Bellows Falls passes budget at annual village meeting

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Monday, May 17, roughly 30 people, including village staff, attended the Bellows Falls village annual meeting held in the Lower Theater of the Opera House and via Zoom.

Moderator Paul Obuchowski outlined Robert’s Rules and quoted longtime moderator, Michael Harty, “We arrived as neighbors and friends, and we will leave as such.”

Village President Deborah Wright announced the 2021 report was dedicated to Geraldine “Gerry” Harty, born Nov. 21, 1918, and who has lived for 103 years on the same block. Gerry married Norman in 1943 and raised three sons, Michael, Dennis, and Thomas. Gerry has survived two pandemics, witnessed the building of the dam, and “is one special lady.”

Dennis Harty thanked the Trustees on behalf of his entire family for the dedication to his mother. He also commented, “This book should have the actual [numbers] in here… I don’t know how you can create or ask us to vote on a budget without knowing what we spent last year.” He expressed his hopes that it would be different next year.

Doug McPhee asked what projects were scheduled for the $40,000 in Public Safety Building repairs. Municipal Manager Scott Pickup explained they had scheduled a three-year program of projects: refinishing and repainting the front entranceway, parking lot improvements with the possible addition of a Sally port or area for impounded vehicles, and the third phase included elevator repairs.

Laurel Green, resident and chair of Sustainable Rockingham, applauded the sludge drying process at the wastewater plant and said that will help with costs. She wondered if the budget addressed the increase in population.

Pickup explained that primary concerns were the protection of their facilities that might be impacted by flood events, basically elevating sensitive equipment, but said this was not included in the current budget.

Pickup thanked everyone for following the latest Covid guidelines, explaining they just received their 16th amended guideline since March 2020. He highlighted the budget explaining that $1.654 million was raised by taxes in 2011 and this year’s proposal was $1.618 million. He mentioned in the last 10 years that the inflation rate averaged 18.84% and health insurance premium rates raised 5.22% per year. Pickup said workers compensation has reduced, building maintenance schedules have been set, and a tax sale this fall was discussed.

He commended the board and employees for their discipline and hard work to increase the fund balance. Pickup said this was important because it impacts the village’s ability to receive bonds, ultimately saving taxpayer money.

Village Auditor Pat Fowler said neither herself nor Tim Powers had a chance to review the audit and might have questions for Finance Director Shannon Burbela later.

Wright agreed she was discouraged by the lack of actual numbers. She anticipated that at the 2022 meeting they would provide the numbers needed for voters to “make logical decisions.”

She thanked everyone for their “blind understanding that we are doing the best we can to take care of this and corrections will be made for the following year.”

James McAuliffe commended the new municipal manager, saying, “We’ve enjoyed working with Scott and want to welcome him officially and thank him for the great effort he has made.”

On Tuesday’s vote at the Masonic Temple, 79 village voters passed the budget 55-24 of $1,618,500 with the amount of $1,593,500 to be raised by taxes.

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