After spat over high taxes, warrant articles make their way onto ballot unscathed

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Milton's attorney speaks to residents, while Town Clerk Michelle Beauchamp and Selectman Andy Rawson look on and Police Chief Richard Krauss runs a computer showing budget graphics on a screen during Town Meeting Saturday at Nute. Rochester Voice photos

MILTON - About 100 Milton residents turned out on Saturday to have their say on town spending on everything from a warrant article for a new fire truck to fighting the invasive weed European Naiad to the town's operating budget, which drew some of the fiercest rhetoric of the day.

Evidently there was word afoot that some residents - irked by recent tax hikes and a steep property revaluation that surprised even selectmen - were preparing to ask for a 10 percent cut in the town's operating budget, Article 4.

In response town department heads along with selectmen and Town Administrator Heather Thidodeau had prepared a spreadsheet and pie chart that showed what taking 10 percent - about $450,000 - out of the budget would do.

Town Administrator Heather Thibodeau speaks to residents about the impacts of a 10 percent funding cut of the town operating budget. At right behind Thibodeau is Budget Committee Chair Larry Brown.

According to their calculations, the cut would result in the loss of two police officers, losing town clerk hours, curtailing nighttime staffing at Milton Fire and Rescue, cut the transfer station days in half, down to just Friday and Saturday and threaten the existence of the Milton Free Public Library in Milton Mills.

Town resident Brian McQuade, who introduced the 10 percent cut amendment, said, "I can't afford the taxes, they've increased (over recent years) double the rate of inflation."

Other townspeople stepped to the microphone to lament the fact they just can't afford their taxes and asked if the town could help them.

Milton Selectmen Chair Andy Rawson spoke for selectmen, saying the department heads and Thibodeau do a fantastic job trying to keep the budget down, but there's still things like pensions and insurance that have to be paid which leaves the board with little discretionary spending that can be cut.

Others who disagreed said the town was trying to use scare tactics when they said the cut would mean less money for police and fire, and that there should've been other places that were less polarizing to find savings in the budget.

Rawson said he felt townspeople's frustration but implored them to pass the budget.

In the end only a handful of residents voted to cut the budget by 10 percent, and the warrant article as written will go before the voters in March.

The biggest ticket item among the warrant articles was the fire department's request for a new pumper that costs $505,000, which would be paid for through a 10-year lease. The first payment to be raised this year is for $61,000.

Other warrant articles included reserve account additions for highway (15K, technology (8K), the Naiad (5K), bridges and culverts ($25K) , fire (65K) and highway (65K) all coming from the town's fund balance and won't be appropriated from tax revenue associated with the current budget.

Another warrant article asks if voters want to change the term of fire chief from one year to three years.

Meanwhile, Warrant Article 18, submitted by petition and seeking to unincorporated the town, was passed on to voters, however a statement to be attached to the article will now include that it has been deemed illegal by town counsel.

Another nonmoney warrant article that could actually cost you plenty if you like to gamble - Keno - will also be on the March 13 ballot. A simple majority voting yes will allow pouring establishments in town like the Milton Moose and Three Ponds Tavern to implement the numbers game that helps fund New Hampshire kindergarten.

Thibodeau explained that if all the money articles pass, the town's mil rate will go up by 41 cents, an annual increase of $82 for an average $200,000 home.

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