EXETER — A $16 million bond for a new public safety complex, funding to add a roundabout to fix one of the town’s most dangerous intersections and a new town ordinance that would ban the distribution of single-use plastics on town property.
These are just a few of the issues going before Exeter voters at this year’s annual Town Meeting. Exeter will host its first half of Town Meeting, which is known as the deliberative session, on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 9 a.m. at Exeter High School, 1 Blue Hawk Drive.
There will be 32 warrant articles on the ballot, including the town’s proposed operating budget of a little less than $21.3 million, water budget of a little more than $4.5 million and sewer budget of a little more than $7.4 million.
Town and school districts hold deliberative sessions if they adopted Senate Bill 2. It’s similar to a traditional New England Town Meeting, the only difference is the actual “yeas” or “nays” are done out of the spotlight and in the voting booth on March 14.
What goes on the ballot is determined by what happens at the deliberative session. The meeting is where you, as Exeter residents, can debate, make amendments to the wording of an article (except for zoning amendments and as long as it doesn’t change the intent), and, yes, potentially even “zero out” a money warrant article. Because money-related warrant article amounts can be brought to $0, residents at deliberative sessions can effectively vote down a spending request before it reaches the majority of voters at the polls.
Here is a look at the top warrant articles on the ballot:
$16.3 million sought for new public safety complex
The town is asking voters at the March Town Meeting to support a $16.3 million bond for the construction of a new public safety complex.
The proposed two-story complex at 6 Continental Drive would be 23,165 square feet and would house the police headquarters and a fire substation. It would feature an outdoor deck, a fitness room, a large community room and designated spaces for each department.
This is the first phase of a two-phase project. The second phase would be to either renovate the existing facility at 20 Court Street or raze and build a new main fire station.
The current safety complex at 20 Court St. was built 40 years ago, and officials said it’s too small to fit the current needs of the departments, according to Town Planner Dave Sharples. The Fire Staffing and Deployment Analysis conducted in 2020 deemed the public safety complex as “undersized” with the lack of space for administrative personnel, training rooms, shower amenities and storage.
Sharples said the complex includes a net-zero approach and incorporates sustainable building materials, low-flow fixtures, and LED lights.
The project needs a three-fifths approval ballot vote. If passed, the project would be a 20-year bond with an estimated 4% interest rate, for a tax rate impact of 65 cents per $1,000 of property value, which translates to $195 for the owner of a $300,000 home.
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$798,000 for intersection improvements
Town officials are looking to make improvements to two of the most dangerous and problematic intersections in town.
Article 5 seeks $720,000 to install a roundabout at the intersection of Front Street at Pine and Linden streets near Exeter Inn. It also requests an additional $78,000 to make minor improvements an additional sidewalk at the Winter, Railroad, Columbus intersection.
Both projects were recommended by VHB engineering firm, which was tasked to conduct a town-wide study looking at the safety and operations of intersections in town.
VHB engineer Greg Bakos recommended a roundabout to be built to solve confusion at the difficult Front Street at Pine and Linden Street intersection.
While the intersection is ranked 27 for the number of crashes in town, Bakos believes this is where you would see a higher likelihood of severe accidents.
Bakos said building a roundabout would vastly improve traffic safety, reduce speed and offer better crosswalk locations.
$6M for water, and sewer improvements to Westside Drive
The town is seeking a bond of a little more than $6 million for water, sewer and drainage improvements in the Westside Drive area. Town Engineer Paul Vlasich said the particular neighborhood rates high in inflow and infiltration to the town’s sewer system.
In addition to drainage and sewer work, he said the town will also have to replace a water main and reconstruct the road.
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Vlasich said voters approved designs for the project in 2020.
Article 5 is a bond article and will need a three-fifths ballot vote for approval.
Solar array landfill project back on the ballot
The town is seeking an additional $1.6 million at the March Town Meeting to move forward with plans to construct a solar array on 6.2 acres of town property at the transfer station, which encompasses a now-covered landfill.
The array would be constructed in partnership with ReVision Energy.
Voters approved $3.6 million for the project in 2021, but it was not enough to cover the full cost. Funding from Article 6 will combine with prior funds to complete the project.
Town Planner Dave Sharples said the recently approved Inflation Reeducation Act provides a 30% tax credit for municipalities who move forward with renewable projects.
Sharples said the town compared Revision’s estimates with a third-party review. Revision showed that the cash flow would be positive from year one while CES shows the project being cash flow positive in years 1-11, in the red in years from 12-20, and then the loan is paid off and the system starts making money.
Revision says there would be a savings of around $4 million; CES said a savings of $500,000.
Sharples emphasized that there are multiple benefits to developing renewable energy sources that are not reflected in the financial estimate.
“Building more resilient and local source of energy, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels can definitely lead, ‘in my opinion,’ to a more secure and sustainable future,” he said.
One of those benefits is that it’s cheaper to create and supply local renewable energy sources than it is to rely on natural gas, which is the current structure for electricity, according to Sharples.
Searching for new water sources
Exeter voters will be asked to approve a $500,000 bond to continue efforts to develop groundwater sources in town.
Town Engineer Paul Vlasich said they have identified a place off of Drinkwater Road that consultants believe will have a capacity of 400 gallons per minute.
The next step, he said, is landowner negotiations and well construction. The $500,000 is for the design of the well house and the transmission route to the Lary Lane Treatment Plant.
Citizen petition to ban single-use plastics on town property
A citizen petition going before voters to create a town ordinance that would ban the distribution of disposable single-use plastics on town property caught the town’s Select Board off guard.
The discussion of banning single-use plastics on town property has been back and forth between the Sustainability Advisory Committee, Select Board, Recreation Department and the public through three public hearings. In December, the Select Board held off on moving forward with a proposed ordinance as there were too many variables to be worked out. Board members planned on the Sustainability Advisory Committee coming back with a drafted policy on Jan. 30.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags, single-use plastic food service containers and single-use polystyrene containers on town property including buildings and parks.
The ordinance carves out exemptions for single-use compostable food service products, packaging required for food safety reasons (such as wrapping around meats, seafood, lettuce or other perishable products) and products where alternatives do not exist. It also exempted emergency responders and human service nonprofits like Meals on Wheels — which relies heavily on single-use plastics.