Town Meeting 2016: Rockingham Voters looks to preserve historic buildings

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BELLOWS FALLS >> On Feb. 29 Rockingham voters spent four hours discussing 21 articles at town meeting.

Perhaps the most drawn-out discussion at the meeting was about an article that would raise $100,000 to have brick structures known as "the TLR buildings" demolished. The article was defeated mainly because town voters spoke out against destroying a historical site.

"The TLR building was probably the article that had the longest discussion," said Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II. "There was quite a group there trying to support to maintain and revitalize those buildings after the town has owned them for 25 years."

Located on Mill Street, The TLR Complex was once owned by International Paper. The town took ownership due to a tax sale. The two remaining buildings have been abandoned for a number of years and fallen into what some might call disrepair. Feasibility studies have been conducted since 1994, including one by famed architect Michael Singer in 2008.

"The fact that buildings are historical is what really seemed to bother (voters)," said Stearns.

Two other articles that irked people during Rockingham's four-hour town meeting were those that asked for funding beyond five years. These articles were amended at the meeting because they were warned as 10-year notes, but that is not allowed without holding a public hearing and an Australian meeting. Articles nine and 10 were amended to five year and the amount requested was reduced by 50 percent in what was originally written for the article.

In Article 9, voters to authorized the Selectboard to borrow an amount not to exceed $250,000 for a period of five years plus interest to make necessary repairs to the Rockingham Town Hall to include elevator upgrades, repair and painting of windows, electric service upgrade and removal of the underground fuel storage tank in the alley between the Town Hall and People's United Bank to include reconstruction of the alley as required by the Human Rights Commission, and repairs to the Rockingham Recreation Building.

As for Article 10, voters adopted the amendment that authorized the Selectboard to borrow an amount not to exceed $500,000 for replacement of fire apparatus housed at the Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department and Saxtons River Fire Department for a term of five years.

"Those who spoke felt that there was not due diligence done in getting actual numbers that were required to get fire trucks or to do the repairs, "said Stearns. "Within the town report there were actual pages produced specific to these articles, so the information was provided to them but apparently they didn't read it."

Other points of the meetings that were long discussed were regarding a large sum of money that would pay for the indebtedness of the Town, repairs and maintenance of highways and to pay all other general and regular expenses of the Town. Originally, Article 6 proposed to raise and appropriate the sum of $5,142,414 for these expenses,. with $4,359,519 raised by taxes. Jim "Jiggs" McAuliffe made a motion to reduce that amount by $178,000. People went back and forth on the topic and then voted to go forth with the original article.

Voters also adopted to raise and appropriate the sum of $392,000 in operating expenses for the support of the Rockingham Free Public Library, with $347,070 to be raised in taxes.

Articles 11 through 21 were all adopted, which involved the raising, appropriating and expending of sums for the Bellows Falls Senior Center; Meeting Waters YMCA; Vermont Adult Learning Center; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; Youth Services; Springfield Supported Housing; Parks Place Community Resource Center; Southeastern Vermont Community Action; The Current, operated by Southeast Vermont Transit Inc and Green Mountain RSVP.

After some discussion, Article 21 was adopted by voters, "designated the Town of Rockingham as a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) District to enable participating property owners to access funding for eligible energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, which would be a municipal assessment on that property owners property as provided by 24 V.S.A. Chapter 87 and authorize the Selectboard to enter into an agreement with Vermont energy Investment Corporation, d/b/a Efficiency Vermont, to operate the PACE program, including the processing of all application and regular billing."

After Article 20 there was a motion from the floor to raise and appropriate a sum of $5,000 for Our Place. That motion was termed out of order by the moderator and the public voted to supercede the moderator and allow the vote to take place, which passed. According to Stearns, that sum of money would go toward operations to serve the public.

"Every five years the board has adopted a policy which of every five years the separate social services articles have to be warned and voted on separately, otherwise they just stay in the budget for subsequent years until we reach year five again," said Stearns.

The same thing happened for the Women's Freedom Center. A motion was made from the floor, the moderator said it was "out of order," then the public voted to supercede the moderator. They asked for $1,125 and received the amount requested.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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