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Town vote will decide fate of Hooksett Police Commission

HOOKSETT — After months, even years of debate, the fate of the Hooksett Police Commission will ultimately be in the hands of the voters Tuesday, as the petitioned warrant to abolish it, a referendum on mandatory recycling, various warrants and the town’s proposed operating budget come up for a vote.

According to the Budget Committee’s report, an estimated town share of the tax rate is $6.60, should all warrant articles be passed, including the town operating budget. Should all warrants fail and the town goes to a default budget, the estimated town share of the tax rate would be $6.03, said Hooksett Finance Director Christine Soucie.

Budget Committee Chairman Marc Miville said the tax rate is currently set at the default number of $22.32 per $1,000 of property value, which includes the town, school and county components of the tax rate, or $5,580 for a $250,000 property.

“We would add 29 cents to that if all warrants pass,” said Soucie, “totaling $22.61” per $1,000 of property value.

That would bring the tax bill up to $5,652, or a $72.50 increase, for a $250,000 property if all warrant articles pass.

The ballot’s only petitioned article, and one of its most controversial warrants, would abolish the Hooksett Police Commission within 240 days of its passage.

The time frame to abolish the commission was originally 15 days, but was amended in April at the deliberative session of Town Meeting to allow the commission to “finish” its work.

The commission weathered criticism in 2012 for alleged department micro-management, transparency issues, and the length of the search for a new police chief (15 months). Supporters have pointed to the department’s recent strides in personnel, productivity, and morale, the hiring of a popular new police chief, and the commission’s success in implementing many of the recommendations of a 2011 audit.

Another controversial warrant article is an advisory referendum on the establishment of mandatory recycling at the curbside and recycling center “for the purpose of increasing recycling rates to keep fees and taxes lower, by lowering disposal costs.”

The Town Council could later adopt an amendment to the Solid Waste Ordinances establishing the policy.

Recycling superintendent Diane Boyce has pushed for the warrant, hoping to gain a mechanism to address a minority in the town who refuse to recycle even when at the station. Critics have argued that the recycling center already sees remarkable success, and that mandatory recycling risks creating a backlash which could set recycling in general back in Hooksett. Boyce has stated that she would not institute fines or withdraw service if the policy was instituted.

The proposed 2013-14 operating budget comes in at $16,388,572, with a default budget of $16,022,113.

Items not in the default budget include $230,416 for the Police Department for the reorganization of staff, an increase in the number of positions, training funds, fuel increases, and the replacement of a cruiser.

Also not included in the default budget are 2 percent non-union employee raises coming to $42,270, cable access programming at $40,000, a part-time Finance Department position at $14,795, and an increase in part-time library hours.

The operating budget constitutes $6.26 of the $6.60 tax rate if all articles pass.

Should the default budget go into effect and all articles fail, the rate would decrease by 28 cents, to $22.04, said Soucie.

The vote will also see a contested race for councilor at-large between Miville and former councilor David Ross.

Polls will be open today at Cawley Middle School from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.

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