DURHAM — Fewer than 200 residents turned out for town meeting Saturday and spent nearly four hours debating 39 warrant articles.

Town officials estimated the vote would result in a 1.8 percent tax hike in the municipal budget, which does not include the RSU 5 budget. That will be voted on at a later date. The 2012 tax rate was $13.35 per $1,000 of valuation.

With the exception of one article, residents approved all spending requests. The first extended debate came on Article 17, the purchase of a used ladder truck for the Fire Department, at a cost of $240,000. Although the article was recommended by selectmen and the Budget Committee, several questioned the feasibility of the purchase.

Rabbitt Road resident Alice McPeake urged residents to oppose the purchase. “We can’t afford this,” she told them, quickly adding that she wanted to make it clear: “We love our fire and rescue, but I oppose the expenditure.”

When it came time for a vote on the issue, moderator Gary Wood said a show of hands was “too close to call.” He called for a written ballot, and the article was defeated 61-82.

Voters spent an hour debating Article 26, before authorizing selectmen to begin the process of creating a town public works department. It was voted to expend nearly $2.87 million and to authorize selectmen to issue notes in that amount. The article carried by an overwhelming majority of hand votes, Wood declared. This was followed by a round of applause.

The new Public Works Department will be phased in after the current winter road contract expires. The article calls for buying a 10-acre parcel and building a 60,000-square-foot garage, an out building and a 3,000-gallon above-ground fuel depot. The department will include six full-time and four part-time employees. Anticipated equipment needs include six equipped plows/dump trucks, two equipped one-ton trucks, a loader backhoe, an excavator and a 20-ton equipment trailer.

In other business, it was announced that Town Office hours are being increased from 28½ hours a week to 32 hours.

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