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Emergency forces postponement of forum

By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

HAMPDEN The turnout was good, but an emergency cut the meeting short.

Richard Jones, vice chair of the town's Board of Appeals and a member of the citizens group which hosted the open forum on Sept. 21 at Thornton Burgess Middle School said between 150 and 175 people attended the meeting to discuss the impact of the FY06 budget cuts on town life and services.

A successful "no" vote on a Proposition 2 1/2 override ballot question this past spring resulted in the closure of the Hampden Senior Center and Public Library, as well as cutbacks in the Recreation, Police and Highway Departments for fiscal year 2006, which began July 1, 2005.

"The people were very interested ... there were so many people there," Jones said. "We were very pleased with the response."

In addition to town residents, members of several town boards and Representative Mary Rogeness were on hand to hear complaints and ideas about how the town should proceed for the 2007 budget process.

Unfortunately, the first speaker, Larry Smith, father of town Selectman James Smith, collapsed shortly after he began speaking to the need for the town to develop a long-range spending plan.

"It required a full medical response ... CPR, the defibrillator ... ," Jones said.

Smith was transported by ambulance a local hospital.

Jones commended Sergeant Joe Henry, who was in attendance at the meeting, for his quick response to the situation.

"We are all complementary of how he conducted himself," Jones said.

Following the incident, Jones said a decision was made to adjourn the meeting.

"People were pretty much devastated by what had happened," he said.

The next open forum on the town of Hampden's budget process will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Thornton Burgess Middle School.

"This was not intended to be the only meeting," said Jones of the abbreviated evening. "We [planned] to have future meetings to discuss where [the town is] with the budget, and where the state is with their budget, so people will understand the budgeting process."

The goal of the forums is to educate townspeople about the budgeting process, and develop a FY07 budget that people can live with.

"We're not here to fight with the government, but to work with the selectmen and the advisory committee to produce a budget that everyone will understand and support at [the] Town Meeting," Jones said.

"Sometimes, in a small town, people just don't know what's going on unless you get them in a room and talk about [the issues]," he added.