By Ray Carbone
BRADFORD – A plan to spend $1.3-million to continue renovation and restoration of the historic town hall was soundly defeated at the annual town meeting held at the Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last Wednesday, March 14. The bonding proposal needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but it failed to win even a simple majority, 78-99.
Before the vote, Frank J. Barrett of Barrett Architecture of White River Junction, Vt., said that, with the support of the Trumbull Homes construction company of Hanover, restoration plans for the 1863 building are now well-researched and estimated costs are on target. Acknowledging that there have been problems with the project in the past, Barrett said that, working with the town and various state officials, it’s reasonable to assume that the $1.3-million will fund the installation of all mechanical operating systems for the building, as well as complete restoration of both the first floor and the exterior.
The town could start using the first floor when the work was completed, although finishing the second floor work would result in additional costs, he added.
But Michael C. James, a budget committee member who was elected to serve on the board of selectmen the previous day, said that he and other budcom members who served on the town’s Capital Improvement Plan committee didn’t support the bond.
‘It’s a great idea. It’s just the wrong time.’
– Michael James, budget committee member
Borrowing money for the town hall restoration “doesn’t make sense for the town at this time,” he said, especially when residents are still paying off a previous loan related to the project. “I don’t think it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” James told the voters.
Other residents also questioned the idea, and some even indicated doubts about the estimated costs.
But John Pfeifle, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the numbers were dependable and the town could afford the loan. “It’s just like a mortgage,” he said. “We all have them on our homes.”
In the secret ballot vote, residents rejected the renovation project but they later approved a $170,000 article to “mothball” the town hall building, preserving already-completed work and until it can be completed in the future.
The bond vote was just the first of several instances when voters turned aside the selectmen’s suggestions in favor of ideas presented by James on behalf of the budget committee and/or the CIP group.
For instance, a proposal to put $5,000 into a town building reserve fund was rejected. “It’s just not in the schedule of the CIP,” James said.
Similar articles to add money to a town building repair fund, a highway department fund, a road repair fund, and a bridge repair fund were also defeated after they failed to win the budget committee’s support.
“It’s a great idea,” James said, referring to the latter. “It’s just the wrong time.”
At one point, Pfeifle appeared frustrated with how things were going. “The CIP, they want to spend money where they want,” he told the voters. “The taxes are going up this year, and they haven’t figured that out…
“There are different ways of running a town, and we’re frugal,” he said, referring to the selectboard. “We run a good ship we need to make sure that the ship keeps going in the right direction.”
During the meeting’s opening, Brackett Scheffy, the town moderator, provided a moment of levity when he reported that there was a five-way tie among write-in candidates to serve on the town’s cemetery commission. “I don’t know that any of them wanted to win,” he quipped.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.