Sanders takes wraps off grants (Eagle Times)

By CORIN HIRSCH, Staff Writer

BELLOWS FALLS -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. chose the lobby of town hall to announce a $39,000 grant for the Bellows Falls Area Senior Center.

During a visit to the village Wednesday morning, Sanders said he has been securing money for senior centers across Vermont, and stressed the vitality of their services, especially Meals on Wheels and social opportunities. "They are worth what they do a million times over," he said.

The grant was obtained through the Council on Aging.

Resident Bea Fisher called the money "wonderful news," and said that the center offers exercise classes, line dancing and tax preparation.

During a Wednesday morning visit to Bellows Falls, Sanders also celebrated last month's $380,000 earmark for the renovation of the Rockingham recreation center, and visited the village fire department to see a new ladder truck that was purchased with a $475,000 grant he helped secure through FEMA.

Sanders first toured the recreation center six years ago, and since then has been "proud and impressed" by the persistence of the town in its years-long quest to raise money to renovate the center's pool and buildings.

"We say we want to keep our kids off drugs, we want to give them constructive things to do. But we're not doing enough to encourage kids to be healthy and to discourage them from hanging out on corners," said Sanders, explaining the importance of the grant.

Replacing the town pool is estimated to cost $900,000 and the full renovation of the center at $4.5 million. With the earmark, the town has $500,000 in renovation funds.

"He's given us a big boost, said Rockingham recreation committee chairman Raphael "Lefty" Lopez. "It revs a lot of people up. This is what we needed to get the morale of the town going."

"We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," added Tom MacPhee, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board.

The recreation committee is planning a May fundraiser in the hope that renovation work can begin this fall.

Next, Sanders visited the Bellow Falls firehouse to deliver a symbolic $475,000 check to Chief Bill Weston.

Chief Weston said the department had applied for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant for three years before winning it last fall. The previous ladder truck was more than 40 years old.

"We were very lucky," he said of winning the competitive grant. "It felt like hitting the lottery."

Last week, Sanders introduced legislation to improve the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. The legislation would call on the Department of Homeland Security to provide matching funds to state and local governments to support incentives aimed at recruiting volunteer firefighter and EMS personnel.

"You can't have a strong community without a strong fire department and without a strong police department. The idea of cutting back on fire services is unacceptable," said Sanders.

Next month, Bellows Falls voters will consider whether to switch from a paid to an all-call fire department.