PETERBOROUGH — A joint water-supply project with Jaffrey was among the items approved by Peterborough voters at Wednesday night’s annual town meeting.
Multimillion-dollar bonds for the water project and for renovations to the town’s public works facility were the largest spending items to get the green light.
Under Peterborough’s hybrid town-meeting format, the proposed operating budget and some of the other warrant articles are voted on at the polls before a traditional sit-down meeting the following day.
With the $16,218,845 operating budget approved, among other business conducted Tuesday, town residents debated and OK’d the rest of the warrant articles Wednesday at the Peterborough Town House.
Of the town’s 5,676 registered voters, 188, or 3 percent, turned out to Wednesday’s session, according to a count from the clerk’s office at the end of proceedings. The clerk’s office tallied turnout at the polls Tuesday to be much higher, at 27 percent. This year’s ballot featured a hotly contested zoning amendment that failed to reach a required supermajority (two-thirds vote).
The article that garnered the most debate Wednesday night was a joint water-supply acquisition that would involve Jaffrey, pending that town’s approval at its meeting next March.
According to schematics in the warrant presented by Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett, the Cold Stone Spring, which sits just inside the Sharon town line, would have its water led to a proposed treatment facility and pumping station in Jaffrey, where it would then be distributed to Peterborough and Jaffrey along Route 202.
The warrant article proposed that $4,047,400 come from bonds or notes and the other $4,212,600 come from grants, private donations and other sources.
Jaffrey would also be expected to cover some costs if that town approves a similar measure at its town meeting in 2020, and Peterborough’s warrant indicates that the article would be voided if the grants or donations fail to come through. The intention, the article states, is for the bond to be fully supported by water user fees.
Most of the nearly two-hour long deliberations over this article centered around an amendment put forth by Jo Anne Carr, who proposed cutting the sticker price in half, from $8.26 million to $4 million, and streamlining a study of the potential shift.
But Bartlett, along with state Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, made the case to voters that the amendment could jeopardize funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that could cover some of the cost of the project, since any delay runs the risk of setting the town back in the pecking order for grants amid high demand for water infrastructure projects nationwide.
The article cleared a two-thirds majority necessary for passage, with 143 votes in favor, 31 against, and one spoiled ballot, according to the clerk’s office.
When asked by a voter what would happen if Jaffrey votes down its end of the bargain next March, Bartlett sighed into the microphone.
“We’ll probably be back here talking about it next May.”
Quick work was made of a $325,000 ambulance lease-to-purchase agreement for up to three years, which voters unanimously approved by raising color-coded cards.
Peterborough Fire Chief Edmund Walker said the larger Mercedes-Benz A2 specialty ambulance will be able to better handle winter conditions with its all-wheel drive, as well as provide better assistance to bariatric patients weighing more than 400 pounds.
The vehicle is set to be funded through the ambulance revolving fund, and thus have no tax impact.
Voters also approved a $2.5 million bond to renovate the Elm Street public works facility by 138 votes to 18, safely clearing a necessary two-thirds majority.
Two public information sessions were held on April 23 and May 7, where voters leaned in favor of renovating the existing facility instead of building a new one on Water Street. This led to a unanimous vote from selectmen to pursue renovation instead of a new facility, according to a presentation on the project Wednesday night.
Another unanimous vote approved establishing a new Roadway System Upgrades Capital Reserve Fund and funding it with $400,000.
Seth MacLean, operations manager for the Peterborough Department of Public Works, explained the analytics behind how the fund would be administered, which include a special software for pavement management.
The crux of MacLean’s pitch was to shift the town’s road infrastructure expense patterns from occasional big fixes to smaller, more frequent projects to prevent major reconstruction.
MacLean likened it to paying for a car’s oil change instead of replacing the transmission.