Joint Board Meeting: Cleaning 'house' for its new resident

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BELLOWS FALLS — With only six months left on the job, Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe has a hefty list of goals to accomplish. O'Keefe announced at a Dec. 21, 2017, joint board meeting that he would be resigning on June 30.

The Rockingham Select Board and the Village of Bellows Falls Board of Trustees met Tuesday to go over what they need to accomplish before a new manager takes over.

Trustee Deborah Wright wanted measurable goals, "not just goals that go on and on," she said. Her husband, Select Board member Cass Wright, wanted to see the weight limits for six-wheeler trucks driving through the village regulated.

"It's safety," Cass Wright said. "It's bad for our safety profile."

The issue of truck weight limits is something the Select Board has been talking about for months. Cass Wright thought O'Keefe was trying to make regulations too perfect rather than just getting it done.

"I think we just need to quickly narrow it down and get it there," he said. In terms of potential state regulations the village may be violating if it enforces weight limits, Cass Wright said, "I think this is the case where it's better to ask forgiveness than permission."

He said he wanted to see signs in the village regulating weight limits within the next sixty days.

"We've already talked about this," Select Board member Gaetano Putignano said. "And there's been action."

O'Keefe confirmed this.

"I'm working on it on a daily basis," he said. "You can't just slap something on."

The rest of the Select Board agreed that the weight limits might take some time, but are underway.

"It may mean we have to talk to a legislature," Select Board Chair Susan Hammond said.

Trustee Steve Adams had a goal that he wasn't sure fell under O'Keefe's purview.

"We need to address what we're going to do from a revenue standpoint in the village," he said. "We made some huge cuts to the fire department — I think it's going to be great moving forward — but there's nothing accounting for inflation."

Adams felt like the Bellows Falls tax trend is setting the village up to fail. He believed that Bellows Falls wasn't getting the tax revenue it needed because of the number of rental properties.

"I'm not trying to target a specific demographic," he said. But he also said Bellows Falls had enough rental properties and the boards need to make sure that no more are added.

"We're done," he said. "Let's engage a zoning board."

There are things the town could also do to increase its revenue, Adams said.

"We've got to get creative," he said.

One idea, he said, was to get a cell tower in Rockingham.

"What if Rockingham were the most cellularly connected town in Vermont?" he asked. With Rockingham's current cellular connectivity, Adams said, he couldn't do business in town. Increasing cellular activity might attract more companies to the area.

Adams eventually concluded that his ideas weren't really goals for O'Keefe, but board goals.

"Shane actually at one point mentioned having a session where you can just put out all these ideas," Hammond said. "What you want the town to look like, what you want to bring to the town."

O'Keefe said this session suggestion was a part of the hiring process for the new municipal manager. He thought it would be a good idea to get different people to brainstorm what they wanted in a new municipal manager and to talk about how other municipalities handled their managers.

"I think that could be arranged," Trustee president Myles Mickle said.

Hammond and Mickle agreed to put an ad out in next week's edition of The Shopper to advertise committee positions for hiring the new manager.

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

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