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March 23. 2014 9:31PM

Littleton poised for a new recount on public works building vote

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LITTLETON — For the second time in two years, a recount will be held on an article that fell a handful of votes short of passing at Town Meeting.

In 2013, voters narrowly defeated a new collective-bargaining agreement with the union representing fire, highway and transfer station employees, leading to a recount that upheld the result.

This year, voters rejected an article to appropriate $1.2 million to construct a new public works/highway building. The tally was five votes shy of the required 60 percent majority.

Residents petitioned for a recount and it will take place Tuesday at 3 p.m., according to Town Clerk Judith White. She said she is confident the recount, as was the case with last year’s recount, will uphold the tally recorded by the town’s voting machines.

White explained that three teams, overseen by Town Moderator Gerald Winn and the Board of Selectmen, will first sort the 1,015 ballots cast into piles of 25 and then begin the recount. Once the observers agree that it is definitively a “yes” or “no,” it will then be separated accordingly and a final count done.

“I do believe in the machines,” White said Friday. “But sometimes the marks are not where the machine could read them.”

She said in her 16 years as town clerk and in other recounts, the machines have been proven correct. Should the public works/highway building article fail in the recount, the result of the recount can be appealed to Grafton County Superior Court.

Town Manager Fred Moody said Thursday the current public works building is old, inefficient to heat and too small for the amount of equipment the department now owns.

“The building is a mid-1950s steel-frame Butler building that has not been substantially improved since then. It’s functionally out of date,” said Moody, “and needs to be improved for energy-conservation purposes.”

Back in the 1950s, he said, “fuel oil was very inexpensive” so the public works building was not well insulated. The town spends between $14,000 and $15,000 annually to heat it, Moody said.

Not only was heating oil cheaper 60 years ago, municipal vehicles were also smaller, said Moody, “and now we’re having to store some of our equipment outside.”

Moody said a structural engineer last year determined that the connection between the current building’s frame and the concrete floor had “significant corrosion so for all those reason the building is in need of substantial structural improvements,” or replacement.

Moody said a municipal committee was formed to study the situation. The committee, after looking at “a number of different options,” concluded that “a replacement building was the best solution.”

He acknowledged that the committee didn’t consider building a structure that could accommodate the public works as well as the parks and recreation and cemetery-maintenance departments under one roof as some residents at Town Meeting had wanted.

Voters approved a number of other municipal improvements, including appropriating money to reconstruct and repave the Main Street sidewalk; to renovate the selectmen’s meeting room at the Opera House; and to spend $430,243 to upgrade various town roads.

Additionally, voters approved two articles that will facilitate the ongoing effort to revitalize and re-open a corridor that runs parallel to Main Street between Main Street and the north side of the Ammonoosuc River with improvements to sewer, water and traffic flow.

Finally and also significantly, according to Moody, voters approved the three-year CBA between the selectmen and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 93, Local 1348. Voters rejected the agreement last year, leading to the recount that confirmed their opposition. This year, Moody said some 64 percent of voters thought the measure should be adopted and voted accordingly.

jkoziol@newstote.com


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