Bristol voters increase budget during day-long meeting

by Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — Voters spent seven and a half hours making their way through 22 warrant articles on Saturday, increasing the operating budget by $10,065 and agreeing to purchase a $162,000 dump truck, a $142,725 sidewalk tractor, and a $15,845 power stretcher for the ambulance.

They also agreed to purchase a $450,000 pumper-tanker for the Fire Department but did not appropriate any money to do so.
The pumper-tanker article was submitted by petition and, although residents recognized the need for a new truck and the Budget Committee recommended the article, the selectmen did not recommend its passage, in part because of questions about whether a manufacturer would agree to build the truck without any kind of a down payment. The article calls for a seven-year lease-purchase agreement with the first payment not occurring until 2015 when the town takes delivery of the vehicle.
A town meeting vote cannot bind a municipality to fund an item in a subsequent budget year in the absence of a contract and Town Manager Michael Capone said Monday that the selectmen will take up the issue of how to proceed with the lease-purchase agreement at its next meeting, on April 10.
Voters did agree to provide $25,000 in funding toward the purchase of playground equipment for Kelley Park with the remaining $30,000 coming out of the Kelley Park Equipment Fund; and they agreed to spend $13,500 for a log crawl tunnel for the park.
During the budget discussion, voters agreed to increase the bottom line so the town could support the Newfound Lake Region Association's efforts to protect the lake with a $1,500 contribution; and to increase employees' wages by 50 cents per hour, rather than the 38 cents recommended by the Budget Committee, resulting in an increase of $8,565 when taxes and benefits are taken into account.
Capone said the selectmen originally looked at providing a percentage increase for employees but liked the budget committee's recommendation for a specific amount, rather than a percentage, so it would be more of a benefit for lower-paid employees. The 50-cent figure came about by looking at the consumer price index over the past seven years, he said.
Voters had mixed responses to articles that would use revolving funds, rather than capital reserve funds, for departmental expenses. Unlike capital reserve accounts, revolving funds can be spent without going back to the voters for approval.
Articles calling for revolving funds for ambulance replacement and recycling, with the money coming out of patient fees on the former and refunds from the Concord Regional Solid Waste Cooperative for the latter, easily passed on voice votes. A revolving fund to cover special police details and police cruisers did not pass.
Voters agreed to place $20,000 into a new capital reserve fund for town building maintenance but, instead of creating a new capital reserve fund for the purchase of a fire engine, voters agreed to place $25,000 into an existing Fire Department Reserve Fund.
In discussing whether to add $80,000 to the $80,000 approved last year for repairs to the Old Town Hall, voters discussed transferring last year's amount to the Bristol Historical Society which has used the building instead. In the end, voters rejected the article on a 71-82 vote.
Following the lead of several Newfound Area towns, Bristol voters agreed to petition the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee to intervene in any wind energy site application that would impact the "view shed" of Newfound Lake and/or the town of Bristol "as seen from any point in Town" and they appropriated $10,000 to cover any legal expenses associated with intervention. They also approved an article requiring any wind energy developer to post a bond to cover all costs associated with the removal of facilities upon the cessation of operations.
Unlike other towns in the wind energy debate, voters did not oppose the establishment of a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement, leaving it to the selectmen to determine whether such an agreement might make sense.
Voters supported a resolution calling upon the town's state representatives to support a constitutional amendment to limit political contributions by corporations and other entities that are not natural-born citizens.