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February 06. 2013 9:25PM

Epping divided on hiring school resource officer

EPPING - A proposal to bring a school resource officer back to Epping schools received strong support Tuesday night from voters who say it's a valuable position and will help deter crime.

A warrant article seeking $35,570 to pay the officer for a half year beginning July 1 generated the most discussion at the town's annual deliberative session even as voters face big-ticket items like a $2.5 million plan to buy water-rich land and a new $2.3 million town library.

Resident Kim Krenzer, who has a daughter at the high school, was among those who urged voters to approve the position when they vote at the polls on March 12.

"As a parent, I'm very concerned about what's happening (at the high school)," she told the nearly 100 voters in attendance.

Police have been called to the school many times since September to address truancy issues, out-of-control students, vandalism and other problems, she said.

"This is happening every day right here in our small community," she said.

The police department had a school resource officer from 2000 to 2002, but the position was suspended when an officer was placed on active military duty and there was a shortage of officers.

If approved, the officer, who would earn an estimated yearly salary of $76,350 in 2014, would serve in the elementary, middle and high schools on a daily basis.

When students are on summer vacation, Police Chief Michael Wallace said the officer would assist with routine patrols.

Robert Jordan and James McGeough are the only selectmen who support the position.

McGeough, a retired police officer and current high school teacher in Manchester, spoke of the many benefits he's seen by having a resource officer in Manchester. He said the officer there has received many leads on crimes from students.

Selectman Dianne Gilbert opposed the hire, insisting that the school district may want to look at hiring security guards or retired police officers.

Selectman Tom Gauthier said one officer serving three schools wouldn't stop a tragedy like the shooting in Newtown, Conn. He said he would rather spend the money on security system improvements.

But police Sgt. Rich McFadden, who previously held the position, said it was a valuable resource, adding that the presence of a police cruiser parked in front of the schools would also be a deterrent.

Meanwhile, selectmen and the town's water and sewer commissioners urged voters to back the proposed purchase of 75 acres of land behind the Epping Crossing shopping center. The land has five wells on the property that could generate an abundance of water for the town as it tries to maintain its current supply and meet the growing demand from rapid commercial growth.

The land purchase has received the support of a majority of voters for the past two years, but has come up short of the 60 percent vote required to pass.

"This land represents a sustainable water management for the town of Epping for many, many years to come," said Henry DeBoer, chairman of the town's water and sewer commission.

Under the proposal, which is supported unanimously by selectmen, the land would be purchased through a 20-year bond.

DeBoer said half of the bond payments would be covered by water user fees along with half of all new connection fees.

"If we don't purchase this land, we're going to be purchasing water from the people who do purchase this land," Selectman Karen Falcone said.

A proposal to build a new library generated no questions from voters. While the library trustees back the plan, neither selectmen nor the town's budget committee support it.

The library proposal was amended to add $44,000 back into the plan to cover the cost of razing the old library and building a park on the site.

Library Trustee Heather Clark, board chairman, said the new library was "an opportunity to make Epping really proud of what we're offering our community."

Voters made no changes to the proposed $6.4 million budget, but increased the amount of surplus money to be added to a town hall improvement fund from $10,000 to $35,000.

Other warrant articles were sent to the warrant unchanged.



jschreiber@newstote.com


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