Bellows Falls voters OK $1.7M budget

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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls voters rejected two moves Monday night during the annual village meeting — one to cut the $1.7 million village budget by $100,000, and another to change the way residents vote for the budget.

Both issues were defeated on near identical margins: 36-22 on the proposed budget reduction, and 35-21 on the Australian ballot issue.

Resident Paul Reis, who had made the motion to cut the budget, reacted in frustration after the results of the Australian balloting issue was announced.

"It's a shame," said Reis, who said he could no longer afford to live in the village where he grew up. He said he and some of his neighbors would have to put their homes up for sale and move elsewhere.

Village Moderator Paul Obuchowski had announced the 35-21 vote. "It means next year we'll continue as we have," he said to applause.

The $1.7 million village budget is not expected to raise taxes by much - less than 0.5 percent. The proposed operating budget was up 1.8 percent, or about $32,000.

Resident James Mitchell, who is one of four people running for two seats open on the Village Board of Trustees, had raised the issue of Australian balloting on the village budget in March, but had failed to gather many signatures on a petition.

But the trustees decided on their own to put it before the voters.

Residents spoke pro and con about the change, saying it was embarrassing that only 58 people had attended the meeting to decide taxes for 3,000 residents.

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By Australian, all-day secret balloting, more people would get to have their say.

However, the push for the status quo was equally strong. Longtime resident Dennis Harty spoke against the change, saying voters wouldn't have the ability to amend a budget - either add to it or subtract - under Australian balloting. He said the floor meeting is true democracy.

But Nancy McAuliffe, a former village president, said it was time for the village to change, noting that both the Rockingham school district and the Bellows Falls Union High School budgets are voted on by secret, all-day balloting.

On the budget issue, Reis and Mitchell said it was time to cut back on the police department's expenses, noting the vast majority of the village budget - $1.2 million - goes to the police department. Reis believes the 1.3 square mile village doesn't need 24-hour-a-day coverage.

Village Police Chief Ron Lake defended his department, and said having two officers on duty at all times is important for everyone's safety - including the officers.

"We're out there trying," said Lake. "It's not as easy as you think," he told Reis.

One resident, Thomasina Coates, said her home was burglarized last year and the Bellows Falls police responded and "did a fantastic job."

Voters also approved a special article to spend an additional $30,000 on "repairs and improvements" at the Bellows Falls fire and police building. The money will be used, along with about $20,000 already in the budget, to take down a chimney, repair the foundation, dig up and replace fuel tanks, and chose a new heating system for the 1984 building. While the building won architectural awards when it was built, said former Trustee Doug MacPhee, the building has given the village more than its share of maintenance headaches. Residents questioned Fire Chief Shawn McGinnis' plan to switch to a propane-fired furnace to heat the building, saying that Bellows Falls Union High School had recently purchased an oil-fired system, and rejected propane because of the costs. McGinnis said the matter would be researched before a final decision is made. Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison said the fire-police facility needs quite a few repairs and changes to make it more useful for the community, but she said the village would spread out the projects over the next several years.

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


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