BELLOWS FALLS -- The formation of a merger review committee has been delayed following the narrowest of margins among the Bellows Falls trustees Tuesday.
The board voted 3-2 on Tuesday not to form a committee to explore the possibility of a village/town merger that would eliminate the boundaries of the Bellows Falls Village Corporation and its board of trustees. Andrew Smith, Stefan Golec and Colin James voted for the motion (made by Smith) to delay formation and Charlie Hunter and Village President Roger Riccio opposed it.
The vote was taken at a joint meeting of the Bellows Falls trustees, the Saxtons River trustees and the Rockingham Selectboard. The idea of a merger has become yet another hot-button topic in Rockingham, as many Bellows Falls residents believe their village would lose its identity through a plan they feel the municipal boards were trying to "ram through" to a public vote.
"It's a black day in the village of Bellows Falls," said village resident and Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee following the trustees' vote, to groans from several people in attendance.
During the public comment portion of the special joint meeting, resident Joel Love stood up to voice his discontent over how the municipality was handling the matter of a merger. Numerous people held up protest signs reading "Let's Take Back Our Village" while Love spoke. Love accused MacPhee of not following Robert's Rules of Order in his governance of the meeting and of not listening to the will of the people.
The merger plan was devised and presented by village residents Jim "Jiggs" McAuliffe and Paul Obuchowski, who feel the town of Rockingham would operate more efficiently with only one board. They presented the plan at a special joint meeting of the Selectboard and Bellows Falls trustees on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
"The problems that we are going to be handling in the future will be handled best by one board," McAuliffe said.
Under a merger, the Rockingham Selectboard would assume the duties of the Bellows Falls trustees and the Bellows Falls Village Corporation would cease to exist. The three long-established fire districts of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River and Rockingham would be retained but fire taxes would be paid by only those residents living in their respective fire district. The Bellows Falls Police Department's area of responsibility would not change.
No tax dollars would be used to fund the Bellows Falls water and wastewater services, as they are operated under separate enterprise funds and financed through user fees.
The trustees, on Dec. 10, voted down a motion to send the merger plan to a public vote. Hunter was the only trustee to vote in the affirmative.
At the Rockingham Selectboard meeting that preceded the tri-board meeting, the Selectboard approved an expenditure budget of $4,989,896, with $3,966,995 to be raised by taxes. Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II said those figures will appear in an article in the town report. He said they do not, however, include the $320,800 of the Rockingham Free Public Library's proposed $364,270 budget that will be generated through taxes. The library's budget will consist of a separate warrant article.
Stearns said the estimated increase of the municipal tax rate would rise to 93.09 cents (an increase of 3.79 cents) if voters adopt the town budget, the library budget and all social articles as written.
In other business:
-- The Selectboard voted to "throw up" a portion of River Road in hopes of settling a dispute with Christopher Morrill, who owns a residence on the piece of property that abuts the road. Stearns told the Reformer this means it will no longer be considered a town road. Selectboard member Josh Hearne was the only one to vote against the measure. Stearns explained protocol dictates that roads "thrown up" by a Selectboard are to be returned to their original owner or split among existing abutters if the original owner cannot or will not accept it. Stearns said Morrill is one of those abutters.
-- The Selectboard opted to accept a bid from Patriot Freightliner, of Westminster, and purchase a six-wheel dumptruck for the Rockingham Highway Department. The board also approved of financing with 2.36 percent interest annually for three years from Merchants Bank.
The 1997 primary use truck the highway department had went out of commission with 146,000 miles and 11,000 hours on it.
-- Charlie Jarras submitted a letter of resignation from the Rockingham Historical Commission.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.