Monday March 18, 2013

WALPOLE, N.H. -- Walpole voters agreed to purchase a voting machine tabulator for future elections during Town Meeting Saturday.

About 115 Walpole residents showed up for the afternoon meeting, which was relatively short on controversial items and was over in less that three hours.

The decision to invest $4,700 in the voting machine and maintenance agreement led to some of the liveliest discussion as residents wanted to make sure their votes would be counted and protected if Walpole indeed moved toward the modern vote counting method.

Town Moderator Ernest Vose said he wanted Walpole to embrace the technology to give residents who work late into the night counting votes a break.

He also said the machine would save money by not having to pay the election day vote counters, who sometime work three or four hours during busy Presidential elections.

Vose also said North Walpole can continue to collect its ballots by hand.

"We've been thinking about this for the last three years," said Vose. "Some of us are getting up in age and we need some help."

Some residents wanted to know how the machine stores its information, and how problems can be addressed if they happen.

Selectboard member Jamie Teague said a machine was brought to town hall so Walpole officials could test it, and she said the machine performed accurately under a variety of tests.

"We tried to trick the machine and it worked perfectly," said Teague. "I think the public should make this decision."

The article was approved by an overwhelming majority.

The approximately $3 million budget, which is down a little over 1 percent, passed unanimously.

The budget was down largely due to a more than $230,000 drop in the highway budget, though a number of line items were up.

Next year water and sewer financial work will be done inside the town's financial administration office, which increased its budget by $21,398, an increase of more than 20 percent.

The town also saw a sizeable increase in the proposed budget for maintaining town hall. That line item went up by more than $56,000, or about 136 percent.

Teague said the Selectboard wants to hire a maintenance worker for 20 hours a week to maintain town hall and the immediate property.

Walpole has invested in the building through the years, and Teague said the town now had to take care of it.

"There was a lot of discussion about this," she said. "A lot needs to be done. This building is used almost every single day and weekend. It needs to be cleaned and maintained properly."

The town also will purchase new chairs, do roof work and renovate the cupola on top of the building next year.

The Police Department budget is up, and additional increases could be coming next year. The Selectboard proposed a $39,000 increase to improve salaries and benefits so Walpole can draw and keep good officers, Teague said.

Some residents said they wanted to add a fourth officer to the department. Teague said the board has been discussing the issue and would likely hold a townwide referendum next year to see if there was support to increase the police force.

Town residents approved the purchase of a $90,000 truck that will be used to plow downtown, $60,000 in paving equipment, and an addition to the recycling center, which will cost about $10,000.

The Police Department will get a new Chevy Tahoe to use as a patrol vehicle.

Voters approved using $32,000 from the capital reserve fund to purchase the vehicle.

The department puts $10,000 into the capital reserve fund every year, Chief Michael Paquette said, and it was time to retire the truck the department is using.

An article which extends the town treasurer's term from one year to three also passed.

Before the meeting Mervin Stevens recognized the closing of R.N. Johnson, the farm supply store that sold John Deere tractors from its Walpole store for 84 years before closing this year.

He thanked Alan Johnson and his grandfather for calling Walpole "home" over all that time.

"Grandfather and grandson will no longer be able to visit and sit on a tractor and enjoy a little bit of farm life," he said. "It's part of the story of change, but it is a sad one."

The 40th anniversary of the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was also honors, as were the Walpole residents who served and died in the conflict.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.