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BELLOWS FALLS — Village President Deborah Wright easily won reelection Tuesday, but not before a surprise write-in challenge from former Bellows Falls firefighter John “Steve” Cenate.

Wright had 79 votes, but there were 25 write-in votes for Cenate, and a scattering of write-in votes for other village residents.

Also winning reelection were trustees Jeff Dunbar and Wade Masure, who easily outdistanced challenger Jonathan Wright.

Dunbar had the most votes, 126, with Masure at 102 votes. Jonathan Wright (no relation to Deborah Wright) had 42 votes.

The $1.6 million village budget, which was essentially level funded, was endorsed on a 117-23 vote.

A separate article to spend $268,000 to buy a new waste sludge dryer, for the village’s sewage treatment operation, passed 113-26.

The purchase of the dryer, to be spread out over five years, will add 4 cents to the village tax rate, the village president said.

The dryer, which is already in use at the sewage treatment plant as part of an experiment, is expected to save the village the cost of trucking liquid sewage to a landfill in northern Vermont. The dried sewage is expected to be used by area farmers, according to village officials.

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Deborah Wright, Dunbar, Masure and Jonathan Wright gathered outside the Bellows Falls polls Tuesday evening after the results were announced at the Masonic Temple, and all said the large margin of victory for the village budget was surprising, but also a result of low voter turnout. All said they had expected the budget to pass.

“It wouldn’t have been any different on the floor,” said Deborah Wright, a reference to the decision last week to return to the traditional village meeting, where the budget can be amended — and voted — during the floor meeting.

Masure said that COVID-19 and voter apathy seemed to be connected. “A lot of people were pointing to COVID” as an explanation for the low voter turnout, he said.

A total of 147 village voters, out of about 2,000 registered voters, came to the polls. But the number was about double the number of people who voted last year, during the second election affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next year, village voters will return to voting on the village budget on the floor of the village meeting, rather than voting on it by Australian ballot. Last year, during the village’s annual floor meeting, a small turnout overwhelmingly rejected maintaining Australian balloting on money issues. Candidates will still be elected by Australian voting.

A social media posting yesterday by a relative of Cenate’s asked for a write-in vote. “’It is time for a change,’” the posting, which featured a photograph of Cenate, said. Cenate was the deputy fire chief when he retired.

Other people getting write-in votes for village president were Dunbar, who received four votes, Paul Obuchowski, two votes, Dennis Harty, one vote, and Jonathan Wright, one vote.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.