EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 3, 2013

Fire truck purchase headed to Town Meeting

By John Toole

---- — ATKINSON — Voters yesterday sent to Town Meeting a proposal to allow bow hunting in town forests.

The aim is to control the deer herd, reduce ticks and limit Lyme disease.

About half of the people in attendance raised hands when Moderator Jim Garrity asked if they knew anyone who had the disease.

Acknowledging their response, Garrity observed that, unfortunately, “Atkinson is at the epicenter for Lyme disease.”

About 60 people from a town of nearly 5,300 registered voters participated in the four and a half hour meeting at Atkinson Academy.

They sent a budget and warrant articles to the March ballot totaling about $4.8 million.

The Budget Committee said the proposed operating budget is up about 1.8 percent.

Voters didn’t request, and town officials didn’t offer, a projected tax rate, though increased spending not offset by surplus or new revenues likely would boost the $18.80 per $1,000 property tax rate when it is set this fall.

Officials were able to hold the line on taxes last year, a rare feat in New Hampshire.

Voters decided to add about $45,000 to replace heat and air units at town offices and attack a mold problem.

They also supported an $8,000 raise for Town Administrator William Innes. That would boost his pay to about $76,000.

Selectman chairman Fred Childs said Innes is doing a good job and reached agreement on a new contract Thursday night that, with options, could keep him in the post four years.

Budget Committee members objected because the raise was last minute, but selectmen said the pay is in line with what the prior administrator was scheduled to receive.

“It just seems like Washington came to Atkinson,” Budget Committee member Sue Caroll protested.

Fire chief Michael Murphy had good news for taxpayers on a new tanker truck, saying lower than expected bids mean a $38,000 savings. They approved a reduction to $212,000 in the warrant article.

There was lengthy discussion over proposed conflict of interest ordinance revisions, which voters ultimately weakened due to concerns they would be too restrictive.

Former Selectman Jack Sapia and resident Leon Artus disagreed over creation of a $10,000 legal capital reserve.

Sapia supports the fund. He wanted more money added to protect the town from unnecessary budget adjustments arising from legal cases, especially frivolous ones.

“They’re not defending themselves,” Sapia said of officials. “They’re defending the town.”

Voters, however, rejected his proposal to add $10,000 to the article, 19 to 25.

Artus didn’t like the idea of taxpayers being on the hook for bad decisions by officials. “There’s room for abuse,” Artus said.

Voters have a final say on all matters at the Town Meeting ballot box March 12.