Trustees discuss police budget, rate increases for wastewater

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the Bellows Falls Trustees discussed finances and fall rate increases for both wastewater and water departments.

Finance Director Shannon Burbela explained $55,000 in Bellows Falls Police Department salary and payouts was the impact of police turnover. She reminded the board they had directed staff to fix those issues and three positions – the Police Chief, Dispatch, and another officer – had to be filled while the employees were out on paid or sick leave.

Burbela said, “Once an employee leaves…vacation and comp bank gets paid out in full on their last paycheck,” but insisted they were one-time costs.

Wade Masure asked, “Are we set up to cover them?” Burbela hoped there would not be “that much turnover” in the future, but currently they budget line-by-line. She recommended offering buffers for the next budget cycle.

James McAuliffe reminded the board, “We are collecting taxes, and we have to charge [taxpayers] for whatever we budget.” He mentioned overtime was over budget and wanted to convey to department managers, “We want [you] to manage to [your] budget this year.”

McAuliffe asked about the computers purchased for Village President Deborah Wright and Selectboard Chair Gaetano Putignano. Wright explained the “computer allowed us to sign documents electronically” enabling them to sign warrants and payroll when the Town Hall was closed.

Burbela explained it was within the Interim Manager Chuck Wise’s spending ability and would be claimed under COVID-19 expenses for possible reimbursement.

McAuliffe said, “The number of discretionary moves by the interim manager are highly concerning.”

Burbela noted for the last three budget cycles they had been within budget. She requested the Trustees to “reevaluate the level of micromanaging…before you drive everyone out of the municipality.” The board agreed Wright should discuss spending with Wise.

Jeff Dunbar acknowledged, “We are asking a lot of our employees. [It has been] extremely challenging and way too many changes [have made] it even more stressful.” Both Dunbar and Stefan Golec commended Burbela, Wise, and town staff.

The Trustees passed a 3% increase for fall wastewater rates, which McAuliffe stated continues to operate in the red. Burbela recommended the board continue on the path RCAP provided and that rate increases should be maintained each year.

Putignano was concerned if Village residents should anticipate increases “for the rest of their life?”

Burbela explained that the rates were covering the debt service expenses and future payments were dependent upon added debt services for utilities.

The Joint Board meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 18 and September Trustee meetings are the second and fourth Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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