BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The deterioration of sidewalks in the Village of Bellows Falls continues to be a major point of concern among select and trustee boards and area residents. The issue was broached again at a May 9 trustee meeting. Interim Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe stated that the cost of a concrete sidewalk with granite curbing for Oak Street is $22,600, and the Select Board members will visit the site and consider this at the next meeting June 6. O’Keefe stated that should the Select Board approve the Oak Street sidewalk, the cost of Hadley and Oak street renovations will be over half of the budgeted amount for sidewalks.
Trustee member Evelyn Weeks asked if the town submitted a grant application for sidewalks as had been discussed at a previous meeting. O’Keefe disclosed that the grant application was put in for the stairs leading to the square but was not successful.
Select Board Chair Lamont Barnett stated that at a budget meeting November 19, 2016, the Select Board increased the sidewalk budget line item from $20,000 to $50,000, adding that “this is not nearly enough.”
Two agreements in particular relegated the responsibility of village sidewalks to the Town of Rockingham. In September 1981, a joint board agreement facilitated the orderly transfer of Village streets and bridge maintenance to the Town of Rockingham. Additionally an agreement at a January 16, 2007, joint board meeting stated, in part, “The maintenance and replacement of sidewalks in the Town of Rockingham Falls, Vermont, will become the responsibility of the Town of Rockingham until the year 2050 when further negotiations may be indicated.”
Villager Deborah Wright stated that the sidewalks should be an item on the joint board agenda for May 30 and maintained that the Select Board is not taking care of the sidewalks in Bellows Falls. Wright stated the $50,000 budgeted for the sidewalks and with the costs noted for just Hadley and Oak streets, the Board can see how much these cost are and $50,000 is not enough. Wright continued, “For years the Select Board has not taken care of the Bellows Falls sidewalks. The cost of just doing Oak Street indicates what it will take to make the village walkable again. The budget for sidewalks is $50,000 and will be the same for next year adding that the Select Board has a significant fund balance.” Wright added that wheel chairs and walkers can’t get through the broken concrete. At a previous meeting village resident Andrew Smith noted that there are a significant number of sidewalks that are now considered hazardous adding that this issue has been “kicked down the road for years” and it costs more each year. O’Keefe responded by noting that the Select Board had doubled to $50,000 a previously budgeted amount of $25,000 a year for sidewalks. O’Keefe stated that the Select Board’s heart is in the right place when it comes to sidewalks and pedestrian concerns.
Manager’s Report: The water/wastewater project on Chase, Hadley and Oak streets has been awarded to Nott’s Excavating and will start on June 1. O’Keefe stated that a letter is being distributed to all homes informing them of the start date. He related that the letter also is informing homeowners that should they wish to upgrade their own connections at the same time as this construction is going on, this could save them a considerable amount of money due to the fact that the road would be opened up. The letter states that the homeowner is responsible for all costs from the curb to their connection. The Route 5 North project has started and a temporary pipe is in place. Pipe bursting is scheduled to begin next week and the board members will be invited to view this process at some point. O’Keefe read a certificate awarded to the Bellows Falls Water Department from Vermont Rural Water Association for 25 years of continuous membership with this association.
Finance Office Fund Balance: O’Keefe stated that there was a prediction of a $240,000 fund balance in March, 2016. However, the audit for FY2016 showed a fund balance of $139,000. The trustees included a $58,000 deficit in the FY2017 budget that was approved by the voters at the 2016 annual village meeting. O’Keefe clarified that this budgeted deficit along with the change in municipal manager expenses, overtime in the police department and other pre-paid expenses left very little in the fund balance.
FY2017 YTD Budget Status: O’Keefe noted that being 83.4 percent through the fiscal year; over 100 percent of revenues were received. Expenses are at 89 percent in the General Fund, 84 percent in the Fire Department, and 88 percent in the police department. O’Keefe reported that the water and wastewater funds were in good shape. Wright asked O’Keefe if he had an estimate of any funds that would be left over that could go toward the fund balance. O’Keefe continued that no matter what funds remain, there is still the $58,000 budgeted deficit to consider and that all village departments are holding back on spending wherever they can. Wright stated that she believes this question will be asked at Village Meeting and whether the 2-cent increase being requested to replenish the fund balance could be dropped back to 1 cent. O’Keefe noted that the fund balance should be over $300,000 and the Village is in a tough spot and will do his best to answer all questions.
Other Business: Trustee member Colin James reminded everyone that the annual village meeting is Monday, May 15, at 7 p.m. to vote on the budget, and Tuesday, May 16, to elect Village officials at the Masonic Temple, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. James extended his thanks to outgoing board member Evelyn Weeks. Weeks stated that she has enjoyed her time on the board and found it very rewarding.