By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Voters on Tuesday passed the Gilford School Board's proposed operating budget of $26,019,631, following a furious information campaign by opponents who even sent out mailers opposing the budget.
The vote was close — Article 2 for the school district's operating budget passed 568-463.
The multiyear teachers' collective bargaining agreement passed 557-476, meaning a shift of only 81 votes would have resulted in a tie.
A total of 1,047 ballots were cast out of 6,336 eligible voters, for 16 percent turnout, said Gilford Town Clerk Denise Gonyer.
"I think it's a good average, regardless of the storm," Gonyer said.
At the deliberative session of School District Meeting, in a rebuff of the Budget Committee, voters restored the Gilford School Board's proposed operating budget of $26,019,631 for an up-or-down vote on March 14. This set up a showdown with citizens who wanted to see another $116,000 shaved.
The Budget Committee's proposed operating budget of $25,903,694 was increased at the school deliberative session on Friday, Feb. 10, to $26,019,631. Failure at the polls meant the school district would have adopted a default budget of $25,872,143, Last year, the proposed budget was rejected by voters.
The warrant article for the three-year collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Gilford Education Association sparked controversy.
The agreement featured an estimated increase in cost of $296,819 in 2017-2018.
Critics pointed out that the contract compounds in cost, for an accumulated cost of $1.6 million. Article 3 only asked for the first year's funding.
Article 8, a citizen's petition to place the determination of the default budget in the hands of the Budget Committee, also prompted debate. This article failed 633-380.
In town voting, Gilford voters had a say on whether to build a solid waste transfer station by borrowing $950,000. Article 6 passed 749-248 and met the three-fifths vote requirement.
The "yes" vote now means Laconia can prepare to lose roughly $45,000 in annual revenue.
Laconia and Gilford have been in a solid waste district, and Laconia has charged Gilford a per-ton fee for administration and use of the Laconia Transfer Station, located at 385 Meredith Center Road, Laconia.
Article 11, a plan to renovate the Town Hall, passed 763-221.
By a two-vote margin, attendees at the deliberative session of Town Meeting in February cut $65,000 from the article to upgrade the town hall building, allocating $385,000 to the renovations. The article sought funding for Phase 2 of the Town Hall Improvements Project, "to include new heating and cooling fixtures, water system upgrades, hallway flooring, sidewalks and ADA compliant entry doors."
Kevin Leandro, vice chairman of the Budget Committee, warned that the town could lose any reasonable chance to fix the building, if voters balked at the request.
Article 11 initially sought $525,000 but was brought back to the Budget Committee with updated estimates.
As voters arrived at the polls in a snowstorm, Gonyer said town staff explained the circumstances that led to voting during Tuesday's nor'easter.
On Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu signaled in a statement after a conference call that towns were advised to continue with the vote on Tuesday, based on state election law.
"A lot of voters didn't understand why we didn't change our date, but we tried to explain that the governor told us if we hadn't changed it already, we shouldn't change it," Gonyer said.
Two conflicting statutes led to the confusion. One states that the moderator has discretion to reschedule an election, but the other says the Town Meeting must fall on the second Tuesday in March.
"Because of the conflicting RSAs, the governor felt that we should not change the date if we had not already announced it," Gonyer said.
Town staff counted the ballots, despite hurdles created by the storm including an internet outage.
Belmont was the first and only one of the local towns with voting scheduled on Tuesday to postpone.
As a result of the decision, Belmont Town and School District voting will take place 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.on Thursday, March 16, at Belmont High School.