BF Village passes voting budget by Australian ballot in annual meeting

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Monday, June 15, the Bellow Falls Opera House hosted about 50 people for the Bellows Falls village annual meeting, and Tuesday’s election was held at the Fire Station where almost 273 people voted with 109 additional absentee ballots tallied. Two new Trustees won – Jeff Dunbar with 271 votes and Wade Masure with 128.

Article 4 was passed on Tuesday for the village budget of $1,510,048 with $1,444,099 to be raised by taxes with a 254-120 vote.

On Monday, James McAuliffe explained that fiscal year 2020 Police Department budget at $1.2 million with nine full-time officers was reduced for fiscal year 2021 to $977,000 with six full-time officers. He said, “Our challenge every year is to provide a level of service we feel taxpayers are looking for…We hope to achieve excellent police service at a reasonable cost.”

Tony James thought it “was a mistake to cut the [K-9]” and “gross negligence…when it was paid for for the year.”

William Morse agreed, “We need [the K-9] in Bellows Falls…It’s a firewall between those of us who make a positive contribution to this community and those that seek to take it away…I cannot support a budget without this service.”

Colin James asked about the overall cost, and McAuliffe explained that for a dedicated officer and canine vehicle it was roughly $100,000 per year. “We did not feel it was a good investment for our residents to bear.”

McAuliffe said that on average there were 14 drug-related incidents per year over the last five years and that “all towns around us rely” on the State Police Barracks in Westminster for K-9 services. Deborah Wright said that officers could “use other tools to catch drug crime…what we expect by our officers.”

When Moderator Paul Obuchowski read Article 6, “Should the voters adopt the annual budget by Australian Ballot,” at first there was no comment. Jonathan Wright said, “I find it unusual there is no debate.”

Doug MacPhee agreed with a vote that received the highest number of voters as possible.

Larry Clark said, “I am opposed. We give up the right for it to be our budget. If we do it from the floor, we can make it our own.”

Dennis Harty also opposed. “We can vote to lower or raise the budget… if it’s voted down, we have to have a special meeting that costs us at least $3,000.”

Charlie Hunter asked the Trustees whether they thought the budget vote by Australian Ballot was a good idea. McAuliffe favored it. “I think a lot of good people don’t come to the meeting, but they have a right to vote.”

Jonathan Wright said, “It’s a Vermont tradition…part of our job as a board is to facilitate discussion.” Stefan Golec said it “gives voters an opportunity to discuss and debate.” Deborah Wright’s concern was the lack of voter turnout and wanted “to see 10%” making decisions. Gary Lique said, “We work for you.”

On Tuesday, Article 6 passed 265-104.

Deborah Wright had explained if voters passed it going forward “we will need to look at our charter and alter the time frame” between the village meeting and election. “It would still make it our budget, and you would have input at the annual meeting.”

Bruce Bennett recognized Public Works Director Everett Hammond and said he “put a lot of effort in his last two months.”

The Trustees special organizational meeting took place June 23. The Joint Board meeting is June 30.

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