Bellows Falls voters to decide on ballot budget vote

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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls village voters will get to decide next month whether they want to approve the annual village budget by Australian ballot in future years. Currently, the budget is approved on the floor of the annual village meeting.

On a 4-1 vote, with only Village President Deborah Wright voting against it, the trustees agreed to put the issue on the village warning for the May 20 annual floor meeting.

Bellows Falls resident Jim Mitchell had started a petition drive earlier this month to put the same question on the warning for the village meeting, but failed to gather enough signatures. Mitchell is now running for one of the two village trustee seats up for grabs, saying his platform is to get the village budget voted by all-day balloting.

Wright said she wanted to increase voter turnout, but she ultimately voted against putting the matter on the village warning.

Wright said to have 50 to 70 residents, when there are 1,900 registered voters in Bellows Falls, decide a $1.7 million village budget, is discouraging. "I'd like to see more voters," she said. "The main purpose to me is attendance."

Wright said she is personally willing to pay for a banner to hang over the Bellows Falls Square to try and alert people to the annual meeting.

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Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison said there are many ways the village could get more people to attend the annual meeting, from providing refreshments to having children perform at one point in the meeting, or even provide childcare. If children sang or performed, it would bring their parents out, Harrison said. She said she had even considered hanging a flag outside of her window in the town office to draw attention to the day.

Trustee Jonathan Wright, who is not related to Deborah Wright, said moving the day or date of the village meeting might be a help. He said Westminster holds its annual town meeting on a Saturday, and has good attendance.

"It is awkward to have a meeting in May," he said. "It just disappears from everyone's thoughts," he said.

Harrison noted that the timing is set in the village charter, and that would have to be amended and approved by the Legislature. She said one concern she has is that the budget would be either approved or rejected, with no feedback from the voters about why. "It's all or nothing," she said, noting it could actually reduce discussion about the village budget. Now, she said, "everybody has a chance to talk."

Voting in favor of putting the issue on the village meeting warning were Trustees Stefan Golec, James McAuliffe, Jonathan Wright and Gary Lique.

Bellows Falls' annual village meeting is Monday, May 20, at 7 p.m. Election of village officers is decided on May 21 during all-day balloting.

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


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