Main Street in Brattleboro seen from the top of the Brooks House building. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Main Street in Brattleboro seen from the top of the Brooks House building. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Friday January 11, 2013

BRATTLEBORO - The Selectboard has finalized its work on the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, and has decided to use $765,000 of unused Capital Fund money to help pay for purchases next year to keep the projected tax rate down.

The board held a special meeting Thursday to complete the finance work and will formally adopt the budget at its regular board meeting Tuesday night.

The proposed FY 2014 budget is just more than $14.9 million, about $278,000 over the current year for an increase of about 1.9 percent.

The tax rate will still increase by an estimated 1.6 cents next year, but by moving the unused capital funding over to next year's budget the board was able to prevent the rate from rising even more.

Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray said it made sense for the town to use the excess Capital Fund money to purchase equipment next year with cash, saving the town money on debt service.

"I believe this is the prudent thing to do and will save the taxpayer a significant amount of money," DeGray said.

The board has been working on the budget for months and sliced away at proposed funding as much as it could.

A few weeks ago Town Manager Barbara Sondag recommended that the board consider taking some of the excess Capital Fund money to pay for this year's purchases. The town has about $1.6 million surplus in its General Fund, and about $880,000 left over in the Capital Fund.

Most of that money is from projects that came in under budget, including $175,000 that was left over from the Citizen's Bridge project.

Selectboard member David Gartenstein said that while he had concerns about using the excess capital funds at first, he said he now thinks it is the best way to keep the tax rate increase down this year. Gartenstein said it makes sense to use the money instead of paying debt service if the town had to borrow, and also as a way to pay for expenses this year without having to cut services elsewhere.

"This seems like an appropriate amount of money to apply to the budget," Gartenstein said. "It is a responsible way to defray expenses."

The town's Finance Committee supported the decision to use the excess Capital Fund money to help pay for some of next year's expenses.

The Finance Committee wants the Selectboard to use the $765,000 only for capital projects because the committee says taxpayers agreed to the former budgets which raised the money with that understanding.

The committee also recommends that the Selectboard come up with a capital reserve fund policy to guide future decisions about using the funds.

"A policy should make it more likely that the objectives of the fund are achieved," the committee wrote to the board. "A policy should create consistency of use and reduce the likelihood of unintended uses."