Tuesday May 21, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- It is back to the drawing board for the Village Board of Trustees after citizens rejected the proposed budget at the annual Village Meeting on Monday, in what turned into a night of three defeated warrant articles.

Roughly 90 people showed up at the Rockingham Town Hall to have their voices heard on the nine articles of the 2013 village warrant and several voters took issue with the proposed budget and the money being allocated to the Bellows Falls Police Department. Article 4 sought to approve a $1,945,357 budget (with $1,864,482 to be raised by taxes) for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013, and ending on June 30, 2014. The budget designates $1,139,057 for the police department.

The voters struck down the proposed budget, 38-54. Rockingham Finance Director/Interim Municipal Manager Chip Stearns told the Reformer this means the trustees will have to put together another proposed budget and warn a special meeting for village residents. He said only the village's administration (all department heads) will be paid if a budget is not adopted by July 1.

The on-going drug problem and the police department's role in combating it took up the majority of time during public comments Monday.

Resident Doug MacPhee told the Bellows Falls Board of Trustees he appreciates its hard work regarding the budget but said the taxpayers cannot afford it.

He said there has been an increase of 69 percent in taxes over the past 10 years. He added that Bellows Falls is the highest-taxed municipality in Vermont and the state ranks seventh-worst in the country in terms of taxes and the services received. He noted that village residents have to pay both village and town taxes.

MacPhee also said citizens are fooling themselves if they believe adding officers to the police department - which the proposed budget would have allowed - is going to solve the village's drug problem. He cited what he views as a failure of the federal War on Drugs, which he said constantly has money thrown at it.

MacPhee also mentioned TransCanada contesting a state appraisal of a facility it owns in the village. Vermont's appraiser reported the facility, at 20 Mill St., has a value of just more than $108 million. But TransCanada believes the figure is actually lower and made a claim stating as much. The lower the facility's appraisal, the less the corporation will have to pay in taxes. If TransCanada proves victorious it will drastically affect the village's revenue and budget.

MacPhee said the idea of Bellows Falls separating from the town of Rockingham and becoming its own entity - which has been advocated by some - is ludicrous, but the village residents cannot afford to have their taxes constantly raised.

Brad Weeks echoed MacPhee's sentiment, as did Clark Barber, and Robin Story said she would like to see police officers walking the streets more often. She said this would help with security and cut down on vehicle wear-and-tear.

Voters also defeated Article 6, which would have raised and appropriated $1,500 to help create, support and operate community gardens in the village and Article 7, which sought to raise $13,000 for the enforcement of the Unsafe Building Ordinance.

Article 5, however, was passed, thus allowing the trustees to borrow up $30,000 for not more than a three-year term to for the purchase of vehicle for the BFPD.

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