Petition for revote on Bellows Falls village budget is success
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | July 24,2013
BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls voters have a special village meeting in their future.
Bellows Falls Municipal Manager Willis “Chip” Stearns said Wednesday that a special meeting had been tentatively set for Sept. 19.
“It’s a successful petition,” Stearns said. “We have 60 days to call a vote.”
A petition with more than 100 voters’ signatures was submitted to the Rockingham-Bellows Falls offices Monday, seeking another vote on the Bellows Falls annual village budget of $1.8 million.
Voters had narrowly rejected the budget during the annual village meeting in May; a second vote in June on a reduced budget was successful. Trustees had cut a proposed ninth officer for the Bellows Falls police department.
Stearns said that Bellows Falls village trustees will meet Aug. 13 to set up the special vote and approve a warning, with the vote tentatively set for Sept. 19.
Stearns said it will be a two-vote process, with voters first deciding whether they want to reconsider the June 24 vote, which approved the budget, and if that is approved, then a new budget figure must be approved in a second vote.
“It’s all tentative, we have to go to the trustees first,” he said.
Stearns said if the budget is cut, it will create quite a headache. New tax bills have been printed and issued, and by the time the revote is held, the first quarterly tax payment is due.
He said it would cost upwards of $5,000 to hold the special village meeting and issue new tax bills, if the budget ends up being cut.
He said he had chosen a day where the Bellows Falls Opera House, which is located in the town hall, was free. The Opera House shows first-run movies five days a week.
At least one of the leaders of the petition drive, Jim Mitchell of Bellows Falls, said he favored cutting $500,000 from the village budget, with cuts targeted to the Bellows Falls village police and fire departments.
Mitchell said the town of Westminster operates a very active fire department for a much larger area with a smaller budget. And he said the town of Windsor, about the same size as Bellows Falls, has a police department with about half the budget.
Deborah Wright, a former Bellows Falls village trustee who lost her seat during the May elections, was also behind the petition drive. She said she felt her fellow trustees weren’t doing enough to control the village’s finances.
“It is the trustees who sustain the unsustainable, who continue to renegotiate with the union departments and meet the union’s demands, which fuel the approximate 96 percent of the swollen budget in the first place,” Wright wrote in an email.
“It is time for them to make the hard choices, take the corrective actions necessary to present an acceptable budget. We are the central district of Rockingham and we have the tools to make this a better, brighter community, if only the governing body would pick them up and use them,” she said.
During the two village meetings this year, most voters said they couldn’t afford the ever-increasing taxes in the village, asserting they had some of the highest taxes in the state.