Council Decision Expected on Eight Budget Petitions

The Derry Town Council was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, July 28, after the Nutfield News went to press, to discuss eight petitions signed by residents unhappy with the Council’s majority vote on a budget for 2016.

The Council voted May 19 and approved the budget 4-3. The budget called for cuts to police, fire and Public Works overtime; police, fire and Public Works staffing; closure of a fire station and elimination of the Human Resources Director position.
Residents organized a petition drive with eight “referendum” petitions, each designed to overturn a particular vote. According to the Town Charter, a referendum petition must be reviewed by the Council and voted on a second time. If the second vote does not overturn the first, the town is required to hold a Special Meeting.

The petitions were reviewed by an independent law firm, Devine Millimet in Manchester, and discussed with the attorneys in a nonpublic meeting July 22. The Council voted unanimously to spend up to $10,000 on the independent counsel. The special July 28 meeting was scheduled to discuss the petitions.

Should the petition vote not be overturned, a special election could cost up to $8,000, according to Town Clerk Denise Neale. But Neale added that it depends on how many polling places are used.

“If they use all three polling places it will be higher,” Neale explained.

The town currently votes at West Running Brook Middle School, Gilbert H. Hood Middle School and Calvary Bible Church in East Derry.

Neale said there is a cost involved with Public Works employees setting up and breaking down each location. In addition, she said, the School Board has mandated that a police presence be maintained at the two public schools, and that involves hiring an officer for Hood and West Running Brook. The number of polling places will also affect the number of ballot clerks used and paid, Neale said.

She needs to order 2,500 to 3,000 ballots, whether or not that number of voters shows up, Neale said, explaining, “It’s based on the total number of voters.”

The size of the ballot is also a determining factor, she said, adding, “Do we want an 8×10-inch ballot or an 8×14-inch ballot?” She explained that in addition to the ballot questions, it is required to have a “synopsis” of each item on the warrant.

If the Council directs her to use one polling place, Neale said, she can use one checklist, an A to Z compendium of Derry’s registered voters. If they direct her to use three sites, she has to develop three checklists, one for each voting district.
The minimum budget for a special election will be payroll for eight ballot clerks, one moderator, one assistant moderator, and one police officer, Neale said, plus one checklist and one set of ballots. From there it could go up, she said.

“I am hoping we have just one polling place, at Hood,” she said.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon said in a phone interview July 21 that he had no preconceived notions about the 28th. “I’ve learned to expect nothing and to prepare for anything and everything,” Bourdon said. “I have brainstormed multiple scenarios.

“I have no idea what will occur but I know what should occur,” Bourdon added. The Council has already fulfilled its responsibility regarding the petitions, first by having them deemed valid by Neale, then by the independent law firm, and then through its own discussion with the attorneys.

“There should be action,” Bourdon said. “If we don’t overturn the vote, there should be a special election, and people should get their say.”