BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard has finished its work on the proposed 2015 budget, and the municipal tax rate could jump by 8.7 cents over the current rate of $1.138 if Town Meeting Representatives adopt the budget at the March 24 Annual Meeting.
The board held its final budget work session early Friday morning and agreed to move ahead with the $16.3 million spending plan. The Selectboard will vote on the budget at its meeting Tuesday night and then it will be up to Town Meeting Representatives to give final approval.
The budget includes an expected $740,566 bond payment on the police-fire stations renovation project. That bond payment adds about 5.5 cents, which is included in the 8.7 cents tax increase.
The board also is likely to vote on a proposed Town Meeting Day Australian ballot warning that asks Brattleboro voters if they want to support a 1 percent local option tax to help offset payments on the police fire project. That vote would be nonbinding as only Town Meeting Representatives would be able to adopt the local option tax. But Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein, who supported the local option tax before it was rejected at the Oct. 20, 2012 meeting, said taxpayers should get a chance to weigh in on the proposed tax.
A local option tax would put an extra 1 percent charge on some purchases at Brattleboro merchants. The new tax could help raise about $660,000, which would offset most of the bond payments over the next few years.
The board is also likely to vote on putting that question before Town Meeting Representatives again at the annual meeting this year, which would follow the Australian ballot to be held on Town Meeting Day on March 4.
The Selectboard worked with interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland over the past few months to cut as much from the budget as possible without affecting services.
Without the police-fire station project the tax increase would be a little over 3 cents.
Gartenstein said when the board first saw the proposed budget it stood at about $16.7 million. During the budget sessions there were reductions made to proposed paving and sidewalk projects.
There might be longer lines during elections this year because the town clerk's office received less money than was requested and the lister's office will close a few extra days over the course of the year.
But Gartenstein said the board did not go so far to cut down on crosswalk painting or reduce the number of hours the Brooks Memorial Library would be open next year.
"The board came up with a budget that included cuts that would have the least adverse impacts on the residents of Brattleboro," Gartenstein said. "Everyone on the board thinks the tax rate is too high, but any further cuts would adversely effect core services."
Moreland said he worked with each department head to look for savings, and many capital improvements and purchases were put off to save money this year.
"Each department head takes his or her responsibility to this community very seriously, and when you are looking at their budgets, any cut represents a reduction in providing those services," said Moreland. "This budget, as it stands, has been cut to the bone and there are not many more areas where we can go."
Moreland and Gartenstein said they are going to continue talking with local legislators about enacting a statewide funding source for economic hubs like Brattleboro that have to support infrastructure and public safety programs that serve those who work and shop within the municipality but who do not pay taxes.
And Gartenstein said the board is also going to investigate the options of starting a fee-for-service program for non-profit organizations that rely on the Department of Public Works and the police and fire department, but do not pay taxes.
"People want us to remove the snow. They want us to plow the roads. These are core services that we have to provide," Gartenstein said. "The board is not happy with an 8.7 cent tax increase but this is going to be up to Town Meeting Representatives to decide if we can afford this."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.