BY JOEL SLUTSKY
BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – At the second of two public hearings before a vote on merger, the fact that the meeting took place on May 14 may cause an affirmative vote on a merger to be challenged. Villager Deborah Wright pointed out that, according to state statute the second public hearing would have to have taken place no less than five days before the merger vote on May 17 and the date of May 14 is in violation. When asked if the date of the vote could be changed, Selectboard President Lamont Barnett said it couldn’t as it is already warned. Vermont laws under Title 24, Municipal and County Government, Chapter 49, Merger of Municipalities, states: “Two public hearings on the proposed plan of merger shall be held at intervals of two weeks in each of the areas involved. The later hearings shall be held not less than five days before the meetings referred to in section 1485 of this title.”
Among the many statements elicited during the hearing were:
Villager Doug MacPhee defended the merger by saying, “If you live in the village you pay twice for the office staff, you pay a village and a town tax, as well as twice for the Rockingham Fire Department.”
A question about the merger consequence for TransCanada elicited a statement by Barnett, “The hydro facility has fought us in court every chance they got; we have spent close to one million dollars trying to avoid any tax reduction in revenue from this property.” TransCanada would benefit from the merger, with a tax reduction totaling about $320,000. Those taxes would be transferred from the taxpayer to other outlying taxpayers.
Villager James Mitchell said, “We can’t afford the merger; it should go down in flames.”
Saxtons River and Town of Rockingham resident Joel Love asked who was responsible for the financial numbers for the merger budget and Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said he was and he then presented them for approval.
When a question was asked about the merger’s effect on the Town of Rockingham, Selectboard member Josh Hearn said that the people in Rockingham can expect a $370 increase for every $100,000 in value of their property. During the first year of merger the tax rate for the village would go down by 30 cents and for the Town of Rockingham it would go up by 37 cents.
Villager Brad Weeks who has been following merger for 30 years and served on two merger committees said, “We don’t need ten people making decisions for the Town of Rockingham and the village as it can be easily done by five Selectboard members.”
Under the merger, the Bellows Falls Village Corporation would merge into the Town of Rockingham and would cease to exist as a political entity. The Bellows Falls Police Department would become a town department named the Rockingham Police Department and be funded and budgeted by the Town of Rockingham. Upon the date of merger the Rockingham, Bellows Falls and Saxtons River Fire Departments would become Town of Rockingham Departments. All three fire departments would continue in their current status and be funded through the Town of Rockingham budget process.