BELLOWS FALLS -- Village voters narrowly adopted a nearly $2 million budget at a special meeting Monday, exactly one week before the next fiscal year begins.
A budget of $1,883,182 -- with $1,772,307 to be raised by taxes -- for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013, and ending on June 30, 2014, was passed by a 52-43 vote at the Rockingham Town Hall after voters rejected the initial proposal at Village Meeting.
The accepted budget omits a ninth officer for the Bellows Falls Police Department and about $900 in administration costs that had been included in the one presented to voters in May. Citizens had opted not to adopt the proposed budget of $1,945,357 (with $1,864,482 to be raised by taxes). This forced the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees to create a revised budget for the townspeople to vote on.
Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said the final figures put the tax rate at .6698, up from .6417 from last year. Going without a ninth officer cuts $92,000 in salary, benefits and overtime, according to Stearns.
He told the Reformer only the village's administration (meaning all department heads) would be paid if a budget had been adopted by July 1.
The public's main concern about the initial budget -- which was rejected by a 38-54 vote -- seemed to be the $1,139,057 designated for the Bellows Falls Police Department. Some people said they disliked it because village residents cannot afford it. One resident said citizens are fooling themselves if they think adding any officers to the police department is going to solve the village's problem with drugs. He cited what he views as a failure of the federal War on Drugs.
Contacted by the Reformer on Tuesday, Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake said he had hoped for a ninth officer but he and his department with make due with what they are given.
"I have eight and I'll continue with eight," he said. "The community has given us what we need to move forward. I'm happy with what we have."
Lake mentioned that he originally had eight officers when he took over as chief and that number increased to nine before eventually being scaled back to eight again.
Word is floating around the village that the 5 percent of registered voters necessary to demand a new vote on the budget may soon add their names to a petition.
Stearns told the Reformer, if this happens, it could put off the adoption of a village budget until at least September. He said if a petition for a new vote is filed, 30 days' notice is required before the special meeting -- like the one held Monday night -- is held. This would cost the village more money, he said.
Stearns said he doubts a new vote will be necessary but there is always the possibility.
"Plan for the worst and hope for the best," he said Tuesday.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.