When the small town of Troy, New Hampshire received a gift of more than $800,000 from a former resident who died last year, it was supposed to be good news.
But for this town tucked away in the state's Monadnock Region, the money ended up dividing the community, with tensions boiling over at Town Meeting this month.
Meghan Foley is a reporter with the Keene Sentinel. She joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about her report on what’s happened in Troy since the donation.
Can you explain how the town came into this money?
The town came into this money late summer/early fall last year. Former resident Elizabeth Giorgianni had left in her will $821,500 to the town. The town had to go through various checks and different avenues with the state to eventually be able to have a meeting to accept the money, which it did.
And for a town of about 2,000 people, this is a huge amount of money, right?
Yes. It represents about half of the town’s 2016 operating budget, which was around $1.5 million.
What were the first signs there were problems in terms of how this money was being handled?
At some point in fall after they accepted the donation, the selectmen had gotten word that the tax rate for the town was again going to be high this year. Troy has one of those unfortunate designations of having one of the highest tax rates in the state because of various factors. With that in mind, the selectmen had then decided to spend some of the money on various cost items that either were currently in the budget or would have appeared in the budget in coming years. That included paying off the lease of a police vehicle, purchasing equipment for the highway department. They also allocated some funds to different committees and groups in town that they normally pay through the budget process.
Were there outcries from residents who just didn’t want this money being used for that purpose? Did they want it to be put toward lowering the tax rate? What was the controversy?
The controversy initially stemmed from some concern if what was being down would actually lower the tax rate going forward. But the discourse had a lot to do with many residents feeling they didn’t get a proper say in how the selectmen decided how to spend some of the money. They wanted to have that say, have that local control. That’s where a lot of the angst came from.
And this all came to a head Troy’s Town Meeting earlier this month. What happened there?
At Town Meeting earlier this month, they had about 140 people attend, which is a fairly good turnout for the town. A lot of people came in with concerns about the selectmen’s handling of the money, allegations they had misappropriated it, that they didn’t follow state law in how they made decisions on the money, which is still a fuzzy matter if they did or not. The selectmen have continuously denied that they did anything wrong. There was some talk of maybe making a motion to force the remaining two selectmen who weren’t up for election this year to resign, but that didn’t happen. I would say just a lot of mistrust among folks there and a lot of it was aimed at the selectmen. There were if I recall four police officers there. I spoke with the chief after and he said it's usually just him that attends these town meetings, but he had been advised by another town official that he might want to have extra personnel there. There was one moment where a resident did speak out of turn, but that was the only incident that took place that involved the police making their presence known, but there were no arrests.
Where do things stand now with the money?
The money that was not spent by the selectmen has gone by vote of Town Meeting into a trust fund, which is being overseen by the trustee of trust funds in the town. I believe it’s $544,000 that will be going into that account. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s definitely a division in the town with residents who stand by the selectmen and believe in what they did and what they did was in the best interest of the community. And there’s also a group that believes what they did was if not illegal, at the very least it wasn’t done morally. And that’s where you’re seeing the dividing line in the community, which has quieted down a bit since Town Meeting, but was very apparent going into it.