Saturday February 9, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro ended fiscal year 2012 with a surplus, a recently completed audit has found, and the Selectboard is recognizing town employees for maintaining services throughout the year while keeping spending in line.

Finance Manager John O'Connor told the Selectboard at the Feb. 5 meeting that a professional audit was done and determined that the town was able to finish the year with money in the bank, even though the budget showed a deficit for 2012.

"We've been given a clean bill of health," O'Connor said.

The town showed a fund balance of $739,947 for the year, which was actually almost $1.17 million more than what was budgeted, because Town Meeting Representatives had approved a 2012 budget with a deficit of about $430,000.

The final unassigned fund balance in 2012 stood at just over $1.6 million, which O'Connor said put the town in a strong position to move forward.

The surplus was a result of a decrease in delinquent property taxes, refinancing two leases, employee vacancies in the police department, employee benefit cost savings and the delay of some public work projects due to Tropical Storm Irene.

Program costs were up more than $1.1 million, largely due to costs associated with the cleanup following Tropical Storm Irene.

While the public works department was busy in 2012, FEMA and other state and federal grant programs helped cover some of the costs, saving the town money on the budget.

Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray recognized the hard work of town staff, and also the oversight the Selectboard provided over the past seven years. Brattleboro's financial situation was much more dire a few years ago, and DeGray said the town had come a long way to end the year with money in the bank.

Copies of the audited financial statement are available in Town Hall.

-- The board also approved the formation of a Police-Fire Facility Committee to oversee the "financial and technical" aspects of the town's upcoming renovations to the police and fire stations.

The RFP for the project has gone out, and the town is hoping to start the work early in the spring. Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact the town manager's office and the Selectboard will choose the committee members. Sondag said she hoped a committee would be in place before the March 19 meeting. Sondag said she thought seven people should be on the committee, and also asked a Selectboard member to sit on the meetings.

-- Sondag also commented on the recent spate of fires in the region and reminded people to make sure the batteries in their smoke alarms were fresh. She said during one recent fire a working smoke alarm helped the residents get out of the house in time.

-- Peter Gaskill, from the Conservation Commission, came before the board to talk about a new trail the commission is trying to develop from Western Avenue to Greenleaf Street through Stockwell Park.

Gaskill said the commission has been working on the path and he was looking for support from the board to continue. The board unanimously supported the work.

-- The Selectboard discussed some its goals for the coming year.

Ken Schneck, one of only two board members who will be back next year, said he wanted to continue exploring ways of having the public interact with the board from offsite.

Schneck has been a supporter of using the Internet, and social media, to have people "attend" meetings from home and he said he was interested in seeing if there were ways to do that without violating open meeting laws.

David Gartenstein, who is also coming back to serve on the board, said he wanted to hear more from department heads throughout the year, similar to the new policy the board has to hear from committees and commissions throughout the year.

Chris Chapman recommended that the board stay closer in contact with legislators to find out what is happening in the Statehouse, and Dora Bouboulis said the board should improve its public engagement policy when taking on new initiatives and projects.

DeGray said he hoped the board would continue exploring new sources of revenue, following the recent defeat of the proposed 1-percent sales tax.

He said the town, and not only Town Meeting Representatives, should be allowed to weigh in on the issue.

He also asked the board to stay involved in the development of the Brooks House, which DeGray called a crucial part of downtown.

-- The board approved a parking spot swap with the Brattleboro Food Co-op which opens 15 spots in the Preston lot to the public, while moving 15 co-op spaces in the Elm Street lot to co-op employees.

-- In a rare procedural move, the board was asked to vote on adding an agenda item to the next meeting because the chairman and vice chairman could not agree on having the item on the night's agenda.

The board was asked if it was appropriate to discuss asking the Legislature to consider a local option 1-percent sales tax on gasoline.

The board voted 3-2 to allow the discussion at the next meeting.

Gartenstein and Dora Bouboulis opposed the question.

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