New articles would raise driver fees

MERRIMACK – The Board of Selectmen on Thursday voted to endorse and send to voters two warrant articles that would raise car registration fees in town by a combined $8.

That burns Selectman David McCray’s motor.

“I really believe we’re playing a shell game,” said McCray, who opposed both articles. “I understand everybody’s intention is good. But it doesn’t sit well with me.”

The intent was yet another measure to raise revenues in town to help offset future tax increases.

One article would raise car registrations by $3 – or $5 for vehicles weighing more than 18,000 pounds and $2 for motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and some other “special use” vehicles. Fifty cents of the fee would go into the general town fund and the rest would be placed in a new trust fund for the collection and disposal of motor vehicle waste.

Such waste includes oil, batteries and tires. If the article passes at the annual Town Meeting in April, a $2 fee collected on tires at the waste transfer station would be eliminated.

The other article would increase registrations by an additional $5 for all vehicles except ATVs, antique vehicles and motorcycles. Again, 50 cents would kick into general town coffers, with the rest going into a new transportation trust fund.

That fund would pay for improvements to local or regional transportation systems and would include road and bridge projects and public transportation.

State laws give towns the option of imposing the fees and creating the trust funds.

Both articles passed 3-1, with McCray opposing them and Selectman Norm Carr absent. The vote means the articles will be put forward to voters at the town’s Deliberative Session in March and then at the annual Town Meeting in April.

But McCray said it’s senseless to increase fees that nearly all residents pay to hold down taxes.

“Everybody drives,” McCray said. “You’re not going to save anybody a penny.”

“These are user fees,” Public Works Director Ed Chase said. “It’s an option for creating some income.”

Selectmen also voted to table action on three proposed warrant articles that would extend tax benefits to veterans, saying the wording as is would confuse voters. The board will ask its legal counsel to simplify the wording, and it hopes to combine the three articles into one.

The board defeated by 3-1 an article that would have allowed selectmen to acquire or sell land or buildings without a vote of residents. A similar article was defeated at a prior town meeting.

The article would have potentially saved the town money, because selectmen could buy land as it became available without waiting until the next town meeting or calling a special meeting.

Because land could have been bought or sold only after a couple public hearings, the article provided residents some protection, Selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch said.

But he voted to not send the article forward, saying he understood that residents like to vote on land purchases. Only Selectman Tony Pellegrino voted to send the article forward.

The board voted 4-0 to recommend and send forward two other articles.

One would add $260,000 to the bridge replacement capital reserve fund to expedite the replacement of the Bedford Road and McGaw Road bridges.

The second would raise and appropriate $740,000 for improvements to the South Merrimack Fire Station. Of the total, $80,000 would be withdrawn from a capital reserve fund. The remaining $660,000 would be raised through bonds or grants.

Because it involves a bond, 60 percent of voters at Town Meeting would have to approve the article for it to pass.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or