Votes on festival committee, rescinding road repair borrowing authority on tap for Conway Town Meeting

Erosion damage in Conway at Fields Hill Road and Whately Road, pictured in July 2023. Rescinding $1.5 million in borrowing authority for road repairs will be on the table for voters to consider at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting, after the state granted Conway nearly $1.25 million in storm damage relief funding.

Erosion damage in Conway at Fields Hill Road and Whately Road, pictured in July 2023. Rescinding $1.5 million in borrowing authority for road repairs will be on the table for voters to consider at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting, after the state granted Conway nearly $1.25 million in storm damage relief funding. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2024 2:03 PM

CONWAY — Rescinding $1.5 million in borrowing authority for road repairs, creating a Festival of the Hills town committee and several equipment purchases will be on the table for voters to consider at Annual Town Meeting.

The meeting will be held on Saturday, June 1, at 10 a.m. at the Conway Grammar School.

Residents will consider 33 articles, including a $7.05 million fiscal year 2025 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 the Conway Grammar schools, as well as increased employee wages to keep Conway’s pay competitive with neighboring towns.

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said keeping the budget under a 3% increase was a “heroic” effort put forward by the town. He credited it to the weekly meetings held by the Selectboard, Finance Committee and Capital Improvements Committee, especially since the financial picture in early January looked dire as the town was faced with more than $1 million in road damages.

“We were telling everybody, ‘No, no, no,’ [to budget increases] and in the end we were able to say, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to everything and still keep it under 3%, which was the goal we had all along,” Kantor said. “We were able to take care of the employees, make ourselves more competitive in the positions that we need to be competitive in and keep it under 3%, despite the fact that it was a year the town was almost wiped off the map by floods.”

Topping the warrant is Article 23, which asks residents 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.

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. Therefore, Conway is now able to rescind the borrowing authority.

“We don’t have to use that, and that was the goal,” Kantor said, adding it was “nerve-wracking” to see budget projections without the state aid coming in.

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Articles 25 and 26 relate to a land donation from a resident, which Kantor said came from “the goodness of their heart, 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.

Articles 31 and 32 relate to 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.

“Just those two things will save them a lot of money,” Kantor said previously. “To me, this is a long-term solution, and I think the current volunteers appreciate feeling like they have a backstop.”

The final article on the warrant is a citizen’s petition put forward by Frontier Regional School students seeking to petition the state to lower the municipal voting age to 16 years old. 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 Town Meeting in mid-June.

Other articles up for consideration 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.

■Two bylaw changes that would allow non-residents to be appointed as associate, but non-voting, members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

■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 full warrant, as well as a guide to the articles put together by residents, can be viewed on the town website at bit.ly/3R6lImx.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.