The court challenge to the May 19 budget vote will go forward, with the challengers raising all but $700 during a weekend fund drive.
A loose coalition of residents is challenging eight of the budget votes through a process called the “Referendum Petition,” a provision in the Derry Town Charter that allows residents to ask the Council to reverse its vote on an issue, and if it doesn’t, to hold a special election. The majority of the Council has declined to do either, and the court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9.
At issue are eight budget cuts voted for by Councilors Mark Osborne, Al Dimmock, David Fischer and Chairman Tom Cardon. The four Councilors voted in the majority to approve cuts to police personnel, cuts to police overtime, cuts to fire personnel, cuts to fire overtime, cuts to both public works personnel and overtime, elimination of the Human Resources Director position and closing of one of the town’s four fire stations. The cuts resulted in a $1.21 decrease in the tax rate, but many residents objected, citing essential services that were being reduced.
The eight petitions were presented June 8 and June 12, and received more than enough signatures to qualify as referendum petitions. But in a special meeting July 28, the Council majority declined to reverse its position.
The residents’ group has since engaged Attorney Jon Meyer of Manchester, obtained a court date of Sept. 9 at 11 a.m., and raised the funds to pay Meyer.
Former Councilor Neil Wetherbee, a spokesperson for the group, said the residents decided to have a fund-raiser this past Sunday at the Upper Village Hall in East Derry, the site of both petition drives. “In three hours, we raised $3,300,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
By Monday afternoon they had raised another $6,000, he said, and at press time they were $700 short of what they estimated they needed for Meyer.
The petitions were one thing, Wetherbee said, because it doesn’t cost anything to sign one’s name. The fund drive was another matter entirely, and even he was surprised at how much money they raised so fast. “We only started raising money two weeks ago,” he said, “and we’re pretty much there.”
The interesting thing, according to Wetherbee, is that much of the money is coming from people who haven’t been involved in the issue before now, or in town issues in general. “They have been appalled,” he said.
“The Council vote,” he said, “has stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
The hearing will be held Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 11 a.m. at the Rockingham Superior Court, Brentwood.