Hanover votes down Article 7 and votes to maintain voting structure

by Abby Mihaly | 5/17/18 2:25am

On May 8, Hanover residents voted down Article 7 of the annual town election ballot, which would have altered their involvement in the town’s budget process.

Article 7 decided whether Hanover should adopt SB 2, a New Hampshire state bill which changes the town voting structure. Under the current rules, residents who choose to attend the meeting vote on select board elections, zoning laws and other similar articles during a daytime vote by ballot. Residents who choose to attend a separate “business meeting” that evening vote on the select board’s proposed budget with a voice vote. Under SB 2 rules, Hanover’s budget measures would have been added to the daytime ballot, and a separate deliberative session prior to the town meeting day vote would have replaced the current business meeting. The deliberative session would allow residents to discuss and amend the budget. Under current rules, though residents can provide input at public hearings, the select board alone can modify the budget upward or downward.

Article 7 was the only article on the agenda that failed to pass in either the ballot voting or the business meeting. One hundred and thirty-one residents voted for the passage of SB 2 while 694 voted against.

Prior to the vote, those supporting Article 7 said it would increase voter participation in budget matters.

Dartmouth government professor and Hanover resident Daryl Press, one of the residents who proposed that the town adopt SB 2, said in a previous interview with The Dartmouth that the few hundred who attend the “business meeting” under current rules should not decide the budget for the entire town. He said that the adoption of SB 2 would mean more town residents had a voice in the town’s budget.

Those in opposition to Article 7 pointed to other towns that adopted SB 2, saying that many saw low turnout at deliberative sessions. Low attendance at deliberative sessions means that small groups with strong agendas could “hijack” the budget, increasing it or decreasing it without the input of the select board or other residents who had not attended the business meeting, Griffin said in a previous interview with The Dartmouth.

Griffin said that while most articles do pass, petition warrant articles — resident-proposed articles signed by at least 25 registered voters — like Article 7 are the most likely to be voted down. Petition warrant issues often “come out of left field,” Griffin said, and often surround more controversial issues and may have had less public scrutiny. She said residents may have voted against adopting SB 2 because they did not feel they had enough information.

Griffin also noted that most residents follow planning board and select board leadership, especially with petition warrant articles. The recommendation is noted on the ballot. In this case, the select board voted to recommend that the town not adopt Article 7 during a public hearing on Apr. 2.

At the hearing, select board vice chair Athos Rassias said low town meeting participation is a problem, and addressing it is on the board’s goals and objectives, according to the select board’s public hearing minutes. However, Rassias and select board member William Geraghty raised concerns regarding limited information on the effects of the bill in other SB 2 towns, therefore recommending that the town not adopt the article.

During the rest of the town meeting day voting, residents passed an article which transfers town-owned property at 42 and 44 Lebanon Street to Twin Pines Housing Trust to replace old affordable housing units with new buildings for senior and disabled residents. Attendees also voted for the trillium to become the town’s new flower to honor its role in helping the town regulate deer populations. In total, seven articles were considered on the ballot, six of which passed. Nineteen articles passed at the business meeting.

Eight hundred and thirty-three residents voted by ballot, and 235 residents attended the business meeting, according to town of Hanover director of administrative services Betsy McClain.

Griffin called this year’s turnout “normal,” in contrast with last year’s unusually high turnout — over 3,000 voters — due to Article 9, a warrant article relating to student housing, which brought many Dartmouth students to the polls.

According to Twin Pines executive director Andrew Winter, the new buildings at the Lebanon Street “Summer Park Residences” will have 24 units. Winter said the Twin Pines Housing Trust will relocate tenants from the existing buildings into the new building. Construction will likely begin a year from now, according to Winter, as long as the Planning Board approves the Trust’s plan and New Hampshire Housing accepts the Trust’s application for federal low-income housing tax credits.

Griffin said the trillium is important to Hanover due to its role in solving the high deer population in the town center. She remarked that deer in the town are “almost like house pets,” tending to freely “mow down” vegetation in town. The trillium is an indicator of this over-browse.

The town recently obtained permission from New Hampshire Fish and Game to run a pilot program issuing additional deer tags to hunters during hunting season, beyond the current allowance for one doe and one buck each year. Trillium monitoring will help Fish and Game gauge the effectiveness of the program, and the town has received permission to issue these extra hunting permissions until the trillium population rebounds.