Town leaders need guidance on budget

Editor of the Reformer:

I was encouraged to wake up this morning to the news that the FY15 budget has been rejected by voters and ponder with trepidation what this means for the future of our town and its citizens. The way the referendum vote was presented does not give our governing powers any direction as to what we voted for, only what we voted against.

The cumulative impacts of higher cost of living, too many low paying jobs in the area, too much trust and/or apathy, and inadequate oversight and management during previous Town Manager/Selectboard tenures -- coupled with the lack and loss of for-profit businesses to bolster our tax base and the fact that so much of our town infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, physical facilities, etc.) needs serious attention -- has caused a perfect storm that’s rallied citizens to say enough.

While some may feel that a clear message has been sent, we need to be mindful that now is not the time to get back to our own busy lives, assuming Brattleboro’s leadership knows what to do.

When a large number of Town Meeting Representatives approve a budget that is publicly opposed by the town’s own Finance Committee and then overwhelmingly overturned by citizen vote, there’s a problem. While I have gratitude and respect for the job that the Town Manager and Selectboard members do, it’s clear to me that our structure no longer serves us as citizens.


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We’re too big with too many issues to address, and five votes, none of which is for the person actually responsible for running the town, does not give us adequate control over Brattleboro’s -- and by extension our own -- future.

Our direct link to town finances and budget is through our district reps. Unfortunately, we don’t have elected district reps; we have the illusion of electing our district reps. When was the last time there was a contested election in District 3? To be elected one has only to say "I’ll do it," because there aren’t enough people interested in running to even fill the slate, let alone have to know the nitty-gritty of what it takes to run this town, be able to read and understand the numbers and implications in a financial report, declare a position, and win a contested election.

We need a truly democratic process. A five-person, homogenous Selectboard and representation by district reps hasn’t served us for some time, nor is it going to in the future. Until changes are made at the foundational level of Brattleboro’s town governance structure, in the catchy phrase of Tony Robbins, "If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten." Awkwardly phrased, but it makes my point perfectly.

Ann Wright,

Brattleboro, April 18

Time to reconsider local options tax

Editor of the Reformer:

When the Selectboard has rewritten the budget for our Town Meeting Representatives, I wonder if they could include a second question for the reps regarding institution of a local option tax? The reps have rejected this tax two years in a row, though this Town Meeting Day voters supported the tax. It would be logical to ask them again, since they are being required to consider a budget they did not initially request that will cut into the town’s resources.

The local option tax is necessary in order to capture for public use some of the revenue brought to town by visitors and commuters. One percent is not a noticeable amount. It won’t make a bit of difference to all those people from Connecticut and Long Island I see shopping in Sam’s when I go in to buy socks. It won’t make any difference in Brown & Roberts -- it costs me more than a dollar in gas to drive round-trip from downtown to the nearest out of state hardware store (which doesn’t carry housewares, anyway) and I’d have to spend $100 to save that much, which I rarely do.

It seems to me our visitors appreciate Brattleboro more than some of us do. Brattleboro needs to find the self-esteem to require just a little public support from those who rely on us for entertainment, boutique shopping, fine cuisine and convenient places to gather for work and learning. If we don’t find a way to raise funds from these resources we will have to raise our property taxes or live with potholes forever.

Rebecca Bartlett,

Brattleboro, April 18

Time for new system

Editor of the Reformer:

The voters of Brattleboro have spoken. It is time to look at a change in the way our town is operated. The representative form of government has outlived itself. Representatives no longer speak for the majority of legal voters in the town as evidenced by yesterday’s vote. It is not the fault of the Selectboard, which worked hard to present a budget they believed the representatives would support. It is about each taxpayer having a say in how much money is needed to operate a town we can afford.

Please, let’s work to find a better way whether it is a return to the "old" town meeting style or voting to establish a mayoral form of government. If the representative form of government was so good, why didn’t any other towns adopt it? I know it will not happen overnight; a charter change must be approved in Montpelier, but we need to do something to better represent the taxpayers in town if we want to be able to afford to live here.

Anita Bobee,

Brattleboro, April 18

Democracy
in action

Editor of the Reformer:

On March 22, Town Meeting Representatives contradicted the March 4 vote of the people for the option tax resolution. In this case the reps were justified. It is still an example of democracy in action.

In 2012 the Selectboard campaigned for the tax and the Police-Fire Project together, but Representatives approved the project and rejected the tax to pay for it. In order to fund the project this year, the Selectboard directed public pressure onto the reps by putting a tax resolution to a vote of the people. As written by the board this sweetened campaign version of the tax would "defray the costs of the Police-Fire Project." The board knows that tax money goes into a general fund and cannot be designated for any particular project. Actually, to include such campaign language within binding legislation would be illegal, and it was not included in the version the reps voted on. Since the resolution was misleading, the reps were justified to disregard the peoples’ close vote.

The Police-Fire Project was widely discussed as a budget problem on March 22. The Selectboard -- meaning mostly Mr. Gartenstein and advisors who sit together at the meeting -- listed two supporting votes in defense of the project. The board did not mention the reps’ overwhelming vote in 2013 to cut the cost of the project. It was revealed that the board had directed the Police-Fire Oversight Committee to make only limited changes in the plan, and now the projected cost is still $14 million. Some reps proposed cutting project bond interest from the budget, and some wanted to reject the budget altogether, to discourage the board from excessive spending. The board argued that public services would be cut instead. The board claimed $5 million was committed to the project. Many reps have withdrawn their support for the project, and many spoke of strong public opposition. Since then, 56 reps have forced the board to let the people vote on the budget.

Everyone knows that the Police-Fire Project was not on the ballot, but it has determined the balance of town politics for more than a year. According to the director of the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank, the bond can be put to other purposes, and the application for the next $9 million can be cancelled. According to Paul Gillies, legal counsel to Brattleboro Common Sense, the people cannot force the Selectboard to alter the bond.

The Selectboard is going overboard with new ideas to guide us into this expensive project; ideas like cutting services instead of the project, a sham cost-cutting committee, a misleading resolution to manipulate the tax vote, and votes and revotes on the project and on the option tax. If all these votes are the democratic process, when will they put the Police-Fire Project to a vote of the people?

Kurt Daims,

Brattleboro, April 18