Petition to rehire firefighters rejected
BELLOWS FALLS — The Bellows Falls full-time fire department won't be reinstated by another village meeting anytime soon.
On Wednesday, the trustees unanimously voted to reject a petition asking that the village hold a meeting to decide whether to raise and appropriate the $165,333.77 needed to keep the department operations.
Trustees met with the village attorney during a special meeting. They concluded that the petition wasn't valid. Ray Massucco, the village attorney, explained that the petition was asking to adjust the fiscal year 2018 budget. The village budget had already been reconsidered once and cannot be reconsidered again.
Some audience members were disappointed, among them, Therese Brock, who started the petition, who couldn't believe the petition was being rejected. She started it in hopes that the money would pay to reinstate four full-time firefighters who had been laid off due to budget constraints. Brock also said outside the meeting that many petition supporters couldn't attend. The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. then moved to Wednesday at noon. Brock thought the new time was inconvenient because it was the day before a holiday and many people were still at work.
Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe said the meeting was changed because one board member had a family commitment and wanted to attend. He said Wednesday at noon was chosen so people could come during their lunch hour, and that the trustees didn't want to hold the meeting too late because people might be getting ready for Thanksgiving Wednesday night.
Other audience members were relieved. James Mitchell said that the time to argue about the budget happened at the July 20 meeting where voters cut $241, 290 from the original FY2018 budget.
"Democracy has spoken," he said.
Trustee president, Myles Mickle signed the petition but voted along with the rest of the trustees to reject it.
"There were some legal issues," he said. He signed the petition, he said, because he's sympathetic to the cause. He doesn't agree with the budget cut that happened in July.
"It was moving too fast and too soon," he said.
He signed the petition because he believed the budget deserved more discussion. He urges people who are concerned about the firefighters being laid off to come to the annual village meeting in May. He said the trustees will also be looking at the FY 2019 budget soon. He urged village residents to come to those meetings, too.
Nonetheless, he didn't believe a full-time fire department would be possible next year without increasing the tax burden.
"Which is considerable," he said. "It's a matter of what people want to pay for levels of service. The tax burden is very high."
Ultimately he said he hopes that people keep fighting.
"I hope people don't get frustrated and give up," he said.
Harmony Birch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.
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