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New Hampshire SentinelSource

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Board backs tax rebellion: Winchester group seeks funding shifts (4/8/04)

By Erika Cohen for SentinelSource

WINCHESTER — Selectmen listened politely, discussed calmly and voted without rancor Wednesday to support the Winchester Tax Rebellion.

While the tone of the one-hour meeting was a marked change from the past year, the tone of the tax group hasn’t wavered. It wants to change the state’s system of funding education through local property taxes.

“Despite the years of effort of other tax rebellion organizations, we have come further than any of them,” John Frado Jr. said, referring partially to the March meeting with state officials that attracted more than 200 residents. “This town needs to be seen as a town that has leadership on important issues.

The Winchester Tax Rebellion was started last fall by John and Chris Frado in response to a townwide revaluation that nearly tripled some tax bills.

Selectman Thomas J. Magee agreed with Frado, but said the place to be heard is the ballot box.

“It is time for a revolution, but we have no one to blame but ourselves,” Magee said. “We vote (the politicians) into office. ... If they’re not listening, don’t vote them back into office.”

Historically, Magee’s comments have weight. In 2002, Winchester supported Craig R. Benson’s bid for governor over income-tax advocate Mark Fernald, 541-503.

The board voted 4-1 to support the goals of the rebellion group. Kenneth S. Berthiaume, Magee, Chairman Brian D. Moser and Gustave A. Ruth voted to support the group’s goals. Susan M. Newell voted no.

The group has five goals:

** Full state funding for education.

u Full federal funding of federally mandated programs.

** Property taxes funding only the development of the local economy, and county and town services.

** Advocate for increases in elderly, disabled and veteran exemptions.

** Support fair and equitable property assessments.

“I see (these goals) not resolving the problem,” Newell said. “These goals attempt to shift the burden to someone, anyone, who doesn’t pay now. ... I’d rather we support our schools locally without the federal and state mandates which are costing us and not allowing us to educate our students.”

Mel Perkins, one of 15 people in the audience, said the goal of full federal funding of federal mandates seems very ambitious.

Frado agreed, but said that after 300 years, it’s time for another rebellion, “time to fight.”

And the group is taking its rebellion on the road — beyond the tour of Winchester given to state officials in March. Frado said the group is planning a protest march in Concord on Saturday, May 22, from noon to 3 p.m.

Perkins also had another comment, this one for the selectmen.

“I would like to compliment the board on the businesslike and efficient manner the meetings have been conducted (recently),” he said, prompting the audience to clap in agreement.

Residents previously complained that selectmen were out of touch with residents and did not listen to them. Following the March 9 vote, the board elected Moser as chairman, former chairman William M. Kelly resigned and Newell joined the board.

Town manager update

Selectmen are waiting for bids from three agencies that would help Winchester find a permanent town manager. One of them is the N.H. Municipal Association.

Interim Town Manager James E. Harrison said he could not name the other two agencies because no decision has been made.

Harrison said selectmen hope to choose an agency as soon as all three bids are in. He said the town hopes to have a new town manager in office by July 1, if not sooner.

Former manager Manger Anthony F. Simon resigned in January after six months on the job. When he asked a month later to rescind his resignation, the selectmen rejected his request.