HINSDALE, N.H. -- The town will soon have its own school resource officer at the middle/high school following the public's vote Saturday to authorize the acceptance of a grant that will fund the position.
The townspeople voted 123-52 at Town Meeting to ratify the decision of their Board of Selectmen and accept a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant that will provide 60 percent of the cost (salary and benefits) to hire a school resource officer, or SRO, for 36 months. Federal funding up to $125,000 will be provided during the calendar years 2014, 2015 and 2016. The grant comes on the condition that the town fund the position the remaining 40 percent of the three years, as well as 2017, and have no reduction in the police force during the years of the grant. Failure to adopt Article 6 would have resulted in the town having to repay the federal government all the funds expanded under the grant, which had already been implemented.
Wayne Gallagher, a former Hinsdale police chief and current selectman, assumed the duties of an SRO after his retirement in 2012. Gallagher will be replaced by Officer Wayne Kassotis, who has experience as a school resource officer and who spoke to the public from the Town Meeting floor Saturday. Kassotis said he wanted to dispel rumors that an SRO is a disciplinarian who rules with an iron fist.
"We are not there hanging around the corner waiting to see who we can catch," he said, adding that SRO programs have spread across the country since beginning in Flint, Mich., in 1953. Kassotis also said he has done a lot of things in his life but "none were as rewarding as helping school-age children and young adults" as an SRO.
Gallagher also said he has never been involved in any disciplinary matters at the school in his time performing SRO duties.
Angela Schill, who served her final day as a Hinsdale School Board member Saturday, said she had previously abstained on the board's vote regarding the COPS grant.
"Our children are our most precious asset," she said from the center of the middle/high school's gymnasium. She mentioned students may not want to go to school if they feel someone is "breathing down their neck."
Ann Marie DiOrio, an administrative assistant of the Hinsdale School District, said she strongly disagreed with Schill. She said the town's police officers have made it their mission in life to help students, not hinder or intimidate them. She also said people from her generation often viewed officers as "bad guys" and she wants today's children to understand they are the "good guys."
School Superintendent, Dr. David Crisafulli took the microphone to say the most significant thing he can do is form a strong relationship between the school system and the local police department.
"I really consider this an important step forward for us," he said. The public then voted via paper ballot to accept the grant.
Not all warrant articles passed, however, as Article 2 (regarding to money for the second phase of the Monument Road reconstruction project) was rejected, 61-122, via paper ballot. The article was the first item on the agenda and, per New Hampshire law, the vote required a paper ballot and a two-thirds majority for approval and the ballot box had to remain open for an hour, though other articles could be acted on in the meantime.
Article 2 requested from the taxpayers $1,416,687 for the reconstruction of Monument Road from Plain Road to Meetinghouse Road. The reconstruction is part of a two-phase project. Hinsdale contracted KV Partners LLC, of New Boston, to complete the final design for Monument Road. The designs divvies up the project into two phases - the second of which pertains to reconstruction from Plain Road to Old Meetinghouse Road. Both phases will address drainage problems, resurfacing, and creating a walking and bicycle path on both sides of the road, according to engineer Mike Vignale. The first phase will address the water main.
According to information from the town, Monument Road is a multi-use road that serves the residents of North Hinsdale and the town's industrial area. It is deteriorating, especially from Plain Road to Meetinghouse Road. Town officials wanted to take on this project while construction prices and interest rates are low and the town is retiring some of its debt. The design includes 4-foot paved shoulders on each side of the road that will be marked for pedestrian and bicycle traffic only, a feature some residents advocated for at several public hearings during the plan development stage.
Vignale told the crowd the road is in pretty rough condition right now. He said it is currently 24 feet wide, and his design calls for a 3-foot expansion on both sides of the road. The project will also rehabilitate the road's surface and subsurface and improve drainage.
Resident Karyn Hammond said she lives on the road is worried about losing 3 feet of frontage on her property and Vignale said he designed that portion of road so the impact to property owners would be minimal. Hammond told Vignale she thinks widening the road that much is ridiculous. She told the Reformer she voted against the article.
"I don't have that much front lawn in the first place and the road itself there's not that much traffic," she said. "There is no way the road needs to be widened by 6 feet. It's ridiculous. And we do not need a pedestrian walkway. I jog regularly, I take my baby in a stroller - I know where the side of the road is. There is plenty of the side of the road."
Richard Schill, a former selectman and the husband of Angela Schill, said it seems odd to put so much money into a road near the industrial area when "industry is dead in the United States" and is unlikely to boom in Hinsdale.
Waste and Sewer Superintendent Dennis Nadeau said he is also a Hinsdale resident and does not like to spend a lot of money, but it is important to ensure the road is reconstructed properly. Selectman Jay Ebbighausen said the road is in terrible shape and it is the job of the selectmen to tell the public when any infrastructure needs maintenance.
Budget Committee member Joseph Conroy said these issues should have been brought up at the public hearings held for discussion on the project. He encouraged more people to attend such hearings in the future and said companies don't want to expand to Hinsdale between of the the narrowness of the Charles Dana and Anna Hunt Marsh bridges and because the town's population is too small to support a strong industrial area.
Resident Lisa Borst said she lives just off Monument Road and told everyone the town is owed $750,000 in delinquent and unpaid taxes that could help offset the costs of the project, "instead of opening our wallets that are already empty." Borst also said it is important to focus on the project's first phase, which pertains to the reconstruction of Meetinghouse Road to Old Brattleboro Road.
Voters later adopted Article 3, which will raise and appropriate $3,501,166 for the town's general operating expenses. Schill, who is known for his conservative stance on taxation and governmental spending, made a motion to reduce the budget to $3,369,439, saying the town could not afford the higher figure.
Budget Committee Chairman Peter Zavorotny said his committee does what it can to keep taxes level, though they often increase along with the cost of living. Upon a voice vote from the public, Moderator Richard Johnson declared the proposed amendment was rejected. The townspeople then voted 108-54 via paper ballot to adopt the budget as written.
"People have a lot of money, I guess," a man cried out.
Zavorotny later told the Reformer that Article 4 (to raise and appropriate $469,794 for the water department) and Article 5 (to raise and appropriate $347,455 for sewer treatment plant) passed after being amended to say the sums would be paid for by user fees like they always are.
Zavorotny also said Article 7 was adopted and, therefore, the selectmen have been authorized to enter into a five-year lease for $122,000 for a 2014 backhoe loader for the water/sewer and highway departments. The voters also agreed to raise and appropriate $26,100 for the first year's lease payment, of which $13,050 will be raised by taxes and another $13,050 will be generated via user fees.
Article 9, Zavorotny said, was adopted and it created a Pumper Truck Repair Fund to fix a 1999 pumper truck for the fire department. The amount to be placed into the fund was amended from $40,000 to $80,000.
Voters also adopted Article 9, which will raise and appropriate $40,000 to be added to the Fire Apparatus Fund.
In other business:
-- Earlier during the school district meeting, voters adopted a $11,985,367 budget for the support of the schools, the salaries of school district officers and agents and any statutory obligations of the district. This sum is $72,350 lower than last year.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.