This Groundhog Day, voters across Southern New Hampshire will come out of their dens and — whether they see their shadow or not — head to Town Hall or the local school gym to learn what’s afoot with their tax dollars.
An eight-day festival of deliberative sessions throughout the region starts Saturday. By the time the sun goes down a week later, everyone in town will have a pretty good idea where the votes will be come Town Meeting.
That is Tuesday, March 12, the day voters cast ballots, allowing plenty of time for less formal debate over coffee, beer or the backyard fence.
What happens at the deliberative sessions matters in the life of a community.
“It’s important,” Atkinson Selectmen’s Chairman Fred Childs said. “This is the only way you can change things. Whatever happens at the deliberative, that’s what goes on the ballot.”
The most important moment in the process is when people vote on Town Meeting Day, but deliberative session is significant, Hampstead moderator Neil Reardon maintains.
“Deliberative session actually prepares the ballot,” Reardon said. “A change in a warrant article can change the outcome of a vote. So they can, at that meeting, significantly affect the vote.”
Most of the focus is on the town and school operating budgets that fund services.
Some communities will have it easier than others.
“We’re pretty good. We may be up a hair, within a half percent increase,” Childs said. “I know other towns, like Salem, had it tougher than we did.”
Budgets aren’t the only topic for discussion.
Windham voters will discuss a $31 million middle school plan.
Salem voters consider putting $17 million into renovations at Fisk, Soule and Haigh schools.
Pelham voters will hear about a $1.7 million kindergarten addition and an $895,000 proposal for renovating Town Hall to house School Administrative Unit 28 administrators.