Hinsdale town moderator to run for board seat

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HINSDALE, N.H. — The town's long-time moderator is handing in his gavel so he can run to be a member of the Board of Selectmen.

"At the annual town and school meeting in March, 100 to 150 voters decide on how to spend the $21 million that is spent on running our town and schools," Richard Johnson told the Reformer during an interview in Westminster, Vt., where he works as the safety manager for GMH Transportation.

Johnson said Hinsdale now has a tax rate of $35.20, which is an increase of 36 percent in three years, and covers both the town budget and the school budget.

"This is the fourth highest tax rate in the state," said Johnson, 63, who has lived in Hinsdale all his life. Prior to working at GMH he worked for 23 years at the Hinsdale Raceway, later the Hinsdale Greyhound Park, which closed in 2008.

Johnson attributed the tax increases to a lack of participation during annual Town Meeting and a Board of Selectmen that is not making the tough decisions.

"In the real world, a management team with this record would and should have already been fired," he said. "As a manager, I've had to weed the budget. When costs go up, you have to cut from someplace else. These are tough decisions to make, but right now, nobody's making them."

Without a change, said Johnson, Hinsdale will continue its "downward spiral" of people moving out to live elsewhere and taxes continuing to go up.

"I've been exasperated the last three to five years," he said. "At some point you have to say you can't just sit there and complain about it."

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Johnson believes the folks making the budget decisions in Hinsdale "have become accustomed to" business as usual, and need to work harder to cut the "fluff" from the budget.

"When inflated budgets are passed it leaves unspent money at the end of the year," he said. "Warrant articles are put before voters looking to tuck away money for 'do good' causes."

Those articles, said Johnson, are worded in a way that says those budget lines will come from the unspent balance at the end of the year. But, he said, that's not the way it should be done.

"If not spent, that money would go to reduce the next year's taxes," said Johnson. "The practice of budget high and spend it all at the end needs to stop."

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If elected to the board, he said, he will advocate for a fourth town-wide vote to institute SB2. He will also work on an across-the-board cut of 10 percent of the town budget.

"The entire budget must be scoured to eliminate any and all unnecessary spending," he said. "It is not an easy process and hard decisions must be made."

Johnson acknowledged there are certain things the town can't control, such as insurance costs. In that case, he believes the board needs to audit its workforce and determine if the same amount of services can be provided with fewer employees. For example, he said, take a look at the police department, which has budget lines for 10 officers.

"When was the last time that department was fully staffed?" he asked. "Why do we need to budget for 10?"

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Johnson said he would take a scalpel to the budget and trim the "fluff" to help keep the tax rate down.

"I'm not saying I have all the answers, but I've got some."

Johnson said he also supports SB2, which would convert the town's annual decision making from the Town Meeting format to an Australian ballot, during which voters are given all day to cast their ballots rather than having to attend a Saturday meeting in March. Hinsdale voters have had three votes on whether to convert their mode of annual meeting, but have voted it down all three times. In 2015, the last time it came before the town, the vote was 350 against and 345 in favor. A three-fifths majority is necessary to make the change.

"People are less engaged," said Johnson. "Going to Town Meeting used to be an annual event. Now, they just don't come out. You can't really blame people. It's a busy world."

Johnson hopes that switching to an Australian ballot would allow more people to cast their votes on the town and school budget. Otherwise, he said, it will continue the way it has been going for the past several years, with about 150 people making decisions for the more than 4,000 people who live in town.

"I have always said that democracy works best when people get involved, but that has not happened here," said Johnson.

Johnson was a member of the town's solid waste committee that instituted the pay-per-bag system that paid for the closure of the town's landfill and to this day pays for trash pickup around town. He was also a member of the team that got the funding to tear down the old mill on Main Street and replace it with a park and the Millstream Community Center.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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