Morristown’s annual town meeting gave voters a platform to voice their opinions on municipal operations, and four well-known mustached men took as many opportunities as they could to do just that — even expanding their reach to state government when local legislators popped in for an update.
Richard “Buckwheat” Lowe, Chris Ransom, Everett Fryman and Wayland Wells took their questions to the floor early on in the three-hour meeting with queries for state Sen. Rich Westman, R-Cambridge and state Reps. Gary Nolan, R-Morristown, and Dave Yacovone, D-Morristown.
Of the 163 people at the meeting, few others spoke.
In ballot voting, residents easily approved a $300,000 bond to buy a new rescue fire truck and a new ambulance, stretcher and stair chair for the Morristown Rescue Squad, and elected Judy Bickford to the select board. Bickford beat Travis Douglas, 334 to 205, to succeed Yvette Mason, who resigned.
Wells stepped up to the microphone so many times —three before the actual meeting began —that he became frustrated with the process. Voters were required to state their name every time they spoke, because the meeting was being recorded.
“Wayland Wells,” he said each time with a grunt and an eye roll. And after each question, his brow furrowed as he awaited a response.
After the first few times at the microphone, he began asking moderator David Polow what his problem was. Wells believed Polow was looking at him “funny,” and tried to vote him out of the position he’s held for 16 years.
“From what I’ve seen as far as operations here, I think we need a new moderator,” Wells said.
Once again, though, Polow was elected moderator unopposed, and told Wells they could speak after the meeting about any issues he had with the way business was conducted.
Lowe, having spoken at numerous select board meetings and annual meetings in the past, didn’t have as many issues with the process, but voiced loudly that he would leave town if taxes — mainly from education spending — continued to increase.
Two Australian ballot items were the hottest topics this year.
• The first was on authorizing the town to sell a seven-year, $300,000 bond to buy a new fire rescue truck.
“I couldn’t get a hold of the fire chief. I think he’s hiding from me,” Lowe said. “We gave them a new truck last year for $700,000 and to come back another year, that’s my tax money, and what would that leave in reserves?”
Buying a new truck would leave just $6,000 in the fire department’s reserve fund, and Lowe suggested that, rather than deplete that fund, the town could rely more on neighboring departments to supply help if another truck was needed at a fire.
Fire Chief Shawn Goodell said the 20-year-old rescue truck is falling apart and doesn’t have the up-to-date equipment needed to handle the increasing call load of the last few years.
Said Selectman Bob Beeman, “It does pinch the pocketbook two years in a row, but it will satisfy our need for a long time.”
Susan Sennott agreed saying, that “I hear sirens all day long in the village, and I don’t want to depend on another town far away” in an emergency.
The article passed at the polls, 426-137.
• Purchasing a new ambulance, stretcher and stair chair for Morris-town Emergency Medical Services raised objections from Lowe, who said the department’s vehicles may be old, but don’t have enough miles on them to need replacing.
“I looked at the vehicles. The 2002 one only has 20,000 miles on it, and the box on that is aluminum, so it’s not going to rust,” Lowe said.
The 2008 ambulance has 40,000 miles on it, but Chief Nathan Pickard says it needs a new gas tank, because it’s all but rusted out.
The department is right in the village, and according to Beeman most of the calls are within a half-mile.
“It makes sense that they have low miles, and when they are kept in heated buildings year round, the salt in the winter compounds the rust,” he said.
Lowe and Pickard argued back and forth about whether the current vehicles could be repaired.
Both vehicles have received multiple repairs over the last few years, Pickard said, asking, “When is enough money enough?”
Ideally, he’d remount the box on a new chassis, but that’s been done once before, and it wasn’t done correctly, meaning Morristown EMS had to make further repairs.
“Anything is repairable. You can’t say it can’t be fixed,” Lowe said.
Pickard replied: “You know I can’t get any money for it, so why don’t you buy it from me, and add it to your fleet?”
Wells offered a suggestion for Pickard to keep his own fleet functioning longer.
“I’ve been a mechanic for 50 years — so I’m about to die anyway — but do your people know where the hood release is on your vehicles on a salty day? Open the hood and clean the parts like the radiator to save them from rusting.”
The article passed easily, 464-99.
Questions were raised about the annual town report’s lack of detail in some cases.
Chris Ransom was concerned that the police report didn’t include the number of burglary and drug cases in town, or the number of people still using handheld cellphones while driving.
“I was almost hit by a driver just yesterday,” he said.
He’d also like to know how many drug dealers were arrested in the past year, because, “there was a cocaine bar in Morrisville for a while until the profits went up the nose.”
Voters agreed to pay the select board $7,500 for the year — $1,500 per member; appropriated $97,969 to 22 local nonprofits; passed a town budget of $6,199,916, of which $5,233,396 will come from property taxes — a 3.6 percent increase over the current budget; authorized the town to raise taxes equal to 1 cent on the grand list — $63,262 — for the Morristown Fire Department capital equipment fund; and another half a cent on the grand list — $31,631 — for repairs and maintenance to the Noyes House Museum; and authorized the select board to borrow money up to $75,000 for five years to finance construction of seasonal bathrooms at Oxbow Park.
The bathrooms will have running water, toilets and sinks, but no showers, and will be shut down for the winter.
When it came time authorizing a reserve fund for money left over in the highway or municipal budget to defray future town expenses, Michael “Min” Cote moved to amend the article to dedicate $50,000 of that to sidewalk replacement.
The current unassigned fund balance is $310,114.
“The premise of this article seems inconceivable,” said Ed Lowington. “With the state of the roads, I don’t see how we could have a surplus in the highway budget, but I think the money should be used for what it was allotted — the highway.”
Wells said sidewalk repairs were made recently, and frost heaves will hurt them every year. He’d like to see money dedicated to not just the sidewalks, but the roads too.
Said David Bickford: “I think the amendment is reasonable.”
The amended article was approved on a paper ballot vote, 99-17.
In other action, the town will accept U.S. postmarks as evidence that taxes were paid on time. It had considered not accepting postmarks this year, but voters didn’t like that idea.
Re-elected without opposition: Bob Beeman, select board, three years (by Australian ballot); Chris Towne, select board, one year (by Australian ballot); Duane Sprague, town lister, three years; Eric Dodge, first constable, one year; Michael Reeve, second constable, one year; Richard Sargent, grand juror and town agent to prosecute and defend cases, one year; Todd Thomas, town agent to convey real estate, one year; and Marena Youngs and Deb Wheeler, library trustees for five years.