WESTMORELAND — Voters approved a new school operating budget at the annual district meeting, followed by the town business meeting in which residents approved a new operating budget and a community power plan.
During the roughly half-hour school district meeting, voters OK’d a $3,855,983 budget, down about 0.6 percent from the figure approved last year.
Attendees also supported the deposit of up to $25,000 in the capital reserve fund for renovation, reconstruction and any related costs. These funds would come through budget surplus, with no amount to be raised by new taxes.
The school district meeting was immediately followed by the annual town meeting, also held inside the elementary school gymnasium and attended by about 90 residents.
During the town business meeting, voters adopted a community power electric aggregation plan, authorizing the selectboard to develop and implement Westmoreland Community Power.
Under a community power arrangement, a municipal government sources electricity for local consumers rather than a utility company. This gives the municipality more control over the power supply, allowing it to seek lower-cost or greener options, while a utility continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.
Henry Herndon, a representative of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, said that Westmoreland customers of the town’s current default utility, Eversource, would be automatically enrolled in the program, or they can choose to opt out. Additionally, he added that other residents who already get their electricity through an alternative supplier will not be affected by the community power plan, but can choose to enroll.
Mark Terry, chairman of the town’s community power committee, said Westmoreland’s plan likely wouldn’t launch until next spring and the town would first need approval from the N.H. Public Utilities Commission.
“The real benefit is that if we can’t beat the Eversource rate we just won’t launch,” he said. “There’s no pressure for us as a town to launch. Our primary goal is to lower electrical rates. If we can’t get it better than 22 cents, we’ll just wait.”
Terry added that the community power committee will host several public hearings to explain the plan and answer questions before it launches.
Residents also greenlit all other articles on the warrant, including a $1,735,252 operating budget, up about 14.6 percent from the figure approved last year.
Selectboard Chairman Russ Austin has said that the majority of the increase is because of the first bond payment on the new fire station that voters approved last year.
The town also gave the go-ahead to modify the provisions of the elderly property tax exemption. One must have an annual income of not more than $28,400 or, if married, a combined net income of less than $36,400. These amounts were amended by voters during the meeting, who opted to add $5,000 to each figure as it was written in the warrant.
In addition, voters also approved an article to change the term of the town clerk from one year to three years, beginning with the term of the clerk to be elected at next year’s regular town meeting.
The town also voted to raise $30,000 for the Town Hall Repairs Capital Reserve Fund and $20,000 to purchase new bronze plaques for the veteran’s monument.
At the end of the meeting, resident Jonathan Lounsbury made a motion to recommend that the selectboard readjust the hours of their meeting times to later in the evening so that more people can attend. Currently, the selectboard meets the first and third Thursday of every month, with the first meeting at 1 p.m., and the second of the month at 6 p.m. Lounsbury’s motion ultimately failed.
Selectman Frank Reeder said that the hours of selectboard meetings can only be decided at selectboard meetings, not at town meeting.
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