Bellows Falls trustees eye level-funded budget

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BELLOWS FALLS — Village trustees made one thing clear Tuesday night: they would like to see a proposed level-funded budget from village officials later this year.

The board went over a six-month update on the 2018-2019 budget, and heard from the village's new finance director, Shannon Burbela, that the village's spending was on track to end the year with a balanced budget. Burbela told the trustees there are two areas that would need attention: health insurance premiums and the pension funds contribution.

"There's nothing significant to know," she said, summing up.

The village trustees pored over line items in the budget summary, which showed some areas were way overspent.

Village Trustee James McAuliffe said he was concerned about overspending on legal fees and the village counsel, noting the spending already stood at 51 percent of what was budgeted.

"I really am concerned, you've got to manage that," he told Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison and Burbela, who started work only last month. Harrison started in July.

Burbela said she was trying to reduce her reliance on the New England Municipal Resource Center, the village's consulting firm, and she said she believed she would only need its help for another eight-hour day.

Village President Deborah Wright said that while she certainly supports the goal of a level-funded village budget, there are a lot of things working against it: the cost of health insurance and the union contracts with village employees that must be honored. But she noted that the fire department's budgeted allotment for call firefighters was over budget, and stood at 76 percent of the annual amount budgeted.

Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis said he believed the problem was a matter of coding, since the call firefighters were putting in for training time, as well as regular pay.

Wright said that spending for all uniforms — fire, police and water and wastewater departments — were also all over budget.

Resident Paul Reis said village residents can't afford another increase, and that he and others are working as a group and might be seeking a $100,000 cut to the $1 million village budget. He said after the meeting his biggest concern was the cost of the village police department. Earlier in the meeting he had criticized the mileage expenses of the police department, which patrols an area that is just over a square mile.

"It's not adding up to me," he said.

Police Chief Ron Lake defended the mileage spending, saying his officers were constantly patrolling the village. He said the officers do not keep a daily log of each vehicle, per shift.

When it's below 32 degrees, he said two cruisers were always idling.

He said the three main police cruisers had anywhere from 50,000 to 97,000 miles on them.

Village Trustee Jonathan Wright reiterated the need to keep budget figures under control. "We need to pay very close attention over the next six months," he said. Level funding, he said, would be a "very difficult task."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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