Fire District Voters Say ’No’ To Neon Art on Bridge of Flowers

West County News - Clark Johnson

Managing Editor

There will be light reflecting off the Deerfield River below the Bridge of Flowers but it probably will not be red and blue neon. A request by a local neon light artist, Tony Palumbo of Colrain, to install lights on the five arches of the popular tourist attraction in Shelburne Falls, was soundly defeated at the polls and on the annual meeting floor by members of the Shelburne Falls Fire District, on Monday, April 9.

The two water commissioners had earlier voted against the proposal, because, as water commissioner Frank Field said, 11 we saw no financial gain but some disruptions. We saw no benefit to the district."

That was the opinion of the vast majority of the water district members who came out in large numbers to the polls during the afternoon to defeat the nonbinding referendum question by an 82 to 19 vote. Although no hand vote count was taken at the annual meeting at Buckland Shelburne Elementary School that evening, the vast majority said "no" to the project.

Mr. Palumbo had hoped to begin installing the temporary art in June 2003. It would have been kept on the Bridge of Flowers for 13 months then removed.

"I feel sad for the art community. I may try it again next year and try again to explain what I had hoped to do. All I really wanted to do was show the Bridge of Flowers in a different light," said Mr. Palumbo after hearing the results of the vote. "It's too bad for the artistic and business community of Shelburne Falls and Buckland. We were not allowed to take the lead in free and innovative expression. ("Variations on a theme.") It's the secret of all good art and music. They surely missed the boat on this one." He did not attend the annual meeting.

Ted Merrill, of Shelburne, said the lights would not be "appropriate historically" and would set a precedent "we do not need." Shelburne Police Chief Mark DeJackome also objected, saying that the lights could be a public safety issue and raise problems with extra tourists in the village at night when there are few police officers on duty.

But Mr. Palumbo's art project had supporters. John Taylor, former fire chief of the district, said "I trust his artistic taste and support the idea. It is not a crisis and is only temporary. Another district member, Amy Love, said it would not cost anything and urged fellow voters "to support new ideas."

The issue of the neon lights was a big draw to the polls and the annual meeting. Janice Jefferson, clerk of the district, said that only a handful of people normally go to the polls to elect new officials or attend the annual meeting.

Besides the neon light question, voters at the annual meeting approved the operating budget for 2002 that showed a 5.1% hike in the costs to district members. The total operating budget for 2002 is $283,584.

While most of the articles passed with little or no discussion there was an attempt to amend an article to move $100,000 from free or available cash into a stabilization account. The amendment asked to place $50,000 of that amount into the account and use the other $50,000 to reduce the district tax rate.

Water commissioners said the new account would help defray future costs to the district when a new fire station is built. "It would be only a short term effect if we used $50,000 to reduce taxes," said Mr. Field. "We have some major costs coming and don't want to take a big hit all at once."

Another article asked to spend $5,000 to help in the application of a new federal grant program that will match money on a nine to one ratio to buy fire fighting equipment. That article was passed unanimously.

More than 100 voters turned out at the polls during the afternoon and elected Sharleen Moffatt as a write-in candidate for water commissioner. Ms. Moffatt will fill a vacancy created earlier in the year with the resignation of one of the three commissioners. She received 16 votes. Other officers elected were John Shippee for assessor, Gregg Gilmore for moderator and Ray Scott for auditor.