Bellows Falls, Rockingham once again consider merger

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(Host) The village of Bellows Falls and the town of Rockingham are once again considering a merger.

The idea has been considered periodically since the 1950s.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) With a single square mile of taxable property, the village of Bellows Falls has the highest municipal tax rate in Vermont.

Its residents pay taxes not only to the town of Rockingham, which contains the village. They also support a professional fire department, a police department, and a separate village government.

Jim Mullen is municipal manager for both the town and village. He says all of that is just too much for a square mile of real estate to support.

(Mullen) "In order to lower their taxes these services need to be town wide, town of Rockingham, which has 44 square miles."

(Keese) This spring the annual village meeting passed a motion instructing officials from both entities to explore the idea of a merger.

The committee had its first meeting this week.

But Muller says the idea isn’t a shoe-in. For one thing, easing the tax burden on villagers, would mean higher taxes for citizens outside the village.

And the people of rural Rockingham, as Mullen calls the rest of the town, aren’t necessarily convinced they need the services villagers enjoy.

And there’s the problem of the volunteer fire departments that serve the rest of the town.

There’s also an emotional aspect Mullen says.

(Mullen) "There’s always is the issue of you’re giving up your identity if you’re no longer a village. That’s not proven true. You talk about White River Junction and Quechee and wilder, even though those ceased to be villages in the early part of the 20th century.

(Keese) In fact, at least half of the villages that once existed in the state have merged into larger municipalities.

Stephen Jeffrey of the Vermont League of Cities and towns says villages sprang up in Vermont during the mid 1800’s.

(Jeffrey) "You would have the development of industries in certain areas. They would begin demanding things like paved streets sidewalks sewer water, when electricity came in street lights. And where the great proportion of the town was located in the rural areas and the farmers didn’t want to pay taxes for these things."

(Keese) Rockingham and Bellows Falls have studied merging repeatedly over the past 50 years. The idea was voted on once, and defeated in 1994.

But Jeffrey says that’s typical too.

(Jeffrey) "In most places it’s succeeded it’s failed on a number of occasions before hand."

(Keese) Jim Mullen says the vote could happen as early as November. But he’s not predicting how it will turn out.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.


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