The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro.(Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Friday April 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Representative Town Meeting Finance Committee is asking the town for a full accounting of the public money spent on the Robert H. Gibson River Garden over the past 13 years.

The Finance Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to ask the town to look at any Brattleboro taxpayer money that was used to purchase or renovate the River Garden. The committee is making the request of Town Manager Barbara Sondag.

Building a Better Brattleboro announced in February that it would be seeking requests for proposals from groups, businesses or individuals who want to either purchase or manage the Main Street property.

BABB purchased the River Garden in 1999, but the downtown development group has been struggling to raise the money every year to keep the space open.

Since announcing that it would be seeking a new owner for the River Garden, BABB has released pages of information, including all of the financial information it has available, BABB Vice President Kate O'Connor said.

There has been about $806,000 used to purchase and develop the River Garden and all of that has come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state Legislature and the Vermont Downtown Program.

O'Connor says according to all of the research the group has done to date, no other public money was used.

"It's all on the website.


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We are not hiding anything," O'Connor said. "As far as we know there was no town money used."

BABB has an existing loan with USDA with a balance of about $134,000.

BABB says it has been losing between $11,000 and $16,000 every year, and that it takes about $50,000 to maintain the building annually.

The total deficit since the building opened as a public space exceeds $150,000, according to financial data.

BABB has been able to raise some income by renting the space during the year.

Requests for proposals will be accepted by BABB until April 30, and a committee will review them and interview the top candidates in May.

The selected plan is expected to be announced during the week of June 3.

According to information released by BABB as part of the request for proposal, the property is listed on the Grand List with a value of $236,320, while a Dec. 2012 market appraisal set the value of the building at between $350,000 and $400,000.

The Finance Committee has been debating the committee's role in seeking financial information on the River Garden.

The committee had been working on a number of reports leading up to Representative Town Meeting on March 23.

Now that Town Meeting is over the Finance Committee is able to work on other issues, such as the River Garden funding.

Some Town Meeting members wanted the town to raise $78,000 through the property assessments within the Downtown Improvement District to fund the River Garden operations for the coming year while a plan could be developed to keep the property open to the public.

That article was defeated by Town Meeting Representatives.

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