposed school budget. That was less than one-half of 1 percent of all voters.

The numbers weren’t much better at the seven towns that held deliberative sessions Saturday. Danville led the pack with 2 percent of the town’s voters showing up at the annual meeting. The rest fell well below that.

Some blame burnout following the presidential election in November. Others say people are unwilling to give up part of their weekend for something as dry as a dissection of a budget proposal.

But few officials are happy with the turnout.

“I was surprised at the outcome of the voters,” Derry School Board Chairman Brenda Willis said yesterday. “It’s hard to say what would have happened if more people had come out and vote.”

Willis said she believes residents need to make time to familiarize themselves with any budget.

“I think people should pay attention as the budget process begins to unfold,” she said. “We have a public hearing in January where people get a chance to ask questions about what is happening.”

At a deliberative session, voters can change the wording of and dollar amount in proposed warrant articles before they head to the March ballot.

But some believe voters would rather just head to the voting booth.

Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell said he thinks voters tend to wait until Town Meeting to make their voices be heard.

“On an average year, we might have 4,000 people vote,” Campbell said. “That’s more representative of the people of Salem and what they want done.”

Only 0.65 percent of registered voters showed up at the deliberative session in Salem Saturday. This year was the first year in which Salem held only one session after voters abolished a post-Town Meeting deliberative session last March.

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