Rockingham Select Board members discuss 'wish list' budget

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ROCKINGHAM — The Highway Department won the prize for the most money requested at the Rockingham Select Board meeting on Nov. 9. The Select Board has been preparing for the 2019 budget cycle by meeting with department heads. Some departments, like the fire department, asked for hardly anything; others, like the Bellows Falls Opera House, made suggestions about what they could use in the near future. Highway Superintendent Mike Hinds made a list of repairs that the town badly needs.

Select Board Chair Susan Hammond described it as a "wishlist."

"We let it get to this point," Select Board member Gaetano Putignano said of the many repairs. "This is the worst budget year I've ever been in," Select Board member Ann DiBernardo said. Fixing roads and sidewalks isn't cheap. The town has applied for several grants but, Hinds said, it's not getting the money needed.

The board contemplated the idea of hiring a Public Works director who could focus on writing grants and finding funding pathways for city projects. Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe suggested the position's salary be $75,000. The position would be shared with the Village of Bellows Falls. The town would fund 50 percent of the position, the village would fund 20 percent, the Bellows Falls Water Department would fund 15 percent and the Bellows Falls Wastewater Department would fund 15 percent.

The number one project, according to Hinds, is Griswold Drive reconstruction. The project would cost the town an estimated $1.5 million and it would cost the Bellows Falls Wastewater Department between $500,000 and $750,000.

Other projects Hinds said need to be completed are:

- Saxtons River's Main Street, which needs to be milled and paved, the estimated cost is $167,000;

- Two miles of Brockways Mills Road needs to be chip sealed, the estimated cost is $167,000;

- Cherry Hill needs a retaining wall, the estimated cost is $230,000;

- Front Street needs a retaining wall, the estimated cost is $200,000;

- Leach Road needs a box culvert that will cost $210,000;

- Route 121 and Ski Bowl Road need box culverts that will cost $210,000.

In regards to culverts, Select Board members wanted to know how prepared Hinds was in the event of an emergency.

"If you were to expect a storm like Irene every year, what would you do?" DiBernardo asked.

"Quit," Hinds joked.

In all seriousness though, he said the highway department has increased its storm preparedness since Irene. That's one of the reasons he's asking for so many culverts.

The second biggest ask came from Rick Angers, the Opera House manager. He asked for a new 4k projector, which would cost the town about $26,000.

Some movies aren't allowed to be shown without the projector, Angers said. The Select Board started brainstorming different ways to pay for the projector. Ticket prices are currently $5. Agners said he loves those prices, but Select Board members wondered if the tickets should be raised. Angers said that, on average, about 65 percent of ticket sales go to the movie studios. The idea of raising the cost of concessions was also thrown into the ring.

Angers and O'Keefe have been working on raising concession sales by offering healthier snacks to appeal to a non-adolescent crowd. Angers also intends on offering special Star Wars popcorn buckets when the theater plays "Star Wars the Last Jedi."

Budget discussions will continue until late December or early January during regular Select Board meetings.

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

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