Freedom — February 5, 2009 — Voters at Town Meeting will be presented with two seemingly incompatible warrant articles regarding land purchase for municipal construction: one from the Select Board seeking approval for purchase of a 12-acre parcel of land near the corner of Ossipee Lake Road and Route 153, and one from a citizens’ group seeking to delay any land purchase until certain conditions are met.
The citizens’ group, calling itself “Freedom Cares,” presented its petitioned article, along with the requisite signatures, to the Freedom Select Board on Monday, Feb. 2. Emery Stokes read the article aloud: it asks to “limit the Municipal Land and Building Capital Reserve Fund by directing that no land be purchased” until two tasks are completed.
First task: “a current Building Evaluation to include a professional assessment of the potential for expansion and upgrade capacity of town-owned buildings and parcels of land.” Second: “a Cost Estimate summary to include professional estimates for the improvement of existing buildings and also for the purchase of new land and construction of new facilities.”
The article asks for funds to come from the exiting Capital Reserve Fund, not to “exceed 10 percent of the balance” of the Fund.
The petitioned article formalizes concerns the citizens’ group has raised at recent public meetings, advocating for a delay in the land purchase so as to allow time for a professional assessment of other options, specifically, the feasibility and cost of renovating the existing town office building on Old Portland Road and the fire station on Village Road.
The group also wants a cost estimate of what they’ve called “the whole package” of site preparation and new construction, in addition the land purchase. As Stokes said on Monday evening, the town shouldn’t be buying land without knowing how much the whole project will cost.
Select Board member Les Babb responded that, “The only thing we’re asking for this year is the land,” to which Stokes responded, “Once you purchase the land, you’re committed” to the whole project. Stokes closed his presentation by stating that his group had hoped that the Board would support the petitioned article and hold off on presenting voters with the land purchase article.
The Board has no such plans and will ask voters at Town Meeting for approval to purchase the land.
Voters established the Municipal Land and Building Capital Reserve Fund in 2006 with an initial amount of $50,000, added $50,000 to the fund in 2007, and another $50,000 in 2008. The Select Board feels that voters – in unanimously approving those articles – understood the intent of the town to eventually purchase land. Now that the project is in its fourth year of planning, the Board feels that they have the responsibility to move the project forward and present the article to voters this March.
The citizens’ group shares one goal with the Select Board: moving the project forward. When asked why they were presenting this petitioned article, they responded that they did not want to simply vote the land purchase article down, because doing so would stall the project. They’ve publicly recognized the need for more space for town services; they just want to be presented with options and attendant cost estimates, prepared by professionals. Their petitioned article, they believe, keeps the project moving forward.
Several citizens were in attendance at Monday’s meeting and spoke, alongside Stokes, in support of the petitioned article. Board Chair Donna Cupka asked for details about the membership of the group “Freedom Cares.” John Hogan answered that it’s not a formal organization and that there exists no list of names that could be submitted to the Board; he identified himself as a “concerned citizen.”
Cupka expressed a desire to work in concert with – not in opposition to – “Freedom Cares.” The land purchase article will likely appear as Article #4 on the warrant, the petitioned article will be Article #26 (articles are placed on the warrant in the order in which the Select Board receives them). That timing presents a potential problem. The land purchase article will be voted on quite early during meeting, while the petitioned article will be discussed and voted on much later.
Furthermore, as Babb asked late during Monday’s meeting, “What if both articles pass?” Where would that leave the town?” Cupka responded that she had been thinking about that problem but didn’t publicly offer her thoughts at the time.
Supporters of both warrant articles have stated an intent to publicize their positions and to drum up attendance at Town Meeting, which begins on Tuesday, March 10 at 9 a.m.on the second floor of the Town Hall on Elm Street.
The Select Board meets on Mondays at 7 p.m.on the second floor of the town office building on Old Portland Road.
If members of the Freedom Select Board were truly interested in addressing citizen concerns on this issue, they could easily vote to “table” discussion of Article #4 until discussion began on Article #26, since the two articles are clearly related. If common sense does not take over here, perhaps the citizens should simply vote down the land purchase article (and potentially delay the project) to convince Board members that they really SHOULD listen to the citizens and not just proceed with what appears to be their favorite (and only) option.