Voters cast their ballots on Town Meeting Day in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Voters cast their ballots on Town Meeting Day in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO -- Tuesday night's non-binding vote seeking approval of a 1 percent local option sales tax passed by a slim margin, 438 to 402.

So informed by the 11 percent of registered voters who bothered to turn out to cast ballots, Town Meeting Representatives will officially vote on the local option tax at the March 22 meeting.

The local option tax was already rejected by Town Meeting Representatives at a special meeting in October 2012 when the $14.1 million police-fire renovation project was approved.

The former Selectboard wanted to adopt a 1 percent local option tax then to help pay for the project, but while the project was approved, the funding mechanism was not.

The Selectboard put the question on this year's Representative Town Meeting Warning because the board wanted voters to weigh in on the proposal, and then give Town Meeting Representatives another chance to consider the tax following a townwide vote.

"Ultimately the decision whether to institute a local option sales tax is up to Representative Town Meeting members, who will vote on the tax on March 22," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "We placed the item on the ballot to get a sense of what the electorate wants. I anticipate the vote result will play an important role during the discussion at Representative Town Meeting."

Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kate O'Connor said when the Chamber Board talked about the tax at its February meeting, the members said they would be contacting Town Meeting members directly to encourage them to vote down the tax.

O'Connor said the vote will probably not make them change that plan.

"We respect everybody who came out to vote, but it was a very small number of people who came out and we don't know if the vote reflects the population as a whole," O'Connor said. "We want to contact the Town Meeting members to make them think about the tax, and make them understand the impact it will have on retailers."

According to the town Finance Department about $650,000 could be raised by instituting the new local option tax on retail purchases that are allowed under state tax code.

The Finance Department said the new tax would reduce the tax rate in Brattleboro by about 5.5 cents, dropping the projected 2015 municipal tax rate from 8.5 cents to 2.9 cents.

Food, medicine and clothing items are exempt form the local option tax.

The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors have come out against the tax.

"In an already competitive market for our local businesses, exacerbated by our proximity to tax-free New Hampshire and the increase in Internet shopping the Board of Directors of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce urges the voters of the town of Brattleboro and Town Meeting Representatives not to impose a 1 percent local option tax," the board stated in a press release before Tuesday's vote.

Article III, which calls on the Environmental Protection Agency and Pres. Barack Obama to enforce regulations to lower the carbon level in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million, passed 654 to 173.

In uncontested races for the Selectboard, David Schoales was chosen for a three-year seat and John Allen and Donna Macomber were selected for one-year seats. For Brattleboro Town School Director, David Schoales was elected to a three-year seat and Kim Price and Mark Truhan were elected to one-year seats. For Brattleboro Union High School Director, Russell Janis and Ian Torrey were elected.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.