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April 06. 2013 11:14PM

Hooksett Police Commission put on notice

HOOKSETT - The town's deliberative session has given the Hooksett Police Commission eight months to "finish its work" and allowed for the possibility of an advisory board to take its place should voters favor a warrant article that would abolish the body at next month's town vote.

The warrant, a petition article, would abolish the commission by rescinding the 1975 town vote that established it. Originally, that warrant would have dissolved the commission within 15 days of its passage.

However, an amendment prepared by town councilors Todd Lizotte, who is against the article, and Leslie Boswak, who authored it, extends that timeline to 240 days. It also allows the town to appoint an "advisory police commission."

Boswak, who spoke "as a citizen," expressed hope that "the warrant's fate, one way or another, might bring closure to an issue that has been bitterly divisive in the town for many years."

"The reason I wrote this petition is to put an end to the seemingly (endless) debate about this subject, to bring it forward to the voters and allow them to have the final say," she said. "Once the voters voice their will, we need to move forward together, abide by their will, and move together in the same direction onward and upward.

"The subject of the police commission has developed into an issue which is very personal to many of us in this room," she continued. "The divide around this subject in this community is very deep, and that division continues to grow, deepen and fester .. Hooksett is a really tough place. There are many times when we don't play well together .. Community is defined as a unified body of individuals. This is something that's nothing more than a distant memory here. We need to stop arguing about the police commission .. We need closure."

Boswak's remarks were well-received by attendees on both sides of the issue, and the amendment passed by a significant margin. The 240-day timeline is largely designed to allow the commission to finish its work rebuilding the department and implementing the recommendations of a 2011 audit.

Commissioners Kenneth Scherer and Joanne McHugh also spoke at the session, both argued that the commission provides a necessary buffer from town politics and other areas.

"Commissioners were put into place in order for there to be a buffer in the community, and for the community to be able to have someone to look to to address their needs as a community," McHugh said. "That was our purpose .. You wouldn't have neighborhood watch except for the commission as a result of community requests."

Several former police commissioners also approached the microphone, many of whom suggested the body's relevance had passed since its inception in 1975 when the town had a little more than a third of its current population and had no town administrator.

"We've made significant changes in the town because the changes were necessary, in our form of government, and we moved ahead," said former commissioner John Proctor. "We shouldn't be doing things because we've always done them that way.

"Here's a person that's been in town for 38 years, and I've seen a lot of changes where things have worked out for the best."

In other matters, a warrant gauging public opinion on the institution of mandatory recycling at the curbside and recycling center also drew significant debate, as it has since its conception.

Lizotte offered a motion that would include language indicating that a mandatory recycling ordinance would contain enforcement measures "consisting of, but not limited to, written warnings, financial penalties, and/or loss of service to taxpayers to utilize the curbside collection program and material drop off at the Recycling and Transfer Center."

Several residents spoke in favor of the amendment as educating the voters on what the logical conclusion of mandatory recycling enforcement would likely be.

Others, however, pushed back against the motion as a "scare tactic" that would alienate voters who would be otherwise sympathetic to the program. Recycling and Transfer Station Superintendent Diane Boyce said punitive measures had not been definitively discussed and would ultimately be at the discretion of the council.

The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 19-26.

The town's operating budget, which has been forced to absorb $455,784 in mandated costs this year, $230,159 of which from the state's downshifting of retirement costs to the municipalities, falls at $16,388,572.

The town election, at which the warrants will be voted on and municipal officers elected, will be held on May 7 at Cawley Middle School. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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