Could lose job leading Atkinson police force

ATKINSON — Police Chief Philip Consentino could be out of a job in March — if voters approve a warrant article that would significantly change the position.

And that’s not all.

In addition to heading the Police Department, Consentino also serves as the director of elderly affairs and that position could be dramatically different if another petitioned warrant article aimed at reforming the program is approved.

“There is a small group in town that has been trying for years and years to remove me from office,” Consentino said Friday.

Residents who signed the petitioned articles and were contacted last week said they didn’t know who was behind either article.

The article concerning the controversial police chief was signed by 43 residents. It would eliminate Lt. William Baldwin’s position and create a full-time chief’s job, with a salary of about $60,000. Consentino is a part-time chief, working not more than 25 hours a week for about $21,000 a year.

The warrant article directs the town to hire a full-time chief who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and has 15 years service. If the article is approved in March, the town would have to begin advertising the position within 14 days after the election and a chief would have to be hired within 60 days.

Under the proposal, Consentino said it would cost the town more. Baldwin wouldn’t lose his job, but would be demoted to sergeant and the town would still have to pay him his salary of about $85,000 a year, according to Consentino.

The chief said when he saw the petition last week, he called three people who signed it to ask them why they had and if they knew it would be the end of his job. That same day, he said, he received a letter from an elderly resident, thanking him for his help during the ice storm. Consentino said he was surprised to see her name on a petition that oust him from his job.

“These people rely on this program and rely on that program as it stands,” Consentino said.

The article concerning the elderly affairs program would further separate that program from the Police Department, with a separate director. Under the proposed change, the program would still provide rides to medical appointments to seniors. The director would have to seek state and federal money, including Meals on Wheels and the state fuel assistance program.

The warrant article does not address how or how much the new director would be paid. Consentino is not paid for the work he now does with elderly services.

The problem is, Consentino said, without the Police Department, the elderly services program would not get the call at 3 a.m. to pick up a resident from the hospital.

“There’s more to this than people realize,” he said.

Resident Mark Acciard, a frequent critic of Consentino, signed both petitions. He said Atkinson has the best elderly program in the state, but it’s obvious that funds designated for the Police Department are used by the elderly services program.

“The whole problem is that the Budget Committee separated the elderly affairs six years ago, but it has never been operated as separate,” Acciard said.

But Consentino is confident he won’t be losing his job come March.

“Once the residents find out that it will eliminate Phil Consentino as chief and the elderly program, I don’t think it has a chance of passing,” he said.

Two other warrant articles are aimed at informing homeowners of changes to their tax bills.

Leon Artus of the Atkinson Taxpayers Association said the town’s tax cards are filled with errors and these warrant articles would alleviate problems.

Artus, who wrote those two articles, said he has helped many residents file for tax abatements and claims to have won $15,000 for a woman in town who overpaid her property taxes for 10 years.

He said most people never check their tax card at Town Hall. If the information were available on the town’s Web site or mailed to residents, there would be fewer errors with tax bills, he said.

“I’ve been overtaxed on my property for many years and I intend to stop it,” said Gary Brownfield, who helped Artus gather signatures for the articles.

Brownfield, who also heads a taxpayer association in town, said he is appealing his tax bill to the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals and intends to fight it to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Even if these two warrant articles fail this year, Brownfield vows that this won’t be his last fight.

“We’re going to come back every year until we get these tax situations unified,” he said.

Other towns post this information online and the cost to do so would be minimal, according to Artus.

If passed, the articles would take effect immediately.

Other warrant articles include prohibiting selectmen from using taxpayer dollars to defend themselves in court, making the Planning Board an elected body, spending $2,000 on Rockingham County Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, and increasing the veterans tax credit to $500.