PORTSMOUTH – Voters turned out in a good off-year number to approve a change in the town meeting and fund renewable energy, open space projects and upgrades to town facilities. Thirty-one percent of registered voters hit the polling stations to pass, by small margins, each of the three ballot questions.
Voters gave more approval to funding two bond issues than they did in supporting the replacement of the so-called “tent” meeting with an all-day election, which received 54 percent of the vote.
Funding the installation of an 1.5 megawatt wind turbine at the middle school won 60 percent approval.
The Economic Development Committee proposed and conducted a feasibility study that reported such a turbine would generate a $3 million return over twenty years in energy savings and electricity sold back to the utility company. The committee secured $2.6 million in zero-interest bonds that should cover most of the cost of equipment purchase, installing and operating the turbine, and recommended the project as a sound investment for the town.
“We’re really pleased that voters agreed with our committee,” EDC chairman Richard Talipsky said.
The EDC plans to issue a request for proposals for bids on the $3 million project.
Voters gave their second-largest approval to a $4 million bond that funds the purchase of open space land, repairs to the Glen Farm equestrian center and building athletic fields at the town’s Sandy Point Avenue property, as well as a few other small projects.
Aquidneck Land Trust Executive Director Edward Clement said the town will be able to “stretch the $2 million far” that is designated to open space with his organization partnering to add funds and competitively bid on properties as they come up for sale.
“It’s so reassuring to see that long-term vision prevailed,” Mr. Clement said of voters’ approval.
Town Administrator Robert Driscoll compared voters’ investment in the work that will be done to town facilities to passing the bond issue that allowed the town to purchase the Glen.
“I think people will look back on this bond issue with the same kind of favor they did in 1988 with the bond issue for Glen Farm,” Mr. Driscoll said.
Amending the Town Charter provision for the town meeting was approved narrowly, passing by only one vote in the Prudence Island precinct.
The election process changed from gathering a quorum of registered voters under one tent to an all-day referendum that allows for absentee voting and requires the petitioner of the meeting to cite specific changes to the budget totals.
Salvador Carceller, the resident who suggested switching town meeting to an election, ironically had to vote by emergency ballot to support his initiative because he was out of town on business. He has said that one of the reasons he wanted the change was because the “tent” meeting did not provide all citizens the opportunity to vote because absentee-ballot voting was not an acceptable method.
Salvador and his wife Chris Carceller posted this statement on their website advocating for the amendment: “Now every resident will have a say in a booth when it comes to challenging our budget, not just the residents who are able to show up under the tent.”
The Portsmouth Concerned Citizens had written a proposal to have a referendum whenever a budget is adopted above the maximum amount permissible by state law. But only one amendment to the town meeting was placed on the ballot for vote. The PCC did not support the amendment that passed because it felt that the amount of time to gather signatures to petition for a town meeting would be reduced.
“I think it clearly eliminated the citizens opportunity to overturn a council’s budget they don’t like,” Lawrence Fitzmorris, PCC president, said. He added that “the proposal approved today as a replacement for the town meeting has replaced it.”
Supporters of the amendment change argue that it specifics the same amount of time (two weeks) to petition as did the former charter provision for a “tent” meeting.
Councilors await results
A few Town Council members gathered Tuesday night to see if the ballot questions they had voted to put on the ballot were also supported by voters. They were pleased to learn that all three issues were approved.
“It’s an affirmation that they (voters) approve we are doing our jobs,” Councilor Leonard Katzman said. “Because these were things we believed in.”
Councilor William West said voters were “well-informed.”
“They looked at the issues and found out everything they voted for would be good for all the citizens of Portsmouth,” Mr. West said.
“I think we’re establishing a better, more positive course for the future of Portsmouth,” Councilor James Seveney said. “These are economically the smart things to do.”
Mr. Katzman added that he was glad to see the tent meeting replaced because he thought it was an antiquated method.
“This is the real world – not a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “And the tent meeting is not functional anymore.”
There was a 31 percent voter turnout: 3,737 voted.
Open space, recreation
By Jill Rodrigues
6 November 2007
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