Trustees vote to forgive delinquent bills for Robertston Paper Mill

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The Bellows Falls Village Trustee meeting April 24 commenced with discussion on delinquent water and wastewater bills. Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe noted that door knockers would be delivered Wednesday and Thursday to remind residents with delinquent water and sewer bills to pay as soon as possible to avoid the shut offs taking place May 7 though 10.

BFADC requested waiving fees for water and sewer for the Robertson Paper Mill. Photo by John Phelan.

The Bellows Falls Area Development Corp. requested to forgive the delinquent bills for the Robertson Paper Mill. Built in 1891, it was the longest living paper mill in the state before closing its doors in the 1980s. The BFADC purchased the mill in 2014. It was deemed unsafe for occupancy and was listed as a brownfield site. The BFADC, a nonprofit organization of local individuals who are not compensated for their time, has obtained over $1 million in grants and loans to demolish and clean up the property. However, none of the funding sources can cover the payment of the delinquent fees; furthermore, the delinquencies would impact funding.

Development Director Gary Fox, one of the BFADC volunteers, requested the fees be waived for this reason. Fox reminded the trustees that BFADC’s purpose was to help provide infrastructure for economic development.

Trustee James McAuliffe, also a member of BFADC, recused his vote but encouraged the Trustee Board to support forgiving the debt.

Deborah Wright expressed reservations on waiving the fees. She mentioned she was grateful for the time and energy spent by the volunteer board, but requested they come together to help pay the fees. Her reasoning was that residents don’t have the ability to waive their increasing water bills. Stephen Golec concurred with Wright, agreeing that residents would be signifcantly impacted by the present and future water bills.

Jonathan Wright, resident and business owner, agreed with Deborah Wright that increased water rates were affecting them all, but he warned the Board not to be shortsighted and to look toward the future. If the fees were not absolved, the grant money would not be available. The projects would be further delayed. He noted that in three to five years, the income generated will be a lot more than the fees if the site was made more viable for developers.

O’Keefe informed the Board that delinquent fees automatically place a lien on the property. Fox reminded the Board that grants require there are no liens on properties seeking funding.

Myles Mickle, village president, called to vote on the motion. The motion passed 3 to 1 in favor of the town forgiving the delinquent fees.

The next Village Trustees meeting is Tuesday, May 8 at 6 p.m. The Village annual meeting is May 15. Both meetings will take place in the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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