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Troy town meeting turns into dispute over gift bequeathed to town

Troy town meeting turns into dispute over gift bequeathed to town

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:00 pm

TROY — What was supposed to be a blessing for the town has turned into a curse.

And regardless of who is in the right, one has to wonder if the late Elizabeth “Betty” Minnie Caron Giorgianni ever thought her gift of $821,500 to the town would bring out so much anger, distrust and political posturing, particularly at town meeting.

Her gift wasn’t marked for any specific use, and selectmen accepted it following a public hearing in August 2016.

Giorgianni, who was 90 years old when she died, was born and raised in Troy. She lived in Reno, Nev., at the time of her death and is buried in Troy’s Mountain View Cemetery, along with her husband, Joseph, and her grandmother, mother and father.

Before the start of town meeting Wednesday night, there was talk a motion would be made for two of the three selectmen — Allan B. Bailey and Barbara Guelcher — to resign. Curtis C. Hopkins, was elected Tuesday, beating out incumbent William T. “Tom” Matson, 231-101.

Matson, Bailey and Guelcher have come under fire for their handling of the Giorgianni bequest.

The motion was never made during the meeting at Troy Elementary School, but a privately owned dump truck parked in the parking lot was plastered with signs including “Resign,” “No Confidence” and “RSA 31:95-b.”

Matson resigned prior to Wednesday’s meeting to allow Hopkins to step into his role as selectman. But while Hopkins sat with the board during town meeting, Moderator Richard H. Thackston 3rd explained that under state law Hopkins couldn’t be sworn in until Saturday.

A few “No Confidence” signs also were held up during the meeting when there was discussion on the warrant articles seeking to use part of the bequest.

In addition, everyone who entered the meeting received a copy of RSA 31:95-b with a section highlighted, stating that selectmen must hold a public hearing on the “action to be taken” when the town receives unanticipated funds of $10,000 or more.

Matson said in August 2016, at the time selectmen accepted the gift, that board members would talk to the leaders of town departments and committees to determine where the funds could best be used.

However, he said then, much of the donation would probably be invested, as there was the opportunity for it to generate “significant interest.”

He said that the N.H. Attorney General’s Office had advised the board that if the town had any immediate needs, the selectmen had until the end of the year to spend money from the bequest. Otherwise, town meeting voters would have to decide what to do with it.

Then the tax bills went out, which increased significantly, in part due to the town’s annual payment to the Monadnock Regional School District jumping by 17 percent. Selectmen then voted in November to spend about half of the bequest to pay off the leases for a highway department truck, a police car and a police truck with the thought that it would help lower the tax rate going forward.

They also proposed funding the purchase of a brush truck for the fire department, a sidewalk plow, bullet-proof vests for the police department, repairs to the library and repairs to the bandstand on the town common.

In addition, the board proposed allocating funds from the bequest to the Troy Rail Depot, the Troy Historical Society, the Troy Festival Committee, the Troy Parent, Teacher and Community Organization and My Neighbors House.

Following an outcry from some residents, some of the funds were returned to the town or never spent.

Selectmen maintain they did nothing illegal in how they handled the bequest.

However, of the 140 people at town meeting, many wouldn’t hear it, including Francis H. Fournier Jr., who said the gift “was squandered by selectmen.”

Michael Walsh, a trustee of trust funds, said his board’s job is to invest money so those funds can grow and be used to pay for things in town.

“We were very much interested in having the Giorgianni bequest not spent, but invested so we’d have a cow to milk rather than butcher the cow and have milk for one day,” he said to applause.

He said the trustees sent a letter to selectmen saying the town should invest the money, but never got an answer. He said how the selectmen handled the money was negligent and the trustees of trust funds felt they were treated dismissively by the board.

Walsh said in an interview during a recess in the meeting that he had brought the “No Confidence” signs to the meeting.

There were two articles on the town meeting warrant proposing some of the bequest be used to fund $46,000 in repairs to the Gay-Kimball Library and $20,000 to fix Kimball Hall and make it handicapped accessible. The building is used by the historical society, including for its museum of town artifacts.

Both those proposals fell victim to the bequest controversy, as voters decided at the urging of former budget committee member Bert W. Lang — who was sometimes speaking on behalf of his sister, town treasurer Janet L. McCullough, who wasn’t at the meeting — to find other ways to fund the projects.

Lang asked why the town would want to use the bequest, which could be earning interest, to fund the library repairs when there is money sitting in an expendable trust fund that could be used instead.

Library Director Stephanie Charlefour fought strongly for the project, as well as an amendment to the town’s operating budget so the library could hire another staff member to work 10 to 15 hours a week.

Circulation has increased by 28 percent over the past year, and attendance is up 27.5 percent, she said. Library patrons have also been asking repeatedly for more programming, she said.

“We’re being used a lot, and what we’re asking for is to add another staff member because myself and Darlene Harris are struggling to finish things,” she said.

While getting people to volunteer at the library was suggested as a possible solution, it was noted that state law limits what volunteers are able to do at a library.

Marcia Nadeau also brought up volunteerism as a possible solution to fixing up the library and other town buildings, noting that she and her late husband, Gideon, were able to get a crew together before the town’s bicentennial celebration in 2015 to paint the town hall.

The library project ended up being amended to spending $28,591 from a town expendable trust fund to replace flooring throughout the building.

The warrant article passed by a voice vote.

The warrant article for funding repairs and renovations to Kimball Hall with the bequest money failed, 72-60, in a secret ballot vote.

However, when it came to putting up to $544,290 of the bequest in an expendable trust fund, voters approved that by a voice vote. The article was amended by selectmen to have trustees of trust funds as agents to expend from the fund, instead of selectmen.

Another warrant article that went down by a close vote was to spend $250,000 to pave West Hill and Tolman roads. That warrant article failed 58-54 in a ballot vote.

Voters approved a town budget of $1,617,009, which was amended from the budget committee’s recommendation of $1,650,009.

There were four Troy police officers present at the meeting, and at one point, two officers escorted a resident who made an outburst outside to calm down.

Police Chief David B. Ellis Jr. said usually it’s just him at town meetings, but he was advised by McCullough that he might want to have more officers there this year.