May 22—HARRISVILLE — Voters at Saturday's annual town meeting approved the entire warrant with only one minor amendment — a $4,000 reduction to the $1.3 million operating budget.
The savings, selectboard member Jay Jacobs said, could be attributed to the mostly sunny skies Saturday morning.
"The reason for this is it's nice out here. We didn't have to put the tent up, and we saved four grand," Jacobs said, drawing chuckles from the roughly 120 voters at the meeting, held in the Wells Memorial School parking lot.
The town's $1,309,604 budget — which is $51,806, or 4.1 percent, more than the budget voters approved last year — passed easily by show of hands with no public discussion, despite Jacobs' attempt to spur debate.
"This is your budget. This is your time to have a say in how many dollars you pay in taxes. Give it to us, tell us what we've done wrong, where we should cut and slash," he said, drawing more laughter from the crowd, which represented about 13 percent of the town's approximately 900 registered voters.
The town's community power plan generated the most discussion at the meeting, with residents engaging in a 45-minute question-and-answer session before approving the plan with overwhelming support.
Under a community power arrangement, like the one Keene passed earlier this month, a municipal government rather than a utility sources electricity for local consumers. This gives the municipality more control over the power supply, allowing it to seek lower-cost or greener options, while a utility like Eversource continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.
Ned Hulbert, the co-chairman of Harrisville's Electric Aggregation Committee, which developed the community power plan, said residents can expect to see the benefits of the program in the near future.
"We think within a year we would have cheaper rates than the Eversource default rate, which is 6.6 cents per kilowatt hour, as well as more renewable green energy," Hulbert said.
He added that Harrisville intends to offer residents electricity plans that will supply power from 50 and 75 percent renewable sources, an increase over Eversource's default of 21 percent, which is the minimum amount required by the state. These plans offering a higher proportion of green energy likely will have slightly higher rates, Hulbert said.
Andrew Maneval, another member of the Electric Aggregation Committee, said any Harrisville resident can opt out of the community power plan, which will be funded by customers themselves and not require the town to raise taxes. This aspect of the plan appealed to Lisa Anderson, one of several residents who spoke in favor of it during the meeting.
"I love the option that, if people want to stay with Eversource they can stay with Eversource and pay what's likely a higher rate," Anderson said. "But they can also opt to go with this community plan and pay a cheaper rate."
Jacobs noted that the community power plan does not guarantee that residents will always get a lower electricity rate than Eversource offers. Hulbert agreed, but added that "statistically, and I think historically in states that are doing this, they almost always have a lower default rate than the utilities."
Hulbert also said the community power plan offers long-term benefits, including the ability for the town to establish a local reserve fund by taking a small fraction of residents' electricity bills. This fund can be used to keep rates stable and invest in locally generated renewable energy, Hulbert said.
"Those investments could be made in the next three to seven years, and they would enable us to have cheaper, local energy that we could access, which will take away the transmission cost, which is a part of the bill," he said.
With voters' approval, the Harrisville Community Power Plan will now go to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission for approval. After that, the selectboard will solicit competitive bids for electric supply vendors and hold two public hearings before deciding on a supplier. The Electric Aggregation Committee expects the community power program to be operational in three to six months.
In addition to the community power plan, voters also approved the remaining eight articles on the warrant, including:
*Adding a total of $105,000 to eight separate capital reserve funds.
*Raising $71,000 to chip seal 2.5 miles of Hancock Road, from Bonds Corner Road east to Route 137. A state grant will cover $50,370 of this project, while taxation will fund the remaining $20,630.
*Raising $48,500 through taxes to pave Island Street between Canal and Prospect streets.
*Raising $14,400 through taxation to reclaim and compact 4,800 feet of Mason Road, from Willard Hill Road east to the Dublin town line. This work will prepare the road for repaving, the cost of which will appear on next year's warrant.
Residents also supported a petitioned warrant article that directs the Harrisville selectboard to join about 60 other towns and cities statewide in urging the state Legislature to engage in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan redistricting process following last year's U.S. census.
Beyond the legislative business at the meeting Saturday, selectboard member Kathy Scott took the opportunity to honor Harrisville's town staff, collectively, as the town's citizen of the year.
One of those staff members, Town Clerk Cathy Lovas, also presented 96-year-old Jed Hollenbeck, who has lived in town since 1985, with a replica of Harrisville's Boston Post Cane, recognizing him as the town's oldest resident. The original gold-tipped ebony cane, which dates back to a 1909 newspaper sales promotion, will be put on display at the Harrisville town office.
Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.