BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard members met Tuesday night and approved their FY 2015 proposed budget, as well as a number of articles that will come before Town Meeting Representatives on March 22.
The board unanimously approved the $16.28 million general fund budget and the $1.38 million capital plan which will help push the tax rate up by about 8.5 cents.
Selectboard member Kate O'Connor said the board and town staff worked hard to look for ways to save money. She said she was disappointed with the projected tax increase that was going to come if the budget is approved as presented at Town Meeting.
"I don't necessarily like the number we came to. I don't think any of us do" O'Connor said. "We all hoped it would be smaller. I support putting the warning in for Town Meeting but I am not happy with our result. I am not unhappy with the work we put in to get there. We all wish it could be better."
The board held its last regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday prior to the deadline for setting the town meeting warning. Along with the budget the board also voted on a number of articles that have been discussed over the past few months.
The board voted 5-0 to ask Town Meeting Representatives to re-purpose the money that is in the town's Agricultural Land Protection Fund and use some of it to start an energy efficiency fund. Earlier this year the board talked about using the money in the agricultural fund to help pay for some of the town's projects next year. At that meeting most of the farmers who spoke said they thought it was a good idea, though there was some opposition to emptying the fund.
The board wants to use $50,000 to start an energy efficiency fund, and the board also wants to use the remaining approximately $45,000 for tax relief this year Town Meeting Representatives will vote on using the agricultural money for the energy efficiency project and for tax relief. The town started the Agricultural Land Protection Fund in 1985 to help farmers purchase property. The money has not been used in a long time and at the meeting Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said using the money to make energy efficiency improvements made sense.
"It seems to me that we need to be aware of changing needs and priorities in our community," Gartenstein said. "It was a significant priority when the agricultural loan fund was established, and it seems to me that it's an appropriate realignment of our priorities to recognize that money that has not been used and has just been laying fallow, can very effectively be used to try to make energy efficiency gains in our community."
The board was mixed on using some of the money in the Unassigned Fund Balance, or town surplus, to help reduce taxes this year. Selectboard member John Allen said the money in the fund was raised through taxes and he said it was appropriate to reduce that fund to offer tax relief this year.
"I know when you use money to offset a budget on a one time basis it's kind of a false impression you are giving," Allen said. "The Undesignated Reserve Fund is only there because of the taxpayers. I do think it is our duty to do everything in our power to lower taxes as much as possible. Every year we wait is another we force people who are right on the brink and what is the straw that breaks the back?"
Gartenstein said the board was already using up to $95,000 from the fund to help pay for repairs to Elm Street caused by flooding, as well as an additional $55,000 to pay for upgrades to the police and fire emergency radio systems. And he warned that next year's payment on the bond for the police and fire stations renovation is going to be even larger than this year's so it made sense to hold off on using the reserve fund this year.
"We are already asking Representative Town Meeting to authorize us to spend up to $150,000 from the Unassigned Fund Balance for costs that are being incurred this year that were unanticipated," Gartenstein said. "If we're really looking for a year when we're going to be dipping into the surplus and the accumulated reserve fund I think that it should be next year because this is a real impact from the police-fire work. Maybe next year when the hit is going to be the hardest I can consider it."
Allen originally wanted to use $300,000 this year, but board member Donna Macomber said she would feel more comfortable supporting an article that authorized the use of $200,000.
The board voted 4-1 to ask Town Meeting Representatives to spend the $200,000 with Gartenstein opposing the article.
The board also greed to ask Town Meeting Representatives to use about $310,000 that was approved last year to spend on the town's ice skating rink, a project that came in under budget. The board wants to use that for tax relief this year.
The board is going to ask all Brattleboro voters to weigh in a proposed 1 percent local option tax to help offset payments on the police-fire project. The vote will be a nonbinding Australian ballot question on March 4. Town Meeting Representatives will then vote on the proposal at Representative Town Meeting.
Town residents have until Thursday, Jan. 23, at 5 p.m. To file a petition requesting that an article be placed on the Representative Town Meeting Warning. Resident who want to have an article on the warning need to gather signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters, or about 480 signatures.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org.