Freedom votes to keep 200 acres of foreclosed land for public use

By Dan West | Mar 26, 2014

Freedom — More than 50 Freedom residents met for their annual town meeting March 22 and discussed budget items, changes to trash pickup and what to do with a large parcel of land the town had foreclosed on.

Article 31 of the 39 article warrant gave voters three options for disposing of 200 acres of land on Sanford Hill: to place the property up for bid; have the land survey and cruised by a forester then put it out for bid; or have the property surveyed and managed by the town.

One resident spoke and suggested the article should be voted on at a special town meeting so that more answers would be available to residents about the costs and benefits of each option. Representative Brian Jones, who is a Freedom resident, said more people would be able to weigh in on the options at the regular town meeting, as special town meetings tend to be less well attended.

Jones moved that the town pursue the third option, to have the town retain ownership of the land and manage it.

Another resident asked what "managing" the property entailed. Selectman Ron Price said he didn't know exactly, as that was not his preferred option. Price said he felt the town should have the land surveyed and cruised to determine its potential value and then put it up for bid. The third option was presented to give voters the choice, Price said, but he did not think it was the best course of action.

"My problem [with the first option] is that without a survey we could be giving up some value," Price said.

Jones said that if the town decided to keep the land this year that would not prevent it from selling it in the future. It also would allow the town to look into ways to capitalize on the property. Several suggestions were made for what the town could use the land for from hiking trails to a gun range, and even a municipal wind turbine was mentioned.

"Holding onto this property doesn't mean we can't sell it in the future," Jones said. "Towns rarely have this type of asset dumped in their lap."

Price moved the question to force a vote on Jones' motion to have the town manage the foreclosed land. He said he did not think that motion would pass; however, voters agreed with Jones' motion voting 22 in favor and 12 against.

Voters also approved $15,000 from undesignated funds to pay for the survey and management of the property.

Voters change late payment penalty

Freedom voters decided to reduce the interest changed on overdue taxes from a recommended 7-percent to 5-percent.

Resident Tom Clay made the motion to have the penalty reduced to 5-percent saying that people who weren't able to pay on time were already struggling. Clay said the additional interest rate is already a burden and should be reduced.

"Things still aren't good," Clay said. "If people aren't paying their taxes it's because they can't."

Voters also agreed to reward early tax payments with a 2-percent discount.

Trash and recycling pick-up changed

Voters agreed to change the pick-up schedule for trash and recycling to help save on transportation costs.

Meredith Coffin, Freedom's representative on the Unity Area Regional Solid Waste Committee, explained that the town currently has trash picked up every Thursday and recycling is picked up once a month. She motioned to change that schedule to have trash picked up every Thursday except for one Thursday that would serve as a recycling pick up day.

Coffin said the change could reduce the amount it pays to transport the waste by up to $5,000 and also might promote increased recycling in town, which earns the town revenue.

Residents also voted to raise and appropriate $50,000 for solid waste — $5,000 less than last year. Coffin said the town spent less than $50,000 last year on solid waste and so was left with a surplus. That money could be spent in the future to purchase new recycle bins for town residents, Coffin said.

Cemetery restoration

Residents agreed to raise and appropriate $1,000 for restoration of 10 old town cemeteries that have fallen into disrepair.

The $1,000, along with $740 from "carry forward" will go toward restoring damaged head stones in the old cemeteries. The total cost will be around $5,500 with the rest coming from grant money. Price said the restoration is necessary as the town is responsible for maintaining the grave sites, which it has failed to do up until now.

The town also voted to approve $1,500 for maintenance of town cemeteries and $1,200 for Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

Several residents questioned why Pleasant Hill should receive tax-payer support as it is not owned and managed by the town, but by a private association. A representative of that association explained that the town is required to help maintain the graves of veterans, of which there are 140 buried at Pleasant Hill. He said that in the past the association was able to get by without tax-payer assistance, but it could no longer do so.

Voters approved all other warrant articles without change with the exception of Article 23, which dealt with money raised and appropriated for service organizations. The total recommended amount of $11,200 was not changed; however, voters decided to reallocation $50 from Life Flight to go to the Special Olympics.

The meeting adjourned just after noon, at which time the residents gathered for lunch.

Election results

Ken Overlock — Selectman

Ernestine Keller — Treasurer

Cynthia Abbott — Town Clerk

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