Stratham will hold a socially distanced town meeting

STRATHAM — The town is taking many precautions to finally hold the town hall, setting up outdoor tents for residents to social distance while voting.

The municipal meeting will be held Saturday at 9 a.m. at Stratham Memorial School. It has been postponed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

City administrator David Moore said the city moderator would conduct the meeting from the school gymnasium. The meeting will be broadcast via video feed to two adjacent tents erected outside. The city recommends residents wear masks, bring their own hand sanitizer and pencil. However, he said the three items will be provided to residents if they do not have them.

Upon arrival, residents will register with checklist supervisors and be asked to sit in one of the outdoor tents just outside the school gymnasium. Moore said the seating groups to accommodate families will be spaced 6 feet apart. There will also be additional seating inside the gymnasium at safe social distances.

Moore said the city operates under state law allowing municipalities to fund operations in accordance with the previous year’s operating budget.

Under normal circumstances, the law allows cities to fund January and February operations before residents vote on the current year’s budget at the March town hall.

“Usually we spend in line with the previous year’s allocations for only three months,” Moore said. “We did it this year, but we did it for a longer period.”

Ahead of Saturday’s town meeting, the select committee announced it would make an amendment to Section 9 and cut $406,977 from the originally proposed 2020 operating budget of $7,867,126. Moore said the new budget, as proposed to be amended by the board, reflects only a 0.1% increase over the previous year.

If the budget passes with council’s amendment, the city’s share of the tax rate will decrease to $3 per $1,000 of assessment, from $3.30 per $1,000 last year.

The select board will also make changes to reduce the proposed capital improvement plan by $79,000 and the capital reserve fund by $42,000, which are sections 10 and 11 respectively.

“Due to the uncertainty caused by the economic impacts of the pandemic, the board wanted to apply conservative practices in terms of budget management this year,” Moore said. “They have made the appropriate adjustments to reflect potential changes in income. We want to be sensitive to these changes and the uncertainty our residents have faced and may continue to face for the remainder of the year.

The main sections of the mandate are 14 and 15 and their passage has the potential to significantly affect future development projects in the city’s Gateway District, ranging from the Highway 101 interchange, through Highway 108, to the intersection with Winnicutt Road.

Section 14 asks voters to adopt the provisions of state law RSA 162-K, which gives the municipal government the power to designate part of the city as a Tax Increase Funding District, or TIF. Section 15, if passed, would designate the Portsmouth Avenue section as TIF. The article also gives the select committee the power to appoint a TIF district administrator and a five-member advisory council.

A TIF is a municipal financial tool that a city can adopt if adopted by voters. In the first year of a TIF, property taxes from each property in it are collected as base taxes for the city’s general fund.

In successive years, as different owners redevelop their parcels or sell to other developers, the further increase in property tax revenue from the properties is captured in a separate fund by the city, while the base rate continues to be paid into the general fund. The additional funds can then be used to leverage the bonding authority to fund public benefit projects, such as infrastructure improvements, in the TIF district.

Both articles were unanimously recommended for adoption by the select committee.

Supporters of Article 19, who reportedly donated around $290,000 to a concrete skate park near Wiggin’s Memorial Library, announced they were taking down their article in a Facebook post, saying it would be “irresponsible “for voters to engage with the draft amid so much uncertainty with the pandemic.