Selectmen Deny Beach District Secession
Many spoke out against a Hampton Beach neighborhood's proposal before selectmen gave their ruling Monday.
By Kyle Stucker
Hampton-NorthHamptonPatch.com, December 18, 2012
[The following article is courtesy of Hampton-NorthHamptonPatch.com.]
Hampton Beach Village District sign. [Credit HamptonBeach.org]
The Hampton Board of Selectmen have blocked a Hampton Beach neighborhood's attempt to secede from the beach's village district because they felt the desire to secede doesn't represent the majority of residents in the area and because they fear the withdrawal would damage the improved relationship between the town and beach.
The board voted 4-0-1 Monday night to deny White's Island petitioners' request to withdraw from the Hampton Beach Village District after hearing mostly arguments against the petition during a nearly two-hour public hearing.
Had selectmen voted to authorize the petition, voters within the Hampton Beach Village District would've voted on the matter at the annual district meeting, although Monday's "no" vote effectively killed the proposal.
"We appreciate the way the [Hampton Beach Village District] Precinct has worked with us for the last number of years," said Chairman Rick Griffin. "I think if this goes any further this will just further divide the town. I don’t think there’s a division — I think it’s been dying. I think it’s over from where I’m concerned."
Monday's public hearing on the controversial matter lasted roughly an hour and 40 minutes, and several residents from White's Island — a neighborhood defined by the petition as encompassing all of the streets between Epping Avenue and Haverhill Avenue, including all Ocean Boulevard land east to the Atlantic Ocean — were in attendance.
Twenty total individuals spoke during the hearing, 17 of whom called for selectmen to deny the petition. Some echoed concerns about the petition being a "slippery slope" while others said the neighborhood's namesake would "be rolling over in his grave" if he heard the neighborhood wanted to withdraw over the "negligible" $45,447 in taxes that the neighborhood pays annually to the village district.
That $45,447 figure is roughly 12 percent of the budget for the district, which receives about $383,000 in taxes from its 2,690 taxable properties, according to Town Attorney Mark Gearreald.
Selectman Mike Pierce was the only member of the board who supported the petition, and he abstained from the vote because he feels selectmen shouldn't prevent residents from deciding an issue involving their homes.
"I’m a firm believer in democracy," said Pierce. "In this particular case, democracy rides for me. I think it's a precinct issue, a precinct problem, [so] the precinct should decide. We should keep our noses out of their business. You people should decide for yourselves."
Selectman Ben Moore — who made the motion to deny the withdrawal, a denial allowed by state statute — said "voters should have the right to opine" on petitions, although he said he opposes this particular petition because he doesn't believe it represents all White's Island residents. He said the withdrawal would also have "such huge unintended consequences" in the town and precinct budgets.
White's Island residents are allowed to claim a village district tax exemption that drops that portion of the tax rate from 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 10 cents per $1,000, assuming they meet certain requirements that block businesses and rental properties from receiving the exemption. The exemption would cut the average $349,000 White's Island property's district tax bill from $244 to $33, according to Selectman Dick Nichols.
Moore said it's "telling" that both "only 13 properties" of the 206 taxable properties in White's Island have filed for this exemption. He also said only 11 of the 44 petitioners are registered voters, while there are 37 total registered voters in White's Island.
Petitioners, as well as two residents who spoke in favor of the petition Monday while claiming they didn't sign it, disagreed that the petition doesn't represent the majority of White's Island residents.
Resident Steve Joyce said their "use" of the area "is different from the rest of" the tourism-focused beach, and that they have a "valid" reason for wanting the voters to decide whether they can withdraw based on that rationale. Others said they'd like to see the precinct budget included in the town budget in order to have everyone foot the bill rather than a "select" few.
Other White's Island residents and property owners said Monday, though, that White's Island isn't different from other parts of the beach and receives numerous services and benefits from being in close proximity to special events, playgrounds and other facilities maintained by their district taxes. Some White's Island residents said they are "more than happy to pay" the "relatively small" extra taxes because the services the district provides "take care of [Hampton's primary] economic engine."
"I know what it brings in to me," said Tom McGuirk of the taxes. "For the amount of taxes we do pay, the services that we ask for in this town aren’t that great."