JEFFERSON — Residents accepted the school budget as proposed and rejected the idea of the town owning the Clary Lake dam at Tuesday night’s Town Meeting held at Jefferson Village School.
Discussion about owning the Whitefield-located dam lasted less than 15 minutes, with the three selectmen recommending against owning the dam.
“We’ve been dealing with this thing for four, five years now, and it’s gone back and forth and around and around,” Selectman James Hilton said. “Our feeling is we don’t feel like the town of Jefferson needs to own this dam. It’s in the town of Whitefield for one thing.”
Hilton said the selectmen think the Clary Lake Association should own the dam since the lakefront property owners are the ones directly affected by it.
He also said they’re worried the town would be on the hook for repair costs to the dam.
“We don’t need the (Department of Environmental Protection) coming in here and telling us we need to spend half a million dollars or a million dollars to patch this thing up to hold water, which is a possibility,” Hilton said.
A few members of the Clary Lake Association spoke, asking the selectmen to stay engaged in the process and support the association.
Ellis Percy, president of the lake association, said Clary Lake is an important resource for both Jefferson and Whitefield.
“We’re not asking the town to buy the dam,” Percy said. “We’re just asking that you stay involved and back us if we should be so lucky to become owners.”
Voters accepted the $5,137,521 budget proposed for kindergarten-through-grade 12 education next year after a few attempts to lower and increase different portions of the budget.
Residents still must approve the final budget total in a June 4 vote.
The accepted budget includes $3,412,474 in town funding.
The overall budget decreased by $91,000 compared to this year’s budget, but reduced state funding caused the local contribution to rise by $216,000, or 6.7 percent, according to Robert Westrich, chairman of the school committee.
Some residents at the meeting raised concerns about whether Jefferson Village School has enough teachers for the number of students.
An amendment to add $60,000 to the regular instruction article in case the school needs to hire another teacher failed narrowly, 26-22.
One resident pointed out that the principal, Peter Gallace, voted to add the $60,000 for instruction.
“He is the leader of our school, and he is recommending us to reconsider what is best for our children for the number of students in our classes,” the woman said.
A second attempt to reconsider the article nearly passed, with the motion tying 28-28.
Gallace, a resident of Jefferson, also voted to reconsider the regular instruction article.
Other residents raised concerns about the proposal to cut the athletics director position.
Steven Bailey, superintendent of the school district, said the process for filling the position is still in the planning stages, but the the principal is expected to take on most of the duties.
“Right now, the major responsibility would be with Mr. Gallace, and we’ll have further conversations about that this spring,” Bailey said.
Jefferson was required to hold the town vote on the Clary Lake dam issue as part of a DEP petition process.
The owner of the dam, Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, filed a petition with the department to release ownership of the dam at the beginning of April. The process of releasing ownership includes consulting with various local and state stakeholders to see whether another owner can be found.
State law requires towns around the lake to hold a meeting to vote on the issue within 60 days of a dam ownership-release petition being filed.
The town of Whitefield plans to hold its own meeting at 7 p.m. May 30 at the Whitefield Elementary School to decide if residents want the town to own the dam.
Whitefield Town Clerk Aaron Miller said he expected the selectmen to approve the warrant at their Tuesday night meeting.
The warrant will ask residents if they want the selectmen to negotiate an agreement to accept ownership of the dam. Any agreement would still go to the voters before it’s accepted, according to Miller.
Whitefield Selectman Dennis Merrill said more information is still needed before they present the question to voters, including the terms of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC.
The dam owner and the lake association are also involved in an ongoing DEP water-level petition for Clary Lake. The department is expected to order a water level for the lake regardless of the outcome of the ownership release petition.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663