Sep 9, 2015 7:42 PM
BRENTWOOD - Residents from Derry took their town council to court Wednesday, after their petition for a special election was denied.
Hundreds of citizens, including former town councilors Brian Chirichiello and Neil Wetherbee, want a special election to overturn budget cuts made by the council this spring. The council decided to shut down a fire station, and laid off a number of employees in May.
Chirichiello says he wants citizens to be able to decide if the cuts are too drastic.
"We'll find out what the citizens want, and not necessarily four out of the seven councilors," Chirichiello told NH1 News. "Let the people have a say, and let's find out if they're in the right. If people agree with them, they'll come out and vote with them. If people believe that the petitioners are right, they'll vote with us."
As a former town councilor, he knows what it is like to create a budget for a town of approximately 34,000 people, but he says everyone in New Hampshire's fourth-largest community should be treated fairly, and closing the station isn't fair to the people it served.
"That made the response time double, so we have a section of town that's twice the response time as the rest of the town," Chirichiello said. "The response times should be even and people should have their services distributed evenly."
Town councilor Mark Osborne, who ran for office on the promise he would cut taxes for residents, says the cuts were necessary. Derry has a high tax rate, compared to other towns and cities in the Granite State.
"The decision to close a fire station was certainly not easy, and we knew it wouldn't necessarily be popular, but we weren't elected to be popular. We're elected to do what's best for the town," Osborne said.
Osborne said the council closely examined several other towns and cities, and after learning that the now-closed station was located only 1.3 miles from Central Station, they decided it would be fair to the taxpayers to close it, and save money.
The whole process has infuriated some residents, particularly after they were stopped from speaking out about the closure and other cuts during public forum at Derry Town Council meetings. Jenna Paradise got so upset she flipped off the entire council, and was removed from the meeting.
"I'm usually a pretty even-headed person, and for me to flip off a town council, it was pretty frustrating," Paradise said. "You just feel very belittled."
Paradise says she is concerned about safety, and joined Chirichiello and Wetherbee as they approached the court for relief.
Attorney Lee Smith, who is representing the council, told Judge David Anderson Wednesday that state law and the town's own charter prevents a special election from happening, after a budget has already been passed by a majority of the council. He said that otherwise citizens could arbitrarily add six more police officers to the budget, for example.
"We are asking Judge Anderson to say that the town council is correct, that these referendum petitions aren't permissible either under the charter or under New Hampshire law, and therefore, the town council doesn't have any further action on this," Smith told NH1 News.
Anderson interacted with Smith and attorney Jon Myer, who is representing Chirichiello, Wetherbee and Paradise, often during the hearing, asking many questions. After approximately an hour, he promised he would return a decision by Sept. 18.
Follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.
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