Special town meeting draws a crowd in Hebron

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Tue., Nov. 22, 2011
The recent special town meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the small Hebron Town Hall meeting room. Photo by Melanie Savage.
The recent special town meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the small Hebron Town Hall meeting room. Photo by Melanie Savage.

The town of Hebron held a special meeting on Nov. 17, to consider and act upon a total of six resolutions. There was no problem meeting the charter-sanctioned quorum of 25 residents, as the small town meeting room was packed with a standing-room-only crowd that overflowed into the hallway. Four of the resolutions passed without comment. The four, involving conveyance of parcels of land, passed unanimously via voice vote, with minimal comment.

The remaining two items generated more discussion. The first involved the discontinuance of a portion of Jagger Lane “as is presently unimproved, commencing at the existing cul-de-sac and running thence westerly to its intersection at Route 85.”

The matter has been under consideration for quite some time, an issue addressed by John Hooker, a Slocum Road resident, when he stood up to comment before the vote. Claiming to represent a number of residents owning property adjacent to the parcel in question, Hooker thanked the town for allowing them access to the town attorney while they tried to make sense of the issue. “I feel that the town has done a commendable job of trying to appease us and answer all our questions,” said Hooker.

But Hooker expressed some lingering concerns regarding the abandonment of Jagger Lane. “There is still some question as to whether property owners would continue to have access,” he said. “I feel that this issue should be abandoned at this point.”

Another resident, who identified herself as a resident of the cul de sac, said that the road was a liability to the town and should be abandoned. Calling Jagger Lane a “lawsuit waiting to happen,” the resident said that property owners would not lose any rights, should the town vote to accept the resolution.

After the moderator was unable to ascertain a count via voice vote, she called for a show of hands. With a count of 18 in favor of the resolution, 22 against and six abstentions, the resolution failed. The town, for the moment, maintains ownership of the entirety of Jagger Lane.

The other resolution that generated some commentary was the last item on the agenda. It involved the “supplemental appropriation in the amount of $364,917.22, as approved by the Board of Finance, as a supplemental appropriation to the Modular Classroom Fund Balance from the General Fund Balance.”

According to the minutes from the Board of Finance meeting from Oct. 27, the town has found itself with a budget surplus of $288,000 from FY 2010-11. Rather than leave the entire surplus in the General Fund, the board proposed paying off the balance of the debt owed for the purchase of fifth-grade modular classrooms at Hebron Elementary School. The modular units were purchased about seven years ago using money from the General Fund. The idea was to pay back the money gradually over time. But according to BOF Chair Michael Hazel, the town stopped making the payments at some point, leaving a net balance remaining of $364,917.22. “This is just bookkeeping,” said Hazel. “It doesn’t change the net financial situation of the town.”

At the special meeting, town officials identified the total original cost of the classrooms as $1.1 million.

Resident David Morrison asked for a clarification of the fund transfer. “The problem is, I don’t know what the intent is behind the original debt,” he said. “I have a problem with what might be going on here, pay the debt off, throw away the modules.”

Hazel reiterated that the resolution involved “a point of balance sheet clear-up. The point is, we’ve not been doing something as a town that we should have been doing,” he said.

BOF member Mal Leichter pointed out that the classrooms in question were “not the portables with the mold issue.” The fourth-grade portables at Hebron Elementary are no longer in use; classes have been relocated into rooms inside the main building.

Marie Egbert, a Basketshop Road resident, objected to the transfer. “As a retired senior,” she said, “I find it weird that in a year when my taxes went up, we have a surplus. I’d rather the money be used in another way.” Egbert pointed out that the town had recently completed a revaluation that would likely result in further property tax increases. “We could have used this $360,000 to keep our taxes down,” she said.

Board of Selectmen member Dan Larson pointed out that the town surplus was in part due to “money that we never anticipated getting,” including money from FEMA for damages incurred during storms. Part of the surplus was also due to “stellar money management techniques,” said Larson.

After a count could not be determined from a voice vote, the moderator called for a show of hands. With a count of 26 for, 14 against and five abstaining, “the resolution passes,” said the moderator.

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