EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 13, 2013

Pelham voters say no to a lot

Budgets, kindergarten, contract all rejected

By John Toole

---- — PELHAM — Voters rejected a $1.7 million kindergarten project, a teachers’ contract, and proposed town and school budgets yesterday at Town Meeting.

It got so bad for public officials that voters not only rejected an $895,000 Town Hall renovation to house the relocating School Administrative Unit 28 staff, but also the backup plan for leasing office space for them.

“I don’t think selectmen were shocked,” Chairman William McDevitt said, evaluating the outcome. “We knew. We get tax bills, too. Voters were unhappy with the last tax bill.”

It was a big turnaround from last year when voters embraced spending proposals, including the new fire station now under construction next to the Village Green.

The proposed kindergarten addition at Pelham Elementary School, despite the expected availability of up to $1 million in state aid, failed 1,427-962.

The teachers’ contract went down, 1,558-826, as did the Town Hall project, 1,429-940.

The $13 million town budget lost, 1,442-939. The default budget is $12.8 million. The $27.4 million school budget failed, 1,338-1,008. That default budget is $27.3 million.

The leasing plan for school administrative offices lost, 1,425-933.

McDevitt said selectmen will convene next week to decide what’s next.

“We will meet next Tuesday and spend some time plotting our strategy of how to live within the (default) budget,” he said.

That could prove a challenge, he admitted, with rising insurance costs and the state putting more burdens on towns.

On a day with few offices contested, most eyes were on the School Board.

There were two seats available, but only Tom Gellar on the ballot. His victory was assured, but no one filed for the other seat and there were no signs of an organized write-in.

Jack King received the most write-ins, 48. But which Jack King?

Officials announced they had identified two John Kings in town, but one recently had been removed from the voter checklist. They were expected to try to get to the bottom of that situation as soon as today.

The victorious King, officials said, would have the option of refusing the office, if he chooses.

Linda Mahoney, former School Board member, received the second most write-ins, with 15.

A contested race for cemetery trustee saw incumbent Walter Kosik defeat former trustee Richard Jensen, 1,349-509.

Voters did agree to put money into town roads and establish a capital reserve for cistern repair.

They rejected a citizen petition, 1,272-1,068, to provide a property tax break for disabled people.

Voter turnout was about 27 percent. That was boosted by after-work turnout.

Around 4 p.m. only about 15 percent had cast ballots, prompting moderator Phil Currier to characterize turnout as “terrible,” among the worst he had seen in town.

Ed McGlynn said he had voted for the kindergarten, but opposed the Town Hall renovation.

“That seems like a lot of money, something we don’t need,” he said.

Edward Maddox said he voted for both projects sought by the school district.

“They need it,” Maddox said.