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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls trustees got some good financial news this week: Its auditors said the village has a $648,000 surplus, which represents about 40 percent of the village budget.

Voters will decide the fate of the $1.6 million village budget during a floor meeting on May 10. Elections will be held the following week on May 17.

Brittany Gilman of the village’s audit firm RHR Smith of Maine told the trustees Tuesday night that the accumulated “unassigned fund balance” now totals $648,000. Gilmann said the village had experienced higher than anticipated revenues and lower than expected expenditures during 2020-21, adding $120,000 to the bottom line.

After the meeting, Village President Deborah Wright said the trustees had not discussed what to do with the surplus. And she said it was too late to include the issue in the upcoming budget vote on May 10.

Wright said she would be interested in the village investing in the sludge dryer for the wastewater plant, which would ultimately save the village money in disposal costs.

“Solar would be an important step for us,” as well, she said, saying it would help the village reduce its carbon footprint.

The village also has $884,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, she said, which will be earmarked for various projects within the village.

The village voters will again take up the issue of switching to Australian balloting on May 10, according to Wright. The village two years ago voted to switch to Australian ballot, but according to the Secretary of State’s office, such a switch had to be done during a floor meeting, so the village is revisiting the issue.

“If you want to vote on the issues of Australian ballot, you need to be there May 10,” Wright said. The budget is only up about $30,000, with the amount to be raised by taxes actually down by $19,000.

Voting to elect village trustees and the village president, as well as other village officials, will be held May 17, she said.

Village voters will face a three-way race for the two open seats on the village board of trustees. Current Trustees Jeff Dunbar and Wade Masure are running for reelection to their two-years seats, while former Trustee Jonathan Wright (no relation to Deborah Wright) hopes to re-capture his seat which he lost two years ago to Dunbar and Masure.

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Deborah Wright is running unopposed for reelection as village president, a position which she’s held for four years. Wright was a village trustee before running for village president.

Wright said Friday that she would be in favor of the village using some of the surplus to address some long-standing capital projects, but one thing she would not be in favor of is restoring staffing to the village police department.

“I think six full-time officers is a good size for a village our size,” said Wright.

She said the audit firm has been strongly in favor of the village — and the town — having a surplus on hand for emergencies, or lack of tax revenue. It hasn’t always been financially possible, she said.

Wright said the audit from RHR Smith provided the village with the “first firm numbers” that the village has had in the last two years or more, which official attribute to problems under Finance Director Shannon Burbela.

“Now we can feel confident about it,” she said. “We didn’t trust the numbers for about two years,” she said.

Burbela, hired in Deceber 2018, left the town of Rockingham and village of Bellows Falls in June 2021 after a critical audit was released, and the town brought in consultants to straighten out the mess left behind.

Gilman said there were many problems, which the audit firm had outlined in its audit management letter.

Many of the problems, Gilman said, were repeated in the town of Rockingham’s books.

“Cynthia and Alyssa did a really good job cleaning things up,” she said, referring to Cynthia Stoddard of New England Municipal Resource Center and Alyssa Harlow, the town’s new finance director. While Stoddard and Harlow found no missing money, Gilman said there were problems with employees’ withholding income taxes, lack of documentation, sales taxes being collected from the village, and improper posting of the budget in the village’s software system.

“I feel pretty confident we won’t have some of these repeating,” Gilman said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.