Tuesday March 5, 2013

ROCKINGHAM -- Town Meeting took a shocking twist Monday night when a man had an apparent heart attack after asking a question about the library.

An audience of an estimated 151 people was listening to the Rockingham Selectboard's answer when John Fuchs, of Bellows Falls, slumped over in his seat. The medical emergency came to everyone's attention when the audio system set up in the room became filled with static after Fuchs dropped the microphone he had used.

Members of the audience (including one man wearing a Bellows Falls Fire Department sweatshirt) tended to Fuchs within seconds and he was carried into the nearest aisle, where CPR was administered. A defibrillator was brought in and several attempts were made to revive Fuchs. Other citizens in the room looked on in horror and many had to look away. An ambulance could be heard outside at 7:37 p.m. and CPR was still in progress when Fuchs was taken out on a stretcher.

After emergency personnel left with Fuchs, moderator Michael Harty asked everyone to take their seats so Town Meeting could continue.

"Unfortunate things do happen from time to time," he said.

It wasn't until later in the evening, as the meeting was nearing the end, when attendees learned that Fuchs had died. They observed a moment of silence in his honor.

Earlier in the meeting, after the first three articles were adopted, Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee told the crowd the board decided to eliminate town paving to offset a 5 cent increase on the tax rate as a result of a bond to renovate the library. Harty then opened it up to public comment about Article 5, which asks if the voters approve of budget of $5,023,556, with $3,727,305 to be raised by taxes.

Scott Falzo, of Bellows Falls, stood up in the back of the room and proposed an amendment to eliminate the economic development director's $58,075 salary as a line item and see if the Selectboard wished to ax the position, which is held by Francis "Dutch" Walsh. Bellows Falls resident Jim Mitchell seconded the motion and Harty then recognized members of the audience for comments.

Gary Fox spoke in favor of the proposed amendment, saying the Grand List has dwindled over time and there has been a lack of economic development in Rockingham. He also said businesses that received money from the revolving loan fund have not lasted more than a year.

Joel Love voiced his support for the position. He said the amendment sounded to him like an objection to Walsh on a personal level and not to the position itself. He said having an economic development director is sorely needed. MacPhee spoke from the front of the theater said people have not heard about all the positive impacts of the office because "there are a lot of things being done that haven't hit radar yet" and he called the proposed amendment "ill-conceived."

Michael Bruno, owner of Windham Antique Center in Bellows Falls, said he was opposed to the amendment because Walsh was vital to opening the shop, which now employs about a dozen people and hires local contractors.

The vote on the amendment went to a paper ballot and was defeated, 102-36.

The budget was then voted on via paper ballot and was adopted by a 94-to-40 margin. It set a base tax rate of 79 cents.

Article 6, to see if voters wanted to add .01 cents to the tax rate for funding toward the reported deficit in Fiscal Year 2012, was then adopted by voice vote. The deficit comes as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, which took an unusual path up the East Coast and struck Vermont in August 2011.

The public also adopted Article 7, meaning they opted to raise and appropriate $364,270 (with $320,806 to be raised by taxes) for the library.

The $2.9 million library renovation project hit a snag months ago when subcontractors refused to continue their jobs and insisted they had not been paid by general contractor Baybutt Construction for the work they had already done. Rockingham town officials terminated the contract with Baybutt soon after, when information about the company's financial woes came to light.

Baybutt Construction did not take out a performance bond or a payment bond, which act as a sort of insurance contract and was a project requirement from the town. Baybutt submitted a statement, which said the business was entitled to be paid for percentages of the project completed and that it had a $21,000 performance bond, which it did not.

Election of town and school district officials will be held today.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.