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Bridgewater Broke

On Tuesday night, Bridgewater is holding a town meeting to decide how many firefighters and police officers will lose their jobs.

The town is having a hard time balancing its budget ever since residents voted down an override to increase property taxes.

To cut costs, the 350-year-old community has shut the doors to its public library and may also close its senior center. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports.

TEXT OF STORY

SOUND OF BOOKS DROPPING INTO BOOK DEPOSIT

CURT NICKISCH: Even after six-year-old Devon Welch slides a dozen hard covers into the book deposit outside Bridgewater's public library, he can still remember each title:

DEVON WELCH: The Shining Princess; Stink and the Stinkiest Shoes in the World...

NICKISCH: He read them all. His father, Rashad, is troubled that they're returning these books, but can no longer check any more out.

RASHAD WELCH: We got a lot of books. My kids like to read, I read to them as much as I can. You know, we're gonna have to work around it.

NICKISCH: Working around things is what residents here may have to get used to. To balance its budget, Bridgewater may also close its senior center and lay off up to seven police officers. Also on the chopping block: one of the town's two ambulances, which would affect response time to 911 calls.

911 DISPATCH: Bridgewater Fire, what is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, there's a baby that fell in the pool next door. I'm 30 Stephanie Lane, it's on the same side of the street.

DISPATCH: How is the baby doing?

WOMAN: I'm not there.

DISPATCH: Okay on the way.

NICKISCH: Two weeks ago, town emergency responders saved a drowning baby. But fire chief George Rogers says there will be fewer such rescues if he's forced to cut costs:

CHIEF GEORGE ROGERS: We had the resources in place that night, and that's why we had a good outcome. To be perfectly honest with you. People need to realize that we're a department worthy of their investment, and they need us.

NICKISCH: But they also need to save money.

Like many other towns around the Commonwealth, Bridgewater has struggled to maintain services when limited to two-and-a-half percent yearly property tax increases. Bridgewater officials asked for an extra two million dollars this year in an override. Residents said no. Now the town faces a revenue reality check that has many here singing the blues.

SOUND OF BLUES MUSIC

NICKISCH: On a bright blue Saturday recently, a band belted out tunes at Bridgewater's annual Autumnfest. Town resident Rick Cox said he's saddened that residents would not open their wallets a little wider.

RICK COX: I don't like paying taxes, but with kids, I want the town to run smooth, I want to feel safe, you know. And those are the things I think we're going to lose out on in the long run.

NICKISCH: But others here make no apologies for voting down the tax increase.

SUZANNE STEFANO-FEENEY: Something's gotta give.

In her biker t-shirt and knockoff Chanel sunglasses, Suzanne Feeney says she is sick and tired of city officials coming back year after year asking for more.

STEFANO-FEENEY: I'm not going to pretend how to run a town. But I know how to run a household. And I know what I make an hour and I know what my husband makes. And we spend what we have. You can't run to your boss and say, okay, I've overspent here, I need more money. That's not the way it works. You gotta cut! It seems pretty simple to me. Ha.

NICKISCH: The simple reality, says town selectman Christopher Flynn, is that health care, insurance and fuel costs have been rising much faster than two-and-a-half percent.

SELECTMAN CHRISTOPHER FLYNN: People feel like they can have very modest tax increases, or little bits here and there, and they'll always be able to do what they've always done. That's not the case.

NICKISCH: That's not lost on Bridgewater anymore. Residents here have already made one hard decision — not to raise taxes. Tonight they'll meet to make another: what services they're willing to do without.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on October 9, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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