WEARE – Around 80 people braved a frigidly cold Saturday morning, with wind chills below 0, to attend their town’s annual meeting, where the details of the annual town warrant were to be approved for the March ballot. Liberty activists played a key role in the outcome from start to finish. At least one dozen Free State Project participants and friends participated in the voting.
The first item on the agenda was finalization of the proposed town budget. By law, the voters are presented with two versions of a budget for the upcoming year. One is the elected Board of Selectmen’s “proposed” budget. This includes such things as salary increases for town employees, and appropriations for equipment purchases, road maintenance, land acquisition and improvements to town buildings and facilities. The other version is the “default” budget, which, according to state statute (RSA 40:13, IX), is defined as follows:
“Default budget” as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body…”
At the beginning of the budget discussion, Finance Committee member Matt Whitlock proposed an amendment to replace the Selectmen’s proposed budget with a new one, making the argument that certain liberties had been taken with the “default” budget and it was not in fact a true appropriation of only the budget authorized for the previous year. Whitlock’s proposed budget was $72,891 lower than the default budget presented to the attendees. Whitlock made a presentation to the assembled townspeople in which he explained his rationale for lowering several line items in the proposed budget.
A lengthy and, at times, heated, debate ensued, with numerous townspeople speaking both for and against the proposed amendment. When the town moderator called for a vote, the result was so close that a hand count needed to be performed multiple times. The final tally was 30 for, 35 against adoption of the amendment. The majority of the Finance Committee voted for it, despite the fact that Mr. Whitlock made it clear that his proposed amended budget was his alone and had not been previously presented to or discussed with the other members of the committee.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have just a few more people here to vote for the amendment,” said longtime Weare resident Bill Alleman. “But then again, look how close we got!” Alleman made national headlines last June for winning a settlement in a civil suit against the Weare Police Department over a false arrest.
The town meeting ran from 9:00AM to nearly 3:30PM, with only one half hour break for lunch. The final item on the agenda was discussion of a proposed Noise Ordinance. Several attendees were taken aback to discover that, in the details of the proposed ordinance, the following limitations would be placed on using firearms:
“Target practice at back yard ranges is also not allowed during this same 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM time period and shall last no more than three consecutive hours per day from the time the first round is fired at any other time during the day.”
Several voters took the stand to express their displeasure with this proposed limitation of Second Amendment rights. Multiple amendments were proposed to remove the limitation on target practice; attempts were also made to scuttle the noise ordinance entirely. The final amendment that was proposed and passed changed the wording of the article from “authorizing” the Board of Selectmen to “adopt” an ordinance, to stating they may “study” and “propose” a noise ordinance. The amendment also requires at least two public hearings on the subject be held. The vote on the final amendment was once again so close it required a hand count. Fortunately enough liberty activists and firearms enthusiasts had stuck it out to the end of the meeting to pass the amendment, thereby protecting the rights of town property owners to engage in target practice without a 3-hour time limit.