Voters OK $8.31m operating budget as-is

HOLLIS – Town officials proposed a 2009 budget aimed at staying as close as possible to last year’s spending.

But the roughly 200 voters who attended Wednesday’s annual Town Meeting let it be known that they planned to scrutinize every article with a fine-tooth comb.

Indeed, voters scoured the warrant looking for places to trim the proposed $9.27 million spending package. The proposal, which included the operating budget and all other warrant articles, represented an increase of $194,236, or 2.14 percent, over 2008 spending.

In the end, voters approved the $8.31 million operating budget as-is and shot down an $850,000 bond for repairs to Town Hall.

In a ballot vote of 161-50, voters rejected the proposal for minor renovations and partial repairs to the Town Hall, questioning an engineer’s report citing structural weaknesses in the building and arguing that to do only some of the repairs would end up costing more in the long run.

Following a lengthy debate on whether to commit $200,000 for removing brush left by the Dec. 12 ice storm, voters approved the spending with the understanding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to reimburse the town for $150,000, reducing the actual cost to $50,000.

At one point in the discussion, Budget Committee Chairman Chris Hyde suggested rejecting the article and using the $50,000 for Town Hall repairs, a proposal that was not well-received by the majority of voters.

At the start of the meeting, more than 200 voters filled chairs and bleacher seats in the Hollis/Brookline High School gymnasium. But by midnight, that number had dwindled significantly.

It was obvious that the hall had thinned out when voters passed a proposal that supports the Souhegan Valley Transportation Project, a service for residents with medical needs who are unable to drive themselves to appointments. Supporters sought to raise $10,000 for the service, which would be raised through a $1 surcharge for motor vehicle transfers. That vote, made around 11:30 p.m., was 90-10.

Voters also said yes to a lease agreement for the town-owned section of Woodmont Orchards that will allow a farmer to develop the soil, work the land and produce crops for up to 25 years, a stipulation based on the realities of farming and the condition of the orchards.

In addition, voters approved $24,000 for a municipal emergency maintenance fund and $719,590 for employee health insurance, a decrease of $4,900 over last year.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or