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Monday, March 12, 2012

Length of fire chief’s term among issues for Litchfield voters

LITCHFIELD – Town officials have found their new fire chief. Now they just need voters to decide how long he’ll serve.

One week after town selectmen named Francis “Frank” Fraitzl their new fire chief, voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide, among other things, how long his term will be.

Last year, residents, who previously elected the fire chief, voted to authorize the Board of Selectmen to appoint the position. But they didn’t establish a term length for the position. To fill the gap, selectmen returned this year with an article proposing a three-year term.

Voters will address the matter at Tuesday’s town election.

“It’s a sense of security,” Steve Perry, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said last month, referring to the proposed three-year term at the town’s deliberative session. “We don’t want to have a new chief in here every year.”

Among other matters on the ballot, voters will decide Tuesday on proposals to spend $70,000 to replace the roof at the police station, which doubles at the Litchfield Town Hall. They will act on a $4,759 proposal for a part-time recreation coordinator, and they will vote on the town’s $4.96 million budget proposal.

The spending plan, which would add 44 cents to the town tax rate, is about $470,000, or 10 percent, higher than the current year’s budget. But most of the increases stem from prior votes raising the town’s fire hydrant fees and Highway Block Grant funds, among other costs.

“If you remove all those (prior) charges, the budget is increased by about $2,500,” Selectman John Brunelle said at the Deliberative Session. “(This budget) represents a good attempt to keep our taxes flat and keep the level of services that we have today.”

The warrant also includes a variety of non-spending proposals.

One proposed zoning article would allow for “accessory dwelling units” to be added to residential homes for family members or caregivers, while another proposes to create a public works trust fund.

Another article proposes creating a dedicated fund for public television fees. Currently, town officials collect a 2 percent franchise charge from cable subscribers, but the fees collected go to the town’s general fund. If the article passes, the charges would instead go into a dedicated cable fund to be spent on operation and materials for the town’s public access stations.

In the town’s contested positional races, four residents are running for a single spot on the town’s Board of Selectmen.

Kevin Bourque, Nicholas D’Alleva, M. Patricia Jewett and Christopher Schofield are competing for the three-year term. On the town Budget Committee, incumbent Bill Spencer is running against Andrew Cutter and Thomas Schofield for a three-year term, while Timothy Finnegan, a current member, is facing competition from Stephen Catman and Cindy Couture for a one-year spot.

On the school side, voters will act on a series of spending articles Tuesday, including proposals to restore a part-time reading position at Campbell High School ($25,836), to upgrade the high school’s athletic training to full-time ($33,799) and to provide a 1 percent cost-of-living increase to the district’s nonunion workers ($40,492).

They will also address the district’s $20.8 million operating budget proposal, which is about 3.4 percent higher than the current $20 million budget. The increases are due mostly to fixed costs, such as retirement, health insurance and workers compensation costs, district administrators have said.

The warrant, which includes seven articles, also includes proposals to fund the high school wrestling program ($9,845), and to renew a summer reading program at Griffin Memorial School ($6,415).

The one non-spending question on the warrant is a petitioned article proposing to give the town Budget Committee authority to review the town’s default budget, which goes into effect if voters shoot down the operating budget proposal.

In the district’s only contested race, four candidates are competing for two spots on the district School Board. Incumbents Dennis Miller and Jason Guerrette are seeking another term on the board, while challengers Derek Barka and James Mavrogeorge are challenging for the positions, as well.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.