- Associated Press - Saturday, April 22, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The snow is gone, but the problems created when a nor’easter coincided with New Hampshire town elections last month haven’t quite melted away.

Nearly 80 towns rescheduled their March 14 elections when a powerful storm brought blizzard-like conditions and more than a foot of snow to much of the state. Although towns are required under state law to hold annual elections on the second Tuesday in March, many relied on another law allowing town moderators to move the “voting day of a meeting” in the event of a weather emergency.

The confusion raised questions about the legality of the results in towns that postponed their elections, including long-term financing for municipal construction and other projects. One of the first steps in such projects is getting a bond attorney to certify that everything was done correctly in approving the projects, but attorney David Barnes said that isn’t happening.

“Until this issue is dealt with somehow, we wouldn’t be able to give the type of opinion that bond purchasers are looking for, so that’s why we need legislation to cure the underlying problem,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat from Whitefield, originally proposed a bill to simply ratify the results of the postponed elections. Under a compromise approved by both the House and Senate on Thursday, towns that moved their elections would be able to ratify the results after a public hearing and a vote of their governing body. Gov. Chris Sununu plans to sign it when it reaches his desk.

In Allenstown, voters approved a $1.6 million bond for the engineering and construction of a new wastewater pump station. Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland said that the engineering work was supposed to start by the end of the summer followed by construction next spring, but that he worries that the project will be delayed until 2018.

“Hopefully it doesn’t also increase the cost of the project; that’s one of the biggest fears we have. The cost of materials goes up, labor goes up, while we’re waiting around here trying to get an answer,” he said.

Mulholland said he had been prepared to take the state to court if the Legislature failed to resolve the issue. The bill was a reasonable course of action, he said, though he didn’t think it was necessary in the first place.

“We had conflicting information about state officials about what should occur. We followed the law as it’s written, and this is a whole lot of dust-up over nothing, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate we have government red tape at the state level that’s holding up our ability to get the work done we need to get done at the local level.”

According to Secretary of State William Gardner, the law regarding changing the “voting day of the meeting” refers to separate meetings during which voters decide on a town’s annual budget and other business, not to elections. But town officials said they got little or no guidance from the state until the afternoon before the storm, when Sununu urged them to go ahead with elections as planned or else leave themselves vulnerable to lawsuits alleging voter suppression.

In Salem, voters approved a $3.1 million bond for a multi-year project to redevelop an intersection. Town Manger Leon Goodwin said the project’s timeline is such that the dispute over ratifying elections shouldn’t cause a delay.

“We’re concerned, because uncertainty with regard to the validity of our votes is never a good thing,” he said. “But we’re fortunate that our bond wasn’t expected to be issued until later in the year, so we’re kind of able to sit back and hopefully things will play out in Concord as we expect they will.”

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