BY MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MOULTONBOROUGH — Voters at Town Meeting on Saturday overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to construct a community center at a cost of $6.5 million as 348 ballots were cast against and 220 in favor. A two-thirds majority was required for passage.
After a resident asked the four selectmen who voted to recommend the project to explain their votes, Selectmen Paul Punturieri and Russ Wakefield spoke, followed by their colleague Josh Bartlett, the lone member of the board to vote against the recommendation. Chris Shipp, who chairs the board, and Jean Beadke were waiting to speak, but discussion was cut short when Joe Cormier moved to "call the question." The rules specify that "the Moderator shall have the right to refuse to recognize a motion to 'Call the Question' if, in the Moderator's opinion, the voters have not yet had an adequate opportunity to discuss an issue." Nevertheless, Moderator Jerry Hopkins granted the motion and debate ended.
Shipp, seconded by Punturieri, offered a motion to reconsider, which he withdrew upon being advised by legal counsel that the vote would have to be reconsidered immediately. Shipp said yesterday that "I didn't want to hijack the debate but to preserve it," explaining that he found it "unfortunate" that discussion was curtailed, "I made the motion solely because there had been no debate," he said, adding that he was "frustrated."
Punturieri, writing on the blog "Moultonborough Speaks," said "our one day of democracy was hijacked by a coordinated group of citizens who did not want any discussion of Article 2 to occur." Opponents of the project, he continued, "clearly did not have the courage to put out their 'facts' for a fair debate. Instead, they took a much less honorable way, which was to win at any cost." The "real losers," he said were those who came to the meeting expecting a debate, but "left feeling cheated and needing a shower to wash away the funk left behind."
In an email to Punturieri, shared with The Laconia Daily Sun, Cormier insisted "there was no conspiracy on 'Call the Question.' I went to the meeting to cast my ballot. That's it. I had no intentions of 'speaking' to any article. My plan was to vote, get the heck out, and go home to greet family."
Although there was consistent support for the project among younger residents, most of them with children, it met with stiff opposition from those who insist that the scope and cost of the project is unwarranted in a town where the general population is aging and the school enrollment is declining. Opponents claimed that the demographics of the town render a community center unnecessary while supporters counter that investing in the amenity will draw younger residents and foster a more balanced demographic.
With little debate voters approved the 2016 operating budget of $7,594,327, approximately $100,000 less than the 2015 budget, which was recommended unanimously by both the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Budget Committee. Likewise, articles to raise $400,000 for a new fire truck and $815,000, also recommended unanimously by the selectmen and budget committee, carried.
Voters also approved an article to appoint rather than elect the Road Agent and authorize the Board of Selectmen to search for and hire a qualified person with appropriate design, engineering, personnel and financial skills.