Proposal allowing non-residents to be associate board members fails in Conway; all other articles pass

Conway Annual Town Meeting voters approved all but one of the 33 articles on the warrant on Saturday at Conway Grammar School.

Conway Annual Town Meeting voters approved all but one of the 33 articles on the warrant on Saturday at Conway Grammar School. FOR THE RECORDER/LIESEL NYGARD


For the Recorder

Published: 06-04-2024 9:40 AM

CONWAY — Voters approved a $7.05 million fiscal year 2025 budget in addition to 31 other articles at Annual Town Meeting on Saturday.

However, an article that would have amended Conway’s bylaws to allow non-residents to be appointed as associate board members — but not as regular members — failed after some attendees voiced concerns over its reasoning.

This change would’ve only applied to Conway’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. Planning Board member Jeff Lacy explained that passing the article would allow longstanding Planning Board member Joe Strzegowski to continue serving on the board even though he’s moved out of Conway.

Mary McClintock, a former Planning Board member, said she opposed the article because changing the bylaw for one person “sets a very strange precedent.”

“In my eight years on the Planning Board, this did not come up of, ‘Oh my God, we can’t get a quorum.’ We voted on any number of special permits where we had to have a quorum. … That was not an issue, that we didn’t have enough people to actually vote,” McClintock said. “When we needed expertise from someone, whether it was Joe or someone outside, we got that expertise without having that person” be a voting member.

After discussion, the article failed, with 21 residents voting “yes,” 79 voting “no” and six abstaining.

Voters did approve a $7.05 million FY25 budget, which represents a $210,300, or 2.98%, increase from the current year’s budget. Driving those costs are general education increases to Frontier Regional and Conway Grammar schools, as well as increased employee wages to keep Conway’s pay competitive with neighboring towns.

Residents also voted to rescind $1.5 million in borrowing authority approved at the December 2023 Special Town Meeting to pay to fix the extraordinary damage caused by July 2023’s rainstorms, which dumped more rain on Conway that month than anywhere else in the United States.

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Residents approved the borrowing authority to pay off deficit spending needed to cover emergency repairs, but the state came through in January with storm damage relief funding to the tune of nearly $1.25 million — one of the highest awards in the state next to Deerfield’s $1.58 million.

“During the meeting when we asked to borrow the money, we stated that if we didn’t need the money we would rescind it,” Selectboard member Christopher Waldo said on Saturday. “So we’re trying to keep our promise.”

A citizen’s petition that was put forward by Frontier Regional School students, seeking to petition the state to lower the municipal voting age to 16 years old, was also passed after 68 residents voted “yes,” 38 voted “no” and one voter abstained.

During Conway’s discussion, some residents were opposed to the idea of 16-year-olds voting in town. However, others voiced their support, including Julia Washburn, who recently moved to Conway from Maryland, where the voting age is already 16 years old for municipal elections.

“In my community Takoma Park, Maryland, [voting] has been great,” Washburn said. “It’s getting them involved in democracy in their lives. A lot of these young people are incredibly interested in what’s going on in their community and getting involved at both the municipal level and at other levels. … We’ve seen nothing but good things at Takoma Park, Maryland with it.”

The measure has been put forward in the four school district towns and passed in Sunderland, but failed in Deerfield. Whately will consider the measure at its Annual Town Meeting in mid-June.

Other articles that were approved include:

■Three Conway Grammar School capital appropriations and one free cash appropriation of $16,000, $20,000, $17,700 and $53,700 for a phone system, video surveillance system, mini splits and the Capital Stabilization Fund, respectively.

■Appropriations of $100,000 to the Fire Truck Stabilization Fund, $100,000 to the Ambulance Stabilization Fund $100,000 for a compact loader, $100,000 for a four-door plow truck and $85,000 for a police cruiser.

■A $9,950 appropriation for a preliminary study of town streetlights by an energy consultant, with the goal of saving money and reducing the town’s carbon footprint.

■The creation of a special fund for the Festival of the Hills and an official town Festival of the Hills Committee, which town officials and current organizers said could cut down on the expenses needed to run the festival as town insurance will cover the event and public safety detail shifts could also be covered. The changes would also ensure the festival will continue to live on as Conway’s premier annual event.

■A land donation from a resident for easements around the North Poland Road bridge. The easements will allow the state to undertake replacing the temporary bridge it installed last year and put a permanent one in place.