Voters stand up for Meriden Library
PLAINFIELD — Voters in Plainfield soundly rejected, 225-29, a warrant article at the Plainfield Annual Town Meeting to officially support only one public library. That article, if passed, would have effectively removed taxpayer-funded support for the Meriden Public Library.
Article 8, on the warrant by petition, asked if voters wanted to adopt the Philip Read Memorial Library as “the town’s one public library building supported by the Town of Plainfield’s tax appropriations, the result being that the Meriden Public Library building will no longer have funds raised and appropriated by property tax dollars for the building’s maintenance and operations as of March 17, 2018.”
Approximately 250 voters turned out for the meeting, which began at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 18 at the Plainfield School gymnasium, and lasted more than four hours.
More than a dozen citizens spoke at the meeting, including Diane Rogers, who drafted Article 8. Rogers read from a prepared statement that the Philip Read Memorial Library is the town’s “second-most valuable asset” valued at $1,078,100, second only to the elementary school. The Meriden Library is open less often, not ADA-compliant, and could be supported through private initiatives, according to that statement.
Several other citizens spoke in favor of keeping the Meriden Library open and tax-dollar supported, with several expressing a wish to unify the two villages, and the importance of the library for Meriden children, elderly and those who have difficulty driving the 20 minutes across town to the Philip Read Memorial Library.
Emily Sands, a Meriden resident, said she is the chair of the library board of trustees but was speaking on her own behalf in favor of keeping the Meriden Library open and publicly funded, as potentially closing it could affect a large part of the population.
“I’m not sure the solution is to make things more difficult for those of us living in Meriden,” she said.
“The Meriden Library has asked little from the town, and has returned quite a lot,” said resident Suzanne Spencer, who also presented graphics showing circulation and patronage for each library, and called the article “divisive.”
“We are two villages, one town,” said resident Kesaya E. Noda, asking that town residents end the debate. “No more meanness. No more spite,” she said.
Another resident, Matt Decker, said he has lived in the area for a year with his wife and child, and that he is an attorney. He offered his advice that the warrant article, as written, could cause some legal “headaches” and that the library was not originally established as a public library but through private donations. Because of that, the warrant article could lead to legal expenses and bind the hands of town officials at future town meetings, he said.
Ron Eberhardt, a member of the Plainfield Selectboard, said that the selectboard believes Plainfield is “well-served by the presence of two vibrant libraries.”
The two libraries make up a combined $148,266 line item for the 2017 budget passed on Saturday. They share a board of trustees.
After lengthy discussion and several speakers in favor of voting “no” to the article, Rogers came forward again and asked to withdraw her motion for Article 8.
“For peaceful sake, I am going to withdraw the motion, and we can just go back to appreciating both libraries,” Rogers said, adding that she apologized if some people felt she was trying to create a problem. She also mentioned that she initially felt she was being a voice for those in favor of withdrawing taxpayer support for the Meriden Library.
Due to town meeting legalities, the moderator suggested a vote to “lay the action on the table” as it could not be withdrawn, and needed to be acted upon. The vote to lay the motion on the table failed by a majority floor vote, sending the original Article 8 back to the voters for action.
After that vote failed 225-29, a citizen moved to “limit reconsideration” of Article 8, for the remainder of the meeting, which passed by majority. With that action, anyone looking to reconsider the action in Article 8 would need to re-warn it for a future public meeting.
As a result of the failed motion, the Meriden Public Library will continue to have funds raised and appropriated by property tax dollars.
Also related to library operations, Article 9 asked if the town wanted to vote to direct the selectboard to continue the “Meriden Library / Meriden Village Study Committee,” established in 2016, for another year. The committee is looking into a new U.S. Post Office location for better convenience, and to make the Meriden Library ADA compliant, with a ramp or low-cost renovations. The motion to continue the committee passed by a majority floor vote.
Voters also passed by ballot vote, 224-12, a $2,254,618 operating budget for town expenses for Fiscal Year 2017. That budget included $200,887 for Executive, $68,100 for Financial Administration, $387,796 for police, $686,738 for highways and streets, $148,266 for the town library, $163,000 for solid waste collection, and $115,956 for road projects.
It also included $55,000 for the Plainfield Fire Department, $44,500 for the Meriden Fire Department, $30,000 for ambulance service, and $25,000 for principal long-term debt, among other items.
Voters also approved, 230-14, a request to raise and appropriate $167,500 for existing town capital reserve and general trust funds, including $55,000 to the Transportation Fund, $50,000 to the Highway Equipment Fund, and several other funds and trusts.
Article 4, asking for $7,000, to continue the restoration of a stone entryway into the Plainfield Plain Cemetery, was also approved, 237-6.
Article 5, asking to increase the real estate exemption on dormitories, dining rooms and kitchens at Kimball Union Academy (KUA) above the state-required $150,000, to 50 percent of the assessed property value, passed with a vote of 147-36.
The town may “sunset” this request next year, but the selectboard wanted to give families of 7th- and 8th-graders who may attend KUA time to plan, said Town Administrator Stephen Halleran. The action on this warrant is to continue for one more year the exemption approved last year, he said.
In a separate KUA-related item, voters approved Article 6, for the selectboard to appoint a committee to continue the KUA / Plainfield Study. That committee would meet with representatives of the KUA administration to maintain “an ongoing review of the relationship between the academy and the town, including any agreement pursuant to RSA 72:23 (real estate and personal property tax exemptions),” and report its findings at next March’s annual town meeting.
Voters also approved a resolution stating that, if a causal relationship is found between the operation of the Bellows Falls Dam or the Wilder Dam and deterioration of local riverbanks, roads and farmland, the town of Plainfield will formally request that TransCanada Hydro Northeast or the dams’ subsequent owners modify dam operations and also create a mitigation fund to reimburse the town and landowners for any damage.
At the meeting, selectboard member Robert Taylor presented the Steve Taylor Award for Community Service, named after his father, to Judith Belyea for her 30 years of service on the selectboard, 20 years on the town’s planning board, and her many contributions to community service events.
Municipal elections were completed by ballot on Tuesday, March 14.