Municipal Affairs: 1920 - 1929

Chapter 12 -- Part 4

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Selectmen were again given the power to appoint police officers, "with preference to those men whose names appear on the Honor Roll of the late World War if any be found capable of filling said office of Police Officer and desiring the appointment." In a dispute over the police department, all three selectmen were voted out of office. Voted $1,000 to improve sanitary conditions in the town hall; wages of town laborers were set at $4 for eight hours and $8 for each two-horse team; and $20,000 to be expended over five years for the breakwaters. A special town meeting in December authorized the purchase of the street-railway property for $80,000.


State law established a new method for electing selectmen, setting up a system of staggered terms. When all three selectmen had been voted out in 1920, the Town was left without an experienced person on the board, as veterans Brown and Shaw were turned out of office. Brown, who had been a selectman since 1907 and who served until his death in 1923, was reelected, as was Elroy Shaw, who, between 1916 and 1949, served 26 years in office. Elected with the other two was Harry D. Munsey, who served for the next 37 years until his death in 1960. The voters refused to reconsider their previous decision to buy the street railway, voting instead to ratify and approve the purchase. Voted $500 for the Red Cross, possibly the first vote to provide money for a private agency, a practice that is now common at town meeting. The Red Cross had been active in assisting the local doctors and nurses in combating various epidemics. Also voted was $15,000 for a new Beach police, fire, and comfort station, and $2,000 to build "suitable comfort stations" in the town hall. In June, a terrible fire swept through the Beach, and, as the result of a July special town meeting, Hampton adopted its first comprehensive building ordinances and appointed a building inspector.


A special town meeting was held in February at which voters rejected the Australian ballot for use in electing town officers. Until the non-partisan ballot was adopted, candidates for town office first received the endorsement of the Republican caucus, the Democrats not being active for most of the first half of the century. At town meeting, candidates were generally elected by hand vote, and few people were ready to oppose the veteran town fathers, as had been done in 1920. At the regular town meeting, several articles concerned the street-railway system. A new six-member street-railway committee was elected by ballot; $3,278 received from the sale of copper wire was applied toward permanent railway improvements; and $12,000 in railway bonds were issued. Voted was $6,000 for improvements to Winnacunnet Road. A committee of six was appointed to investigate the cost of a new Beach fire truck and to report at an adjourned town meeting. At that meeting, held in April, the voters rejected the purchase of the truck. An August special town meeting voted to spend what was left of the $20,000 breakwater fund that had been voted in the 1920 town meeting. Voters also approved an article requiring door-to-door salespeople to have a permit signed by the town clerk and at least two of the selectmen. Between February 1921 and January 1922, the town clerk issued 223 motor-vehicle permits, of which 132 were issued in the latter month alone.


Voted to accept state laws regarding building inspectors and established a building permit system. The permit fee voted was $10, with $2 paid to the person who made out the permit and $4 each paid to the building inspector and the wire inspector. An adjourned town meeting voted to have the selectmen appoint a tax collector who would also serve as the selectmen's secretary, health officer, and janitor of the town hall. Apparently the Appropriations Committee had gone out of existence because the adjourned meeting also voted to establish an Appropriations Committee, to be composed of the selectmen, several other town officers, and private citizens, and also voted to establish a committee to draft a code of town ordinances.


Voted $2,400 for a new fire truck. Indefinitely postponed was an article calling for $500 to be paid to the estate of deceased selectman Joseph B. Brown, "in recognition for services rendered to the town." This was an unusual and controversial article, but Brown was an unusual town official. He first served on the Board of Selectmen in 1888, and he was in office for 24 of the next 35 years, including 17 of the 18 years between 1907 and his death in 1923. Brown became a one-man town government, overseeing or personally doing most of the public-works projects on highways, bridges, drains, and sewers, collecting Beach land rents, overseeing moth-nest payments, caring for tramps, and serving as janitor of the town hall. He was paid separately for many of his services to the Town. For example, in 1921 he received $500 as a selectman for collecting rents and making 100 leases, and leasing lots; $100 as assessor; $59 for supplying wood for the town hall; $12 from the moth department; $21 from the health department; $25 for sewer maintenance; and $25 for wood for the comfort station. When he and the other selectmen were voted out of office in 1920, Brown received no income from the Town. He was also school clerk for many years. Brown, who lived at 393 Lafayette Road, was a market gardener and sold his produce from a delivery wagon at the Beach. The Town's North Shore Park, north of Plaice Cove, was named in memory of Brown. The code of ordinances was accepted and approved by the voters. In a report to the residents, the selectmen explained that the year beginning February 1, 1923, had outstanding bills of $22,583, most of which were for the breakwater, but which also included $1,513 to install toilets and a heating plant in the town hall. Part of the breakwater debt was paid by a special warrant article of $10,000, and the rest of the payment came from unexpended appropriations or other income.


Voted $2,500 for band concerts with the provision that the band play one concert per week in the Village; voted to remove the private bathhouses at North Beach and to replace them with a public bathhouse or to "issue a permit to a responsible person to erect and run the same under town supervision"; voted $4,500 for a Village fire-alarm system; and appointed a committee to work with the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association on the October 14 exercises establishing the green as a town park. The town ordinances were formally adopted and printed in the report for this year. In the list of town property, the old hearse, which had been valued on the books at $500, was valued at $100. A parking lot was built at the Beach at a cost of $2,558. In its first year, it produced a net income of $1,480. The selectmen reported that the tax rate dropped from $30 to $28 per $1,000 of valuation.


The street railway, which had operated at a loss since its purchase, was discontinued by vote of this meeting, and a sum of $5,000 was voted to be appropriated annually until its debts were paid off. Voted to accept $10,000 from the state for breakwaters and to match it with $5,000 of Town funds this year and next year. Voted to rescind the previous year's vote to remove the North Beach bathhouses. Also voted $400 to have an "expert accountant" audit the Town books.


An especially feisty meeting. Residents voted to indefinitely postpone 13 of 16 articles, not counting the articles necessary to elect officers, to borrow in anticipation of taxes, and to appropriate the budget. Rejected were articles calling for appointing a Memorial Day committee, the appointment of tree wardens, raising $1,000 for a saltwater connection at the Beach for fire protection, $8,000 for a 10,000-gallon reservoir at Five Corners, $500 for additional fire-alarm boxes, $2,500 to hire an additional firefighter, $10,000 for a new police, fire, and street department building, sufficient funds for garbage collection, installing traffic lights, adopting zoning laws and hiring a planner, creating a new free parking lot at the Beach, studying town ordinances, and enforcing a "law" regarding the removal of all businesses east of the boulevard from Haverhill Street to Boar's Head and not to issue any licenses for any businesses in the area. The question of hiring lifeguards was left to the selectmen (who hired guards and paid them $162), and $2,500 was approved for the band.


Voted $1,500 to hire an additional firefighter and to pay the chief of police $50 per week and the regular police officers $35 per week, with the provision that all witness and prosecution fees be returned to the Town. Previously, the officers had been paid witness fees for testifying in cases they brought to court. A resolution requested the town clerk to seek an opinion from the state attorney general regarding the legality of the selectmen's spending Town funds at their discretion without instructions from the citizens. The Town also voted $500 for a new piano, apparently replacing one purchased many years earlier from Moses Brown, who operated a piano factory in town. (With many civic groups and private parties using the town hall, the piano probably received heavy use.) The hearse was not carried on the inventory of Town-owned property; the old horse-drawn vehicle probably was no longer used, especially with motor vehicles then common. Just before town meeting, the selectmen placed the following advertisement in the Union: "Wanted at once, Janitor for Town House. Must be strictly temperate, no others need apply."


Voted to give selectmen the authority to collect garbage from the back doors at the Beach and the Village; voted $6,500 to pave Marsh (Ashworth) Avenue; voted $1,650 to pay for the Great White Way (Beach lighting program); voted to give the selectmen the power to clean up burned property after fires; and voted to appoint the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association to act as the general committee to plan the tercentenary celebration for 1938.
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