Olivia Belanger And Caleb Symons
The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
Mar. 11—WESTMORELAND — Westmoreland residents shot down a proposal for a new fire station Wednesday by the slimmest of margins, causing officials to count the ballots three times.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said firefighter Tom Finnegan, chairman of an advisory committee formed to oversee the development of the proposed $2.3 million station. “With the committee, we tried to get all the information out to the public so that they could make an educated decision, and I feel that we did a pretty reasonable job of doing that.”
The article required a three-fifths majority, or 60 percent, to pass because of the bond involved. It failed 278-189, garnering 59.5 percent approval, just three votes short of the threshold. With such a close vote, the town delayed reporting its official results on the article until late Thursday morning, according to Town Moderator Peter Hills.
Town officials consulted with the N.H. Municipal Association on Thursday and a Concord law firm specializing in bond-related matters for guidance on election procedures before it announced the result, Hills said.
The fire station article was the only one to fail on this year’s warrant.
Warrant articles approved Wednesday include the town’s $1,428,359 operating budget, as well as $128,000 to buy a new backhoe for the highway department and $20,000 for the town’s fire equipment capital reserve fund.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to socially distance, Westmoreland chose not to hold a traditional, sit-down meeting. Instead, residents voted for the entire warrant by ballot, which could be done inside Westmoreland Elementary School or in their cars.
Hills said 470 residents voted Wednesday, far exceeding the 176 who participated in town meeting last year. Westmoreland has 1,331 registered voters.
The proposed 6,400 square-foot fire station would have been built on town-owned land behind town hall, according to Finnegan. Firefighters were pushing for a new station for several reasons, including inadequate space for equipment in the current 3,650 square-foot station — built in 1954 — and its inability to accommodate certain health and safety protocols, according to information the department mailed out to residents.
Residents also received an anonymous mailer last week that included false information about the proposed station, including the cost.
“I don’t know where we stand as far as the next move,” Finnegan said, “but I do know for sure two things: That the need will not go away, and the cost won’t go down.”
Incumbent selectboard member Frank Reeder was victorious in a two-way race for a single seat on the board. Reeder secured the seat with 264 votes against Jon Lounsbury who received 170 votes.
The following were elected without contest: Theresa A. Russell, one-year term as treasurer; Jodi Scanlan, one-year term as town clerk; Kelly N. Wright, one-year term as welfare officer; Susan Finnegan, three-year term on the budget committee; Bill Chase, one-year term on budget committee; William “Bill” Franzen, three-year term as trustee of the trust funds; Robert Moore Jr., three-year term as cemetery trustee.
Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.
Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.
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