Voters in Derry turned out in record numbers for a referendum vote on Tuesday to overturn budget cuts that would have slashed services to residents. Those budget cuts lowered the tax rate, but did so to the detriment of safety in the town, cutting police and fire department positions and closing a fire station.
The vote was the culmination of a lengthy process that started long before those cuts were approved, as town councilors pushed hard to cut taxes. The problem with that, according to SEA/SEIU Local 1984 member Mike Hughes, is that cuts were made without considering their impact.
“I think it’s clear that people want tax cuts, but they want them done responsibly,” said Hughes, who is a Derry resident and a member of Chapter 35, Derry Police Supervisors. “These cuts weren’t made with the proper research.”
And so after the council passed the cuts, Hughes joined with other residents to fight the cuts, gathering signatures on petitions and fighting to have the issues put up for a town-wide vote. The opposition was strong, and had the added firepower of Americans for Prosperity, which you may recall is funded by the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers.
In the last days before the vote, budget cut proponents were out in force, making phone calls and posting signs.
“They had a lot of signs in town, and some big ones in key locations,” Hughes said.
One sign in particular was an example of the misinformation put out there by the opposition, which made educating the voters a top priority in the final days.
“We’re relieved that the town understood the issue and didn’t buy into the misinformation that was being put out there,” he said. “They understood they were either voting to keep money in the budget, retain services and get a tax cut, or lose services and get a larger tax cut.”
Turnout on Tuesday was the highest the town has seen for a local election, five times higher than turnout for the last town election. Election officials predicted 2,500 voters would turn out; with just over 6,000 voters casting ballots, they ran out of machine-counted ballots early in the day. The rest of the ballots needed to be counted by hand after the polls closed at 8 p.m.
What comes next isn’t totally clear, however at least two of the councilors told WMUR that they planned to move forward as if those budget cuts never happened. The Town Council will meet on Oct. 20 to discuss the issue.
The situation in Derry is another reminder that all elections, even local ones, have consequences. If you’re curious, three seats on the council will be up for vote in March. Hopefully voters will be just as engaged in that election as they were in Tuesday’s.
“I think we’ll see another big turnout, for sure,” Hughes said.