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Conway juggles a hot potato after town budget-cap amendment

Union Leader Correspondent

March 10. 2014 9:26PM

CONWAY — Once divided, the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee are now united in their opposition to an amended warrant article that would allow up to a 10 percent increase in the annual amount to be raised by taxes.

In an attempt to control the rate of spending in the community, citizens introduced petitioned articles for consideration at both the Conway school and town deliberative sessions — which were held, respectively, on March 3 and March 5 — that would restrict the annual increase in the amounts to be raised by taxes to 2.5 percent of the prior year’s budgets.

Although the petitioned article prevailed as written at the school deliberative session, it was significantly changed, ostensibly in an effort to render it moot, at the town deliberative session.

On April 8, Conway voters will cast ballots on both the original article as adopted at the school board session, as well as on the article amended at the town deliberative session.

Conway Town Administrator Earl Sires on Monday explained that the amended town-budget cap article will include language on the town warrant saying that it is not supported by either the selectmen or budget committee.

Sires said that after the town deliberative session, both the selectmen and budget committee met and subsequently the two bodies, by votes of zero in favor, five against, and zero in favor, 16 against, declared they did not support the amended town cap article.

“The selectmen, who did not support the original proposal, did not support this one,” Sires said, “and the budget committee, while supporting the original one, chose not to support this one.”

Town voters may still choose to adopt the 10 percent limit, Sires added, saying it was passed at the town deliberative session by a one-vote margin, 39 in favor, to 38 opposed.

While state law allows voters at Town Meeting to adopt a budget that is up to 10 percent above or below what was recommended by their municipal budget committee, Sires said there was discussion at the Conway town deliberative session as to whether the cap article should have been amended. Ultimately, said Sires, the town’s legal counsel decided that the amended article, “like any other article, could be voted up or down.”

Should Conway voters adopt one or more of the spending caps — the measures need to garner three-fifths of all votes cast to succeed — Conway would become the first town in the state to do so under a law that was passed by the New Hampshire Legislature in 2011.

The law allows a town or school district tax cap to be based on either a fixed-dollar amount or a fixed percentage and allows “the legislative body” the ability to override the cap “by the usual procedures applicable to annual meetings and deliberative sessions of the legislative body.”

That legislative body, which is comprised of voters, also can “increase or decrease the amount of any appropriation or the total amount of all appropriations.”

Both the Conway School Board and Board of Selectman voted unanimously against the 2.5 percent caps while the Budget Committee supported them by a vote of 11 in favor, six opposed.

Sires has previously said selectmen were concerned the cap would impose “an arbitrary number on the town budget which needs to respond annually to different challenges and that it would reduce the flexibility the town will have in addressing both the range of services and the level of service that we’re offering.”

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