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Departments disgruntled at Bridgewater cuts plan

BRIDGEWATER -- The Town Meeting decision Monday to come up with an added $1.5 million to fully fund the regional school district was a victory for school supporters, but it left every other department in Bridgewater anything but happy.

Unless Bridgewater approves an override -- which it has never done -- the additional school money will come out of public safety and several smaller town departments.

"What happened was devastating," said Mike MacDermott, president of the firefighters' union, referring to Monday's vote. "Now I challenge the same people who supported the school to hold to their word, and stand with us to put this town back together. Do I think they will? I hope to God they will. It's a shame it had to come down to a division like this."

A list of tentative cuts includes taking about $288,000 from the police department, $200,000 or more from fire, $260,00 from the highway department, hefty chunks from health, recreation, and veterans' services, and more than half the allotment to the Council on Aging and public library.

Fire Chief George Rogers said he's heard varying amounts for suggested reductions to his department's budget that go as high as $400,000. "That would mean 10 people, an ambulance, a station closed, and an unstaffed ladder truck," Rogers said. "There are serious consequences to this."

Lorraine Corrozza, director of elder affairs, said her budget for the last year was $142,000. If the suggested cuts are made, the senior budget may be reduced to $50,000. "I don't know how you can run a senior center on $50,000," Carrozza said. "We were just so saddened by Monday's vote. We're struggling here as it is."

Selectmen will meet at 8 a.m. tomorrow to determine the best date for a special town meeting -- possibly Aug. 20. Chairman Herbert Lemon said his panel and the Advisory Board are still working on a budget to present to voters. The amount will be contingent on an override, which currently hovers at about $2.2 million.

Town Meeting voters will be shown what budgets will automatically be slashed if the override fails. The override vote will most likely be held on Sept. 8.

Many in town believe an override won't pass in Bridgewater. Prior to Monday's vote, Selectmen Stanley Kravitz and Christopher Flynn said they were opposed to shifting the money to the school department. They said counting on an override to make up the difference was just too big a gamble. Other departments could end up devastated.

"This next town meeting will be a bloodbath," predicted former selectwoman Marybeth Lawton. She said local seniors will never support a tax increase. Voters defeated a proposal for a $2.9 million tax increase on June 16, Lawton said.

"It doesn't matter what they stick on the override. It could be $50, and we're still going to defeat it," Lawton said. "People can't afford it."

Police Chief George Gurley is now waiting to see what plan selectmen and the Advisory Board put together. "Right now I'm just totally devastated," Gurley said Tuesday. "It looks quite bleak. At this point, I sincerely don't know what we'll do."

Lemon, who has never supported a permanent tax increase until now, said the only thing officials can do is vigorously get behind the override. "Otherwise, we're going to send this town back to the Dark Ages," he said.

Advisory Board chairman Michael Berolini said all departments must pull together. Several have not supported past overrides, he said. "I think if the selectmen, Advisory Board, School Committee, and department heads all come unified behind a responsible override, the people will follow," Berolini said. "Nobody loses if the override passes. Everybody wins."

The Special Town Meeting on Monday that agreed to spend the additional $1.5 million to fully fund the school district that Bridgewater shares with more affluent Raynham drew a record number of voters. According to the town clerk's office, more than 2,100 attended.

It was also one of the most contentious meetings in town history. Residents became increasingly restless as officials tried to find seating for all. The main auditorium at the Rondileau Center could only accommodate 1,400. Others were channeled into the cafeteria, where they could hear the action in the main room, but could not offer their own comments.

The vote was done by secret ballot, with no discussion preceding it. Town Moderator Greg Lee told attendees the only other available option would have been to forgo any action that night, and continue the meeting to Saturday. Officials could then take a page from the Middleborough playbook and hold the session outdoors.

People instead chose to forgo discussion and move forward with the vote. The meeting still lasted more than four hours.

Christine Wallgren can be reached at CLWallgren@aol.com.

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