BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham is one of the few towns that is holding a floor meeting during this pandemic Town Meeting, but with a few big changes.
The biggest change is that everything will be decided by Australian ballot on Tuesday, from races to the town budget to appropriations to service organizations. Usually, only the races are decided during all-day Tuesday balloting, with everything else decided Monday night in person during the floor meeting.
The Rockingham Select Board held a pre-town meeting in the Bellows Falls Opera House on Thursday evening, with some residents attending in person following social distancing rules, and others attending via Zoom.
One of the most pointed questions came from longtime resident Douglas MacPhee, who questioned the funding for Meeting Waters YMCA.
The non-profit organization does good work for area youth, MacPhee acknowledged, “but they left us with a derelict building.”
MacPhee was referring to 68 Atkinson Street, which was the longtime home of the local YMCA, but the organization sold it for $1 to a local man, Christopher Glennon, about four years ago.
Meeting Waters has requested $5,000 from the town of Rockingham this year, along with about a dozen social service groups or organizations, ranging from the Visiting Nurse Association, the Bellows Falls Bike Project (level funding of $5,000), and the Bellows Falls Senior Center.
Glennon’s plans at restoring the old Methodist Church into a community center have come to nothing, and the large building’s deterioration has been a constant concern of not just the Rockingham Select Board but the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees.
The trustees have been battling Glennon over the building, and have surrounded the building with barricades and fences to keep residents and children attending the nearby Central Elementary School safe from falling debris.
Gaetano Putignano, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, acknowledged MacPhee’s question, noting it had come up each of the four years he has served on the board. Adding to that, he said, he believed Meeting Waters had moved its office out of the downtown.
MacPhee questioned why all of the area social service agencies, including Meeting Waters YMCA, were lumped together as one article, and thus voters can’t vote on them individually.
This year, the social service agency article totals about $92,000, which MacPhee also questioned.
Shannon Burbela, the town’s finance director, said that next year all of the agency requests will be voted on individually. Once every three years, she said, the requests are voted on individually, otherwise, they are grouped together.
MacPhee praised the various organizations that are requesting funding, but he questioned whether taxpayers should be forced to support them, and that the organizations should raise their funds elsewhere.
He noted he had served on the board of several of the organizations.
In addition to MacPhee’s question, Saxtons River resident Ellen Howard asked about where she could get the town’s audited financial report, and she noted the deadline for that report was Friday, according to state law.
An audited report must be available to residents 10 days before town meeting, said Howard, a retired longtime town employee.
Town Manager Scott Pickup said the audit would be late, but would be available before Town Meeting. He said that he had met with the auditors earlier Thursday, and he noted things were behind schedule because of the pandemic.
Howard noted that the pandemic hadn’t forced the town of Chester to do its audit late.
Pickup said the audit report would be posted on the town’s website as soon as it is completed, and a print out would be available on March 1, the Town Meeting business meeting, or available in the lobby of the Town Hall.
Putignano and Pickup urged residents to call the town clerk’s office to request their absentee ballots, and to be sure to sign the outside envelope. If it isn’t signed, Pickup said, the vote won’t be considered legitimate.
Putignano said that according to state guidelines, the Opera House can hold 75 people, spaced out, and wearing masks. But he said that residents also have the option of attending virtually, via Zoom teleconferencing.
Completed absentee ballots can be dropped off at the Town Hall, or brought to the Masonic Temple on Tuesday, March 2, during in-person voting, Putignano said.
The floor meeting Monday, March 1, at the Bellows Falls Opera House starts at 7 p.m. Voting at the Masonic Temple in Bellows Falls on Tuesday, March 2, is from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Additional information about Town Meeting can be found at www.rockinghamvt.org.