By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — It wasn’t the bridge projects or even the millions of dollars in road work that spurred debate among voters at yesterday’s deliberative session, it was concern for their neighbors.
Much of the three-hour meeting at Salem High School focused on providing for the town’s needy residents. Several of the 125 voters objected to an amendment proposed by selectmen to remove $73,153 for social services agencies from the proposed $37.5 million operating budget.
Another warrant article would have provided $58,153 for most of these agencies, so selectmen decided keeping the money in the operating budget was not necessary.
The board concluded that voters should have the option of deciding whether the agencies should receive money. The organizations had been funded through the operating budget in the past.
But residents such as Paul Huard were concerned the needs of many Salem residents wouldn’t be met if the money were removed from the operating budget and the separate article to fund eight agencies was defeated.
“I’m very, very upset with this,” said Huard, a member of the town’s Budget Committee. “We need to take care of our people who need help.”
Budget Committee Chairman Russell Frydryck agreed.
“This town voted yes for each one of these outside services for three years in a row,” he said. “I believe they should be in the budget. These are services that are beneficial to people in our town.”
The $73,153 included $15,000 for the Rockingham Community Action Program. Selectman Stephen Campbell said there was no reason for the town to contribute to the agency because it already receives substantial federal and state funding.
Money for the organization wasn’t included in the separate warrant article.
“We are paying for something we don’t have to pay and we have already paid for,” Campbell said. “Why should the groups be placed in the operating budget when we have had to make some very tough (spending) decisions over the past few years.”
Article 13 would provide $18,000 for Community Health Services, $15,000 for Greater Salem Caregivers, $11,653 for Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, $4,000 for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, $4,000 for Salem Family Resources, $2,500 for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, $2,000 for A Safe Place and $1,000 for the Bridges program.
Darryl Lane resident Kathleen Ackroyd praised Greater Salem Caregivers. Ackroyd said she has relied on the organization for transportation to medical appointments.
“If we didn’t have it, people like myself wouldn’t survive,” she said.
Residents voted 58-29 to defeat the selectmen’s amendment, ensuring the funding would remain in the operating budget.
Campbell proposed an amendment to not fund the separate article, but resident Betty Gay objected, saying the money needed to be included.
“Why should people have a second bite at the apple?” Campbell asked.
Residents voted 70-19 to not include the money. The amended budget and social service funding articles will now be placed on the ballot to be voted on March 12.
The amended operating budget is $37,482,302. If the operating budget is defeated at the polls, a default budget of $36,916,113 would be in effect.
This is the first year Salem won’t have a second deliberative session after adopting ballot voting under the Senate Bill 2 form of government. More than 800 people attended the second session last year, largely because of a hotly debated proposal to implement curbside trash pickup. Salem has 18,960 registered voters.
Other warrant articles approved for the ballot included $5.6 million in road work, $1.1 million to replace the Bluff Street and Providence Hill Road bridges, $250,000 for snow removal, $250,000 for an ambulance, and a proposal to sell the former Mary Foss School.