I would like to reflect some on the $14 million dollar bond vote ($20 million including interest) to not only renovate the current police station (along with the two fire stations) but to double its size. This while we are apparently unable to support one of the most important downtown spaces we have, the Robert H Gibson River Garden. What's wrong with this picture?
The town's debt load is currently $1,180,000 a year. If we go ahead with the Police/Fire station bond, that will add approximately another $671,000 to our town budget for the next 20 years. The wastewater sewer treatment plant is not even included in this figure, the tab for which will raise fees considerably over the next decade. Townspeople's water/sewer bill, which has gone up 15 percent over the past three quarters will continue to do so at about the same rate. Between FY10 and FY22, according to the Finance Committee report, the average household water and sewer bill will increase from $503 to $1,220.
I'd reiterate from an earlier letter that the charter needs to be changed to compel a bond of this size to have a full and open debate that all the town can be privy to, and which the entire voting public can weigh in on.
At the Town Meeting informational session we (Town Meeting Representatives) were told that if we go ahead with the bond vote as currently configured, the town will likely have to cut services starting next year. If this had been known at last year's
"Income sensitivity" was promoted as a magic bullet to relieve low-income households of the consequences of the bond measure. Yet the state, already hurting financially and with our legislators frantically trying to come up with ways to raise revenue, will carry the burden of this bloated bond. We will end up paying through higher state taxes, a higher school tax rate, and other means. Right now, Governor Shumlin is juggling numbers, asking we take from Peter to pay Paul, both of whom are hurting. Moving the finances of this bond onto the state's shoulders is no answer.
And in addition to all this, the town is embarking on a major rebuilding project while our national financial situation is on shaky ground known as "sequester." The cutting that will have to happen nationally is bound to impact us locally.
We must do something. In a casual survey of my district, I have found people to be on the edge of panic about the cost of living in Brattleboro. There are several options available -- proceed as if we are a wealthy town and able to afford this huge new bond; see if there is a way to vacate the bond vote; scale down the project and bond; or do the project and take out the bond funds incrementally with the hope that either our grand list will have a major expansion or some other source of revenue can be created.
While the last option seems the least painful, it also seems to me to be the least practical as it is unlikely the grand list will grow significantly in the next few years, and finding another source of revenue is equally unlikely. The most sensible solution would be to scale down the project, drastically, to cover the most needed renovations.
In light of the town's, the state's, and the country's financial situation, to proceed with the $14 million bond is foolish and reckless.
A huge new bond, and yet there are not enough funds to sustain the River Garden, a valued town resource, which may unilaterally be sold and taken out of the public sphere, without a public process. What is wrong with this picture? Citizens of the town of Brattleboro, many struggling to make ends meet but valuing our quality of life, are not in it.
Arlene Distler is a Town Meeting Representative from Brattleboro's District 2.