Winchester residents amend article on social worker before May vote

Olivia Belanger, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
·5 min read

Apr. 4—WINCHESTER — Town voters made few amendments and had a lengthy discussion over the police department hiring a part-time social worker during Saturday's annual deliberate session.

About 50 of the town's approximately 2,400 registered voters attended the meeting in the Winchester School gymnasium.

The social worker article — which yielded about an hour of discussion — originally asked if the town would raise $25,000 to hire a part-time social worker to work 20 hours per week for police department.

The article was amended slightly by voters to allow for more flexibility in the social worker's time commitment, and now reads as "approximately 20 hours a week, or as case load demands."

The selectboard does not recommend this article, which was submitted by petition.

The position was initially suggested last fall by then-Police Chief Mike Tollett, who left in January after the selectboard decided in a nonpublic session not to renew his contract.

Instances where a social worker would be appropriate include calls of sexual abuse, domestic disturbances, drug overdoses, suicide attempts and issues surrounding homelessness.

Supporters of the article said by adding this position, people could get connected with area resources instead of jail time or ticketing, while also freeing up police officers to take other calls.

"Law enforcement officers are routinely responding to calls related to these issues, and they are expected to have instant solutions to what are very complex situations," said resident Mary Gannon, who is a professor at Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Mass. "So I know our PD works really hard and responds to things that probably 10, 20, 30 years ago, they wouldn't have to respond to. We are living in a different time now."

Resident Kevan Whippie, who put forth the article's amendment, added that hiring a social worker would have a positive impact for all of Winchester.

"The social worker in the town would give the police department a tool to hopefully prohibit people who made errors of judgment from destroying their lives and heading to jail, and get things sorted out and prevent police involvement in the future," he said. "It's something that would benefit the whole town. It's not just those few individuals."

Selectboard member Jack Marsh argued there are already several resources for the police department to use if needed, such as Monadnock Family Services, Maps Counseling Services and Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention.

Part-time police officer Gary Phillips, the town's former police chief, added that those services have worked for the department in recent years, and because of that, he doesn't see a need for the article.

"Having the counselor at the police department would be a benefit; I could never say that it wouldn't be," he said. " ... But if you are going to have a counselor for your town, I think should be something either in the school system or at the town hall itself. I don't think it should be under the police department."

Ultimately, residents decided to move the article on to voters as amended.

Additionally on Saturday, the selectboard presented the town's operating budget of $3,675,097 — down $17,065, or 0.5 percent, from the $3,692,162 voters approved last year — along with $309,900 for the water department and $375,544 for the sewer department, which are paid for through user fees.

Voters will also choose whether to allow the selectboard to enter into a five-year lease-to-purchase agreement for a 2021 wheel loader.

The article was amended by Chairman Ben Kilanski to update the cost and type of vehicle that would be purchased, because the board didn't realize it couldn't use capital reserve funds for a down payment, as it had planned to.

If passed, the agreement would cost $153,930, with a first year's payment of $26,983. The town would trade in its current loader, worth $26,000, to offset the total cost of the lease.

Residents will also be asked whether to raise $40,000 for the ACCESS youth program.

Twelve articles involving capital reserve funds will also be on the ballot: $50,000 for the fire apparatus capital reserve fund; $20,000 for the ambulance capital reserve fund; $20,000 for the culvert repair capital reserve fund; $16,522 for the assessing and revaluation capital reserve fund; $15,000 for the highway equipment capital reserve fund; $13,000 for the police cruiser capital reserve fund; $10,000 for the Ashuelot Rail Trail capital reserve fund; $10,000 for the beach ramp capital reserve fund; $10,000 for the town-owned building upgrades capital reserve fund; $5,000 for the bridge reconstruction capital reserve fund, $5,000 for the computer capital reserve fund; and $5,000 for the grant writer capital reserve fund.

Saturday's deliberative session had been postponed from February due to the pandemic. Residents will vote on the articles May 11 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Winchester School, when they will also elect town officials.

Six candidates are vying for a pair of three-year selectboard terms. Incumbents Gloria Leustek and Jack Marsh will face Lindseigh Picard, Natalie Quevedo, Theresa Sepe and Lindsey Nutting. There is also a contested race for a three-year term on the budget committee among Brenden Hubbard, Sherman Tedford and Kevin Bazan. And voters will select from five candidates for two three-year terms on the planning board: Brian Favreau, Jason Koerber, Bridget E. Pearce and incumbents Jordan Sharra and Dean Beaman, the board's chairman.

Four candidates are vying for three seats as a Conant Library trustee: Amaret "Mitty" Johnson, Jennifer Bennett, Barbara Depew and Jennifer Gomarlo Howe.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.