Trustees looks at village financials, considers vote on retail cannabis

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Feb. 23, the Bellows Falls Village Trustees discussed the budget and cannabis retail.

The Trustees began their meeting by looking at their financials to date. Municipal Manager Scott Pickup announced that AT&T was abandoning their cell tower and the village had received their last lease payment. Pickup said the tower had been installed less than 10 years ago and that Development Director Gary Fox was researching other tenants.

Looking over the financial report, James McAuliffe asked where the revenue transfer was, and Finance Director Shannon Burbela explained that because there was no revenue, she had removed the expense. McAuliffe said that it “doesn’t seem like proper accounting.”

Burbela agreed to add the revenue and expense back into the water fund, and said, “It’s actually an additional entry,” and the auditors said it “was not needed.”

McAuliffe also asked about the lack of Covid-19 related reimbursements and how the refunds would affect the village budget. Burbela explained that she would have had to apply for two grants for separate accounts for both the town and village. Instead, she developed one Covid-19 allocated account within the town. Burbela continued, “You don’t see any expenses in the Police budget for the cameras,” because they were expensed through the Covid-19 account.

McAuliffe requested to see the breakdown of village expenses that were funded by Covid relief. Pickup agreed that would be shared with the Trustees.

Retail cannabis was also on the agenda for the meeting. The Legislature passed a retail cannabis bill last year, and Village President Deborah Wright questioned whether the Trustees should add a vote to allow businesses to sell cannabis in the village and whether to include a local option tax.

Wade Masure questioned whether the wording of the bill and said the municipality could choose to opt in and whether the town was required to vote on the approval of retail sales.

In regards to taxing retail cannabis locally, McAuliffe said he was “personally against a tax” and Wright agreed.

Stefan Golec agreed retail should be the “people’s choice,” and neither Golec nor McAuliffe supported imposing a tax that would affect other retailers in the village.

Pickup clarified that without the local option tax, they would not be eligible for the additional revenue.

Jeff Dunbar said he wanted to maintain the “health and vitality of our current businesses,” but was curious whether “revenue projections [were] met and sustained” in communities where a local tax was added.

The Trustees agreed that retail should be decided by voters and to discuss it further with the Selectboard at the next Joint Board Meeting before adding it to the Village Warning.

Wright announced that March 3 at 11 a.m. FACT TV would host information on autonomous vehicles. On March 11, a meeting is scheduled to provide residents more information on the self-driving vehicle program in Rockingham.

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