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Merrimack pushes back hard against toll structure

MERRIMACK — Town officials on Thursday approved spending up to $5,000 in seed money to hire an attorney and potentially pursue legal action against the state of New Hampshire for inequities and injustices in the turnpike toll system.

“The time for talk and whining should be over. Let’s look forward to our day in court,” said Dan Dwyer, town councilor, who is fed up with the three toll booths stationed in town.

Dwyer believes the town has a legitimate argument and could win a lawsuit against the state for an alleged breach of the Constitution of New Hampshire. He maintains that the three toll ramps in Merrimack represent an inequitable taxation for the community and its residents.

Last month, the House Public Works and Highways Committee voted 15-0 to recommend killing Senate Bill 3, which would have eliminated the exit 12 ramp tolls — one of three toll booths located off the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.

That vote sent Dwyer and several other councilors over the edge, he said, adding local state representatives have tried repeatedly to alleviate some of the toll burden, but New Hampshire legislators have continuously failed to respond.

Sen. Peter Bragdon warned the council about taking legal action against the state when, for the first time in 15 years, the Senate recently supported eliminating one Merrimack toll even though a House committee did not.

Bragdon maintained that there are still other options available to provide some toll relief for the community.

“I urge you to be cautious about not doing something to undermine that support in the Senate,” said Bragdon, stressing that the Merrimack tolls do not create enough revenue each year to pay for the interest on the original bonds used to build the exits.

“I just flat out don’t trust you anymore,” Councilor Dave Yakuboff told Bragdon. “ ... I don’t buy it.”

Councilor Nancy Harrington said she is not going to be intimidated into non-action, adding town officials are done complaining.

The council voted 5-1, with one councilor abstaining, to hire an attorney and possibly pursue a lawsuit against the state.

Mike Malzone of East Chamberlain Road told councilors that he doesn’t mind spending tax dollars to fight the tolls.

Another local resident, Mike Mills of Arbor Street, urged town officials to stop talking about the tolls and finally take the next step.

“It is time for this town to stand up and say we are not paying a toll,” said Mills. “I resent that we have to pay one.”

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