GILMANTON — With the tax rate up $3.01 and the bills in the hands of homeowners, residents are screaming at selectmen for heads to roll, and the first one appears to be that of former Selectboard Chairman Don Guarino.
Guarino was voted out as chairman at the end of a loud and contentious meeting that started with him questioning the process by which the town will hire a engineer for a bridge projected and ended with a screaming match between Town Administrator Paul Branscombe, Guarino, and newly elected chairman Rachel Hatch over the preparation of the 2015 budget.
According to a recording of the meeting, former Town Administrator Arthur Capello may have underestimated the revenue for the 2015 tax year. Guarino said Branscombe had an opportunity to fix it by changing the estimate prior to the state Department of Revenue setting the rate.
The rate increased from $22.93 in 2014 to $25.94 in 2015. The town rate was up from $4.10 to $5.51, the county rate went up from $1.34 to $1.36, and the school rate went up from $14.82 to $16.73 or $1.91. Total property valuation was up from $447,518,768 to $450,393,371.
Guarino said that in many instances the state notices a gross discrepancy and contacts the town administrator for clarification. If the Department of Revenue didn't call, he said at the meeting, when Branscombe was told the preliminary tax rate was up by so much, he should have taken the initiative to call and learn why.
Branscombe, who was hired at the end of July, fired back by saying he was sick of being blamed for all of the problems in town when he had only been on the job for less than four months. He said the Gilmanton finance director was ready to quit because she was sick of doing research into last year's budget preparation.
During the argument, he said that during his attempts to determine what went wrong in formulating last year's tax rate and trying to determine the 2016 tax rate he realized all of the revenue numbers keep coming up "minus." He continually said the entire matter was "ridiculous."
Branscombe gave the example that the estimated automobile registration tax revenues for Gilmanton was $369,544.
"We've already collected $603,000 year-to-date," he said, speculating aloud that maybe the former town administrator made a mistake and used the 2014 July 1 revenue total for an estimate instead of projecting it for the whole year.
While Branscombe and Guarino continued to argue about who should have done what and when they should have done it, Hatch stepped in and said she was sick of Guarino blaming Branscombe for all of the problems in town and for constantly contacting Capello at his new job.
After yelling at Guarino for a while about his continued contact with the former town administrator, Hatch finally said that they should adjourn the meeting and allow cooler heads to prevail at a future meeting.
Up to that point, Selectman Michael Jean had sat quietly, watching and listening. He said he was ready to make a motion and while all thought he was going to move to adjourn, he moved that Guarino be removed as chairman and Hatch be installed. At that point, the tape went silent for about 10 seconds.
During discussion of the motion, which was just a continuation of the shouting match, Hatch said she would second the motion to remove Guarino. With Guarino abstaining, the motion passed.
After taking care of a small piece of immediate business, the board voted to adjourn for the night. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 30 in the board meeting room.
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