Freedom — February 13, 2009 — At their budget hearing on Monday, February 9, the Freedom Select Board presented a warrant that contained two interesting pairs of articles. But when asked by citizens in attendance to reorganize the warrant so that at town meeting, articles on the same topic can be discussed at the same time, the Board declined, choosing what they called tradition over what others might call common sense.
Municipal Land Purchase
A land purchase article, #4 on the warrant, has been a long time in the planning. It seeks “to appropriate $70,000 from the Municipal Land and Building Capital Reserve Fund for up to 12 acres of land” for new municipal construction. The land is near the corner of Ossipee Lake Road and Route 153 and any new construction would house town government, the police department, and the fire department, leaving vacant the existing town office building on Old Portland Road and the Village Road fire station.
Voters established the Capital Reserve Fund in 2006 and have deposited into it a total of $150,000. The Fund’s clear intent has always been the eventual purchase of land for new municipal construction. Voters have unanimously approved the Fund over the years; however, over the last several months, some citizens have questioned the timing of the purchase and had asked the Board to table the land purchase article for now.
The Select Board decided to keep Article #4 on the warrant. They feel that this is the “ideal” piece of land for “at least a public safety building” and the seller is “willing.” Furthermore, as Board member Les Babb stated at a recent meeting, “this has been going on for three years,” the town is “well at the end of the process,” and the Board feels obligated, on behalf of the voters, to proceed with the original time line.
In competition with Article #4 is a petitioned article that appears near the end of the warrant as Article #26. It asks that “no land be purchased with the [Municipal Land and Building Capital Reserve] Fund…until the Town…[has] produced…a professional assessment of the potential for expansion and upgrade capacity of town-owned buildings and parcels of land” along with a “Cost Estimate Summary…for the improvement of existing buildings and also for the purchase of new land and construction of new facilities.”
The petitioned article was organized and presented to the Select Board by a group of citizens called Freedom Cares. The article’s supporters have stated that they’re not dead set against the idea of new municipal construction; they just want to be better informed about other possible options and cost comparisons between options before any land is purchased. If the study determines that new construction is indeed the best option, then so be it, but they want the study to be conducted.
At Monday’s budget hearing, one citizen asked, What what will happen if Article #4 and Article #26 both pass? Board member Les Babb answered that the town attorney, who was not in attendance at the budget hearing, would be able to answer that question during Town Meeting.
Another citizen asked if the Select Board has the authority to rearrange the articles on the warrant, moving #4 and #26 so that they are listed one after the other. The Board answered that it does indeed have that power but when asked to rearrange the articles, they “chose not to.” Why? Chair Donna Cupka answered that it’s “tradition” for articles to be put on the warrant in the order in which they are received. Since Article #26 was received just the preceding week, it appears late on the warrant.
Board member Jim Brown added that “it’s been years that way.” Brown also explained that the town moderator, during the course of Town Meeting, can change the order of warrant articles if voters from the floor make and approve such a motion.
The warrant features a second pair of articles – both by petition – that would need to be discussed in conjunction with each other; they appear one after the other on the warrant because they were presented to the Select Board together. Article #23 will ask voters to establish a Heritage Commission and Article #24 would authorize the Select Board to appoint 3-7 citizens to that Commission.
A heritage commission, according to the relevant RSA, “may be established…for the proper recognition, use, and protection of resources, tangible or intangible, primarily man-made, that are valued for their historic, cultural, aesthetic, or community significance within their natural, built, or cultural contexts.”
The articles’ supporters emphasize that a heritage commission is non-regulatory and is not the same as a historic district. A historic district can be regulatory, creating ordinances, for example, prohibiting vinyl siding from or prescribing the colors of private homes in the district. A heritage commission, on the other hand, conducts research, completes inventories of local structures of historical importance, works in an advisory capacity with existing town boards, and the pursues grants.
In its presentation to the Select Board, the articles’ supporters noted that a Freedom Heritage Commission “might be a help to our own Freedom Historical Society as it undertakes to raise money for repairs to the Allard House and the Works Barn above and beyond the $10,000 request for specific repairs” asked for elsewhere in the 2009 Town Warrant.
The Freedom Select Board recommends the two Heritage Commission articles by a vote of 2-1, with Chair Donna Cupka dissenting. As she explained at Monday’s budget hearing, her “biggest concern” is that this would be yet “another commission to fill with people and we already have trouble filling boards.” The petitioners’ literature indicates that 121 residents signed the petition and that in their opinion, “there is adequate support at this time from the local citizenry…to volunteer to staff the commission.”
Both Babb and Brown have said that they thought a Heritage Commission could be a useful thing to have in town. Babb cited as an example the time a few years ago when Danforth Bay Campground was expanding, saying that it would have been helpful for town officials to have a Commission available to do research into the historic Shawtown area.
Town Meeting is on Tuesday, March 10, starting at 9:00 AM, on the second floor of the Freedom Town Hall.
[Cynthia Davis is a contributing writer]