Thursday May 2, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The village's police chief was invited to a joint meeting of the Rockingham Selectboard and the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees to address the members' concerns about drug problems in the village and his own disappointment with an article that appeared in a Massachusetts newspaper.

Chief Ron Lake had spoken about drug use in Bellows Falls at a Teen Brain Development event at the Rockingham Free Public Library earlier this month and wanted to use his time at Tuesday's meeting to elaborate on his comments and discuss a comment a police chief in Holyoke, Mass., made in the Springfield Republican.

Lake told the boards his department handled 4,000 complaints and arrested 38 individuals for drug crimes in 2012. He said the BFPD had answered 1,078 complaints in 2013 as of 2 p.m. that day.

"We've made 29 drug arrests, year to date," he said. "Based on current trends in drug crime and what we're seeing, we're expecting to close out the calendar year with a 200 percent increase in drug crime in the village of Bellows Falls.

"In the grand scheme of things," he continued, "for every three arrests that we make by the end of the year, one of them is going to be a drug-related arrest."

Lake said he was unhappy with the way his comments in the Reformer (Saturday, April 13) were perceived. Lake had been invited to speak about synthetic marijuana and other drug problems in the village at an event sponsored by the Greater Falls Prevention Coalition. He described the dangers of synthetic marijuana and said heroin use in the village is "at epidemic proportions."

At the following Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees meeting, Wright said she disliked how negative the comments were and thought they were inflammatory. She said the comments make Bellows Falls appear worse than it is.

Lake addressed this matter Tuesday and said the village's problem with drugs is not unique and is no worse than many other places.

He said his department is approaching this problem "as pro-actively as absolutely possible" and works closely with the Vermont State Police and the Vermont Drug Task Force.

Lake handed each member of the boards a printed copy of an article from the Springfield Republican.

He highlighted the second paragraph, which states Bellows Falls residents Jacob McAllister and Kayla Coburn and a young Springfield woman were cited with drug charges following a traffic stop in Holyoke, Mass., and a quote from Police Capt. Arthur R. Monfette.

"If there's Vermont plates, in Holyoke, they're here buying drugs, they're not tourists," the Republican quotes him as saying in August.

Lake said he does not like that comment and that the captain was not holding anything back. The chief said he takes exception to the way Vermonters are viewed in parts of western Massachusetts but he has not been in contact with Monfette.

He said every officer of the BFPD is working to take drugs off the village's streets. He mentioned the drug take-back box (made possible through a grant from the prevention coalition) located in the lobby of the police department. Any unwanted medications (besides cough syrup) can be placed in the box anonymously 24 hours a day. Flushing medications down the toilet is bad for the environment and throwing them in the trash is frowned upon as well.

"We want to get every medication off the street, taken, and properly disposed of," Lake said.

Earlier in the meeting, Gary Fox, the director of Sustainable Valley Group gave the boards an update and said his organization has a new board of directors.

Fox said there is a new board every year and it is usually made up of many of the same people. According to a packet of information Fox handed out, Anne Morton is the president, Mike Spaulding is the vice president, Dan Axtell will serve as secretary and Deborah Wright (as a village trustee) will fulfill the duties as treasurer.

Spaulding, sitting in the first row of the audience, stood up to say a few words.

"I just want to thank Gary for another great year and a lot of hard work. Gary has put in so many hours that I think everybody here would just probably fall over if they understood what he's done for us," he said. "I'd like to thank everyone who has participated this last year."

He said members of SVG have been invited to speak about economic development and green energy at the Statehouse in Montpelier a few times and said a little more help from Rockingham Town Hall would go a long way.

In other business:

-- Katie Dearborn, the president of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, spoke with the boards to check in with its members.

She reminded board members that BFDDA Executive Director Rosemarri Roth has resigned and the organization is still looking for a replacement. She said the executive director works about 15 hours a week.

Dearborn, who will soon step down as president and as a board member, said BFDDA is now gearing up for its annual membership drive and the annual meeting is slated for at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 27.

-- During his manager's report, Rockingham Finance Director/Interim Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said taxes are due Friday, May 10.

He said any taxes not paid by then will be subject to an 8 percent penalty and interest starting May 11.

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