Bellows Falls board forgives wastewater debt

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BELLOWS FALLS — While most residents in Bellows Falls will have to pay an additional $100 for their wastewater rates this year, the Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation had $2,000 worth of wastewater debt forgiven on Tuesday.

The Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to forgive the debt for wastewater usage at the former Robertson Paper Mill, with Trustee President Myles Mickle, Steve Adams and Stefan Golec voting yes and Deborah Wright opposed. Trustee James McAuliffe recused himself from the vote because he's a member of BFADC.

Adams and Mickle said they were in support of forgiving the debt because they believed BFADC's clean up efforts could later yield a greater profit.

"I don't see any point in chasing down these fees," Mickle said.

The deciding vote was Golec, who voted yes after saying he wasn't entirely convinced the debt should be forgiven. "I have to concur with Deb," he said during the discussion, explaining he thought forgiving the debt was unfair to residents.

Wright was firmly against the motion to forgive BFADC's debt.

"I'm meeting with residents who do not have the option to have the debts forgiven," she said.

The BFADC, a non-profit run by local volunteers, has received more than $1 million of grant aid to clean up and demolish the site so that new businesses can come in and develop it. Currently, no one is on the property and water isn't being used.

Gary Fox, the town's development director and the executive director of BFADC, explained to the trustees that without the debt forgiveness, BFADC may not be able to go through with the mill cleanup.The grant aid the organization received is only available for site cleanup and couldn't be used to pay off the debt. With the debt, BFADC would be ineligible for receiving the grant aid.

Fox called the paper mill in its current state an "eyesore," and said it contributed to community blight. He also pointed out that the project's three years of work could all be for nothing if the trustees refused to forgive the debt.

John Wright, the owner of Cafe 7 and a trustee candidate, said as a business owner and resident, he has felt the strain from water and wastewater rates. "At the same time I think its short-sighted," he said of chasing down BFADC's debt. He believes that should the property eventually be developed, the town would benefit from property taxes paid by new owners or tenants.

"If this doesn't get resolved it will hold up a project that, in the next three to five years, could generate a lot of money," he said.

Wright, who is also a former municipal lister, added that the grand list in the village has been steadily declining. Adding more industry could improve the grand list, he said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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