PERU – The Peru Board of Selectpersons has voted to remove the Friends of Peru Elementary School’s request for $10,000 from the warrant for the annual town meeting in June.
The move has some residents and board members wondering if the vote represents the will of those who live in Peru.
The FPES building acts as a community center for the town, providing various services and activities such as the food pantry, fitness programs, support groups, and more.
“It’s the most valuable thing we have in the town,” said FPES President Nick Waugh.
In 2011, the town voted 394-226 to approve the Peru Board of Selectpersons to lease the building to FPES, with the intent to create a community center. The article stated that the move would not involve any taxpayer funding.
“The FPES have maintained since their inception that their aim is self-sufficiency, yet every year they ask for another $10,000, most of which goes to heat the old school building,” said Gail Belyea, vice chairwoman of the Peru finance committee.
But Waugh said their only hope at self-sufficiency, the consignment shop within the center, was taken away after a fire marshal’s inspection found safety code violations within the building, and the wrong type of use permit.
Waugh said a few months prior to that inspection, Peru Fire Chief Bill Hussey conducted his own inspection of the building, and found everything to be in order, but he was using an old code book.
“People think we’re just trying to scam along, but we really did try to do everything by the book,” said Waugh, who was not aware of the selectboard’s decision to remove the article from the warrant until contacted by the Sun Journal.
The director of the FPES building, Yvonne Allen, said the board voted to take the article off the warrant last year, too, but the FPES group was able to get it back on with a petition.
“I love the community, and want to see a place where kids can come and use the library, and where people have a place to meet and connect,” said Allen. “We try to get the selectmen to work with us, and be proud of having something that most communities don’t have, but it’s a constant battle.”
Board member Carol Roach said she believes the town should be able to vote on the issue.
“I feel strongly based on past votes and recent verbal declarations that most citizens want the ability to voice, through their vote, their support or lack thereof of FPES’ continuing operation of the community center,” said Roach. “I further believe that a Board of Selectpersons that votes to deny a citizen request that does not attempt to do anything illegal, violates the constitutional rights of citizens to vote their conscience.”
But Selectman Kevin Taylor, and liason for the FPES, said the town is struggling financially.
“Our budget is way out of hand right now, so we’re trying to skimp and save on pennies,” said Taylor. “We’ve sent out letters to many non-profits saying we can’t donate.”
Taylor was one of the three selectpersons that supported the motion to remove the article from the warrant. The motion was made by John Witherell, and seconded by Raquel Welch.
Selectpersons Larry Snowman and Roach voted against the motion.
Both Witherell and Taylor said “alternative options are being looked into” in regards to funding the community center, but would not elaborate further.
To date, the town has given $53,000 to the community center – voting on the $10,000 article seven times since 2011, and approving it five times.
The Friends of Peru Elementary School building in front of the Town Office on Main Street. (Liz Marquis/Sun Journal)