AYER -- And then there were three.
Voters in a special election Tuesday decided to reduce the Board of Selectmen from a five-member board to just three beginning with April's town election.
There were 219 votes in favor of reducing the board and 187 against. Turnout was low, with fewer than 10 percent of the town's registered voters casting ballots.
"I think there's no need for five selectmen," said resident James Sherry after casting his vote in favor of the reduction. "Make it a two-out-of-three vote. That way there's less in-fighting and less arguments. It will make for a smoother operation. I grew up in this town and have seen how the Board of Selectmen operates both as a three-member group and as a five member group and three members is good."
"I've been at this long enough to remember when the Board of Selectmen had three members," said fellow resident Bill Finan. "I think having only three members is more effective. Besides, with five members you get a lot of fringe candidates who run all the time and never win but with five positions they can end up getting elected."
"I spent nine years as a selectmen and think that with only three members, the board will operate a lot better than it does now," said Francis Callahan, who served on the board in the 1970s.
The Board of Selectmen last consisted of three members in 1998 before its membership was increased to five.
"I think five members is a perfect total," said Selectman Chris Hillman who joined fellow residents at the ballot box. "It provides a good balance. With only three members, two agreeing on an issue would make the third member virtually irrelevant."
The makeup of the board came into question after a Town Government Study Committee concluded that a group consisting of only three members would improve the efficiency of municipal government.
The Study Committee submitted its findings to selectmen last year and the question of whether to keep the board's membership at five or reduce it to three was passed on to voters at Town Meeting where residents voted to approve the reduction.
Next, the matter went to the state Legislature which approved the change clearing the way for Tuesday's special election.
Before the special election, membership of the Board of Selectmen consisted of Pauline Conley and Jim Fay both of whom are up for re-election in April, Hillman and Gary Luca who are up in April 2015, and Jannice Livingston, who is up in April 2016.
Now that the town has decided to cut the board, a new open election will be held in April for the three seats and the person receiving the most votes being awarded a three-year term, the person receiving the next highest number of votes would get a two-year term, and the one receiving the third highest number a one year term.
In subsequent elections, each selectman's seat will be for three-year terms but with elections held in consecutive years so as to avoid having incumbents run against each other.
"We expected a low turnout," Town Clerk John Canney said of the 406 votes cast. "There was only a single very specific question on the ballot and those people who voted on it, had their own specific reasons for doing so."
Still, of those who did vote, opinion on the question was not completely one sided.
"I voted because I didn't want a three-member board," said resident Sal DeLucia, adding that more members would offer a greater range of opinion on the issues.
But the strength of feeling seemed to be with those who preferred a smaller board.
"I'd rather go with three selectmen because I think it makes it easier to vote on things and there'll be less fighting," said resident Bob Donell.
"I don't think we need five members," added fellow resident Dan Milleville. "Ayer isn't big enough to warrant that and besides, we'll save on stipends."