BRATTLEBORO — Over the last two weeks, Selectboard members nailed down a budget and prepared a warning for Representative Town Meeting.
The proposed fiscal year 2017 operating budget was approved by the board on Jan. 19 after eight meetings between Nov. 10 and Jan. 12. Property taxes are proposed to increase by 1.5 percent from FY16, according to Town Manager Peter Elwell, while total expenditures and revenues are proposed to increase by approximately 3.7 percent.
A total reduction of $155,150 in expenditures was found since the staff's initial proposal was presented to the board on Nov. 3. That means approximately $290,000 less will need to be raised from property taxes since the original recommendation.
"There is specifically a reduction in the assessment paid to the Windham Waste Management District, a reduction in the transfer of solid waste because of the approval of reducing curbside garbage collection once every two weeks, a reduction in the heating oil line items throughout the various departments and also the electricity line items, and finally a small decrease in the Municipal Center's telephone line items," said Elwell. "Likewise, there is a net reduction in the revenue side because it's a balanced budget. So there's a $155,150 reduction in the total revenues and the way that's arrived at is a reduction in property taxes of $289,375 from what was proposed (on Nov. 3)."
The budget is offset by the board's decision to apply half of the town's available fund balance, $134,225, which is in excess of the town's standard practice of using 10 percent of the fund. The other half will be applied to the budget next year.
Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said the budget provides "essentially level service" from last year to this year, giving 2 percent wage increases to all town employees and allowing for increases in costs out of the town's control, such as health insurance. Elwell said efforts were taken towards getting on a regular equipment replacement plan, using cash rather than borrowing and investing in capital projects.
But the outcome of a special Representative Town Meeting on March 12, where a decision will be made around relocating the police station to Black Mountain Road, will determine whether additional funds will be secured for the project. The relocation was endorsed by the Selectboard last week.
"If we were to adopt and approve the police-fire option, which is to put the addition on Central (Fire) Station, to build a new West Brattleboro (fire) station and to buy the Black Mountain Road property to put the police station up there, we'd be looking at a 1.5 cent additional increase from 2016 to 2017," said Gartenstein, adding that altogether the increase would be by 3.3 cents. "Particularly in connection with the police-fire project, we're going to be under significant pressure to try and find ways to reduce the budget in the following year."
Just how that will look on tax bills will depend on the special meeting but also financing priorities, which Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland anticipates will come up at a Selectboard meeting soon.
"Once we know those, we should be in a position to amend the budget for March 19," he told the Reformer.
A special meeting saw warnings for March 1 and 19 approved Monday night. The first date will focus on elections for town officers, Town School District members, Brattleboro Union High School District directors and Town Meeting Representatives. Polling will happen at the Municipal Center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The second date is annual Representative Town Meeting, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Brattleboro Area Middle School. Appointments of town and school officials, treasurers and town attorney will be made. On the floor, representatives will be elected to the Capital Grant Review Board and the Town Finance Committee. Also, three trustees for the Brooks Memorial Library will be elected.
For Town Meeting Representatives in District 1, there are 16 openings for three-year memberships, one two-year term and four one-year terms. District 2 has 15 openings for three-year terms, one two-year term and a one-year term. District 3 has 15 openings for three-year terms and one two-year term. Voting will be done by Australian ballot.
Town Meeting Representatives will be asked to appropriate $449,225 from the Unassigned General Fund to go towards a retaining wall on Bonnyvale Road, repairing and refurbishing the swimming pool at Living Memorial Park and reducing the tax levy for the fiscal year.
For the downtown organization known as Downtown Brattleboro Alliance's budget, Town Meeting Representatives will decide whether $78,000 should be raised through special assessments for properties in the Downtown Improvement District. For Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies' budget, they'll be asked to authorize $25,000 from the town's program income fund which holds proceeds having to do with the state's Community Development Block Grant program. They'll also look at raising and appropriating $223,276 through special assessments within the Mountain Home Park Special Benefit Assessment Tax District for paying debt service on capital improvements involving water and sewer improvements at the Mountain Home and Deepwood Mobile Home parks.
Town Meeting Representatives will look at providing $10,000 to assist in Brattleboro Climate Protection efforts. Another article asks representatives to consider $120,000 to support human service programs such as AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, American Red Cross New Hampshire and Vermont Region, Boys & Girls Club, Brattleboro area adult day care provider The Gathering Place, Brattleboro Area Hospice, Brattleboro Senior Meals, The Family Garden, Green Mountain RSVP, Groundworks Collaborative; KidsPLAYce, Meeting Waters-YMCA, Senior Solutions, Southeastern Vermont Community Action, Turning Point, Vermont Wilderness School, Vermont Center for Independent Living, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire, Windham Child Care Association, Windham County Safe Place Child Advocacy Center and Southeastern Unit for Special Investigations, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Summer Food Program, and Youth Services Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Several five-year tax exemptions also will be sought for groups such as the Brattleboro Post 5 Little League, Camp Waubonong, Holton Home, Bradley House, The Family Garden and Rescue, Inc.