Councilor would revive tax cap ballot item

MERRIMACK – A property tax cap proposal fizzled out in Merrimack last year, but there are efforts to resurrect it in 2009.

Mike Malzone tonight will ask his six fellow town councilors to back a ballot item for April that would ask voters if they support a tax cap.

The measure would require town officials to stay within the previous year’s budget number, plus inflation.

Malzone is making the request as part of a statewide effort spurred by the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, a nonprofit group lobbying for lower taxes and pushing similar plans around the state.

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Rochester adopted a tax cap last year, said Mike Biundo, coalition chairman. Manchester and Concord will have proposals on November ballots, and warrant articles are on board in 15 other communities, including Hudson.

A group of Merrimack residents attempted a similar feat last year through a citizens’ petition, but it didn’t gather enough signatures.

“I thought it was a very important vehicle for residents of the town to have an opportunity for a say in (town spending),” said Malzone, who was part of the previous effort. “It needs to be put out there. I really want to see if majority of people in town feel the same way I do.”

Malzone said during his first two years in office, budgets were kept pretty tight. But this year, he added, spending increases in both the town and school district pushed him to spearhead the cap proposal.

>>Town Meeting ‘09<< According to drafted language, the cap cannot limit separate warrant articles, capital project expenses or bonds. Restrictions set by the cap could also be overridden with a council vote. There are additional provisions built in for revaluation and reassessment issues. Critics have said voters already have spending control through the deliberative session and in the voting booth, and that such a cap would unnecessarily tie officials' hands. Malzone submitted paperwork for a citizens' petition to the town clerk on Jan. 5, but it was sent back to him because a law change required 20 additional signatures. Even if he got those, Malzone said, he'd have to wait for the state to sign off on certain legalities before he and other tax cap supporters could start the real work: gathering about 600 more signatures before Feb. 20, the deadline for getting items on the ballot. Instead, Malzone is taking the town council route. If members agree to the proposal, there will be a public hearing regarding the potential charter change, and the question will go to voters April 14, according to an explanation provided to the town by attorney Matt Upton. If not, Malzone has pledged to try again at the citizen petition route, with an eye on landing the item on next year's ballot. In other business, councilors will consider: Final approval of a demolition review ordinance, which would kick-start a wait-time for developers who want to tear down historic buildings and encourage alternative routes. A resident-generated letter requesting the town's initiation of a tree-cutting program designed to reduce major power outages during ice storms. A renegotiated franchise fee agreement with Comcast.