BELLOWS FALLS - The Village Board of Trustees decided to present two budgets to taxpayers and propose one of them for the special Village Meeting slated for this month.
In a special meeting held in the Town Clerk's Office on Monday, the trustees discussed five options for budgets to be proposed to taxpayers, who rejected the original proposed budget at Village Meeting on May 20. The trustees chose Options #1 and #2, both of which include going without a ninth police officer and cutting in half the amount of money to be taxed for the eventual repair of the Bellows Falls Fire Department roof. The options also include an additional $800 in cuts, as proposed by Trustee Charlie Hunter. Option #2, unlike the first one, also requires operating with one fewer firefighter.
The budget will again go up for public vote on Monday, June 24. With a tax rate of .6719, under Option #1 the proposed budget will be $1,777,982, nearly $100,000 less than the one rejected at Village Meeting. The previous proposed tax rate was .7046.
Police Chief Ron Lake and Fire Chief Bill Weston were among those in attendance Monday to answer questions from the board regarding their services.
Lake said a ninth officer - which his department has not had since 2009 - would get his force closer to where it should be in terms of numbers. He previously has said it could help take some of the burden off his staff and make scheduling a lot easier.
"We have been much busier this year than we have been in past years. The crime that we're investigating is much more severe. Although complaints are down, crime is up," he said Monday. "I would love to have that ninth officer but I'll make due with what we have. It's what we do."
Hunter said he feels bad for the police department and fire department for "being the ones on the front lines taking the heat," as those are the two departments getting asked to make sacrifices.
Nevertheless, the trustees voted unanimously to present both budgets and propose the first one.
There were nine articles voted on at Village Meeting, and three of them failed to get adopted. The public's main concern about the proposed budget - which was rejected by a 38-54 vote - seemed to be the $1,139,057 designated for the Bellows Falls Police Department. Rockingham Finance Director/Interim Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said only the village's administration (meaning all department heads) will be paid if a budget is not adopted by July 1.
Some members of the public said they disliked the proposed budget because village citizens cannot afford it. Resident Doug MacPhee 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 services received.
MacPhee also said citizens are fooling themselves if they think adding an officer to the police department is going to help with 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.
Resident Brad Weeks agreed with MacPhee and said he did not like the amount of money that would be have been spent.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.