Hinsdale factions trade barbs, pass $5.2M budget at annual town meeting
HINSDALE -- Some folks know to come prepared for a six-hour long annual town meeting: Bring a snack.
But as residents passed around pretzels, no love was lost between Hinsdale's opposing factions Wednesday.
Rejections of warrant articles asking for $5,000 from free cash to pay a legal expense and a relatively innocuous Right to Farm bylaw elicited raucous cheers from some. Even a $1,500 fee for local Internet service proved worthy of protracted dispute.
Amid the arguing, residents managed to pass a $5.2 million fiscal 2015 budget with few changes.
Long-running disagreements over the leadership of the police and highway departments and the assessor's office weighed heavily on events.
Resident David Shorey at one point responded to an attempt to slash the legal counsel appropriation of $20,000 to $1.
"The town is split, we all know that," Shorey said. "But if we keep trying to stall town processes, we're never going to heal."
The cut failed to pass muster with voters in this and a second iteration, when former Selectman David Kokindo made a motion to cut the legal spending to $10,000.
"You have no idea what your legal expenses are going to be," Select Board Chairwoman Bonnie Conner said, alluding to the danger of such a move.
A legal dispute between the town and former Hinsdale Police Chief Nancy Daniels, who was fired in January, helped drive legal fees to nearly $29,000 this year and has brought the ire of some Hinsdale residents.
The circumstance with Daniels was also at the root of a citizens petition seeking to drop the town's police chief position from full- to part-time.
Daniels lost her job because the Select Board said she lacked standing with the state to function as a full-time chief. The petition -- advocated by the same group who wanted to cut the legal budget -- could have served as means to get Daniels her job back.
A majority of voters rejected this petition, however, and another aiming to make the highway superintendent a salaried position, as some said current road boss Raymond Huntoon has been earning substantial overtime pay. Had they been adopted, the petitions would have been non-binding policy directions supplied by voters to the Select Board.
On the other hand, a third non-binding petition was adopted in a 122 to 70 vote. This asked that recently dismissed transfer station attendant Bruce Stetson be reappointed immediately after annual town meeting.
"I haven't been notified by the [Select] Board why I was dismissed," Stetson said, only that "I was insubordinate."
Another familiar dispute that found a voice at the meeting centered around Assistant Assessor Karen Tonelli.
Tonelli, a town employee of eight years, recently received, in effect, a raise when her hours were cut from 32 to 28 hours per week and her salary remained at $43,598.
Resident Ron Jones complained about Tonelli's performance and tried to make a motion to cut her salary to $10,000 before Town Moderator John Conner ejected him from the meeting for refusing to heed his warning to refrain from personal attacks. Resident James Sullivan then took up Jones' cause and motioned to cut the salary to $30,000.
"People feel like they're being retaliated against if they question their taxes," resident Patricia Harris said in support of the cut.
Peter Persoff, chairman of the Board of Assessors, defended Tonelli. He praised Tonelli's performance while calling her position "totally nonpolitical" and Sullivan's motion "ridiculous."
Tonelli spoke up as well.
"It is a difficult job and, no doubt about it, you make many enemies," Tonelli said. "But I don't think that a small group of disgruntled taxpayers should single me out for a reduction."
Sullivan's motion did not pass.
The meeting came to a close just before 1 a.m. Thursday, with around 100 of the original 400 having persisted throughout.
To reach Phil Demers:
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