BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro voters will be asked to make a decision about the town's proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget during a special referendum scheduled for Thursday.
All registered voters can weigh in on the budget April 17, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room at the Municipal Center. The referendum was called after 56 Town Meeting Representatives signed a petition asking for the special vote.
Town Clerk Annette Cappy said requests for absentee voting have been very high, and she expected to have more than 300 completed ballots before the end of the day Tuesday.
"There has been a lot of publicity, and a lot of interest about this vote," Cappy said. "I think we're going to have a good turnout Thursday."
The vote is being held at the Municipal Center to save money, and Cappy said special provisions are being made to accommodate the vote. She said there will be extra parking for the public, and the second floor Selectboard Meeting Room is handicapped accessible. Brattleboro residents can register to vote in the Town Clerk's office until 5 p.m. Wednesday, and can also fill out an absentee ballot until the end of the work day Wednesday.
Cappy said a typical Town Meeting Day election in March usually brings in 200-or-so absentee ballots, and having more than 300 come in just two weeks after the petition was handed in to her office shows a widespread interest in the budget vote.
Cappy said anyone who wants to hold signs or talk about the vote will have to remain outside the building and not impede the movements of any voters.
The budget was adopted by Town Meeting Representatives at the March 22 annual meeting, but the town's charter allows for the townwide vote if more than 50 Town Meeting Representatives ask for a reconsideration of one, or more, of the articles from the annual meeting. The proposed budget, if it is approved, will add about 9 cents to the municipal tax rate.
If the $16,069,625 budget is defeated Thursday then the Selectboard will have to put together another budget, which will then be put before Town Meeting Representatives for another vote at a special Representative Town Meeting.
"State law, and the town charter, allow for a reconsideration of any article approved at Town Meeting and 56 Town Meeting Representatives singed a petition calling for the budget to be voted by public referendum," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "At Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting the budget was overwhelmingly approved, and this is the article that is going to be presented to voters Thursday."
The Selectboard's proposed budget is a level-service spending plan without any significant cuts or additions from the current year. But expected payments on the town's $14.1 million renovation project for the police and fire facilities adds about $1 million to the budget, and about 6 cents on the tax rate. The town has already taken out a $5 million bond on the project and has plans to take out the second $9 million bond by the end of June.
The Selectboard will ultimately approve the final design of the police-fire renovations, which could include cost-saving measures, but interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said it was unclear if the board had the authority to make major changes, including halting work, to the overall project after Town Meeting Representatives approved the bonding for the work
"The vote on Thursday is about the General Fund Fiscal Year 2015 Budget," he said. "The Australian ballot vote is not a discussion. It is a straight forward, up or down vote."
Moreland did say that the Police Fire Facility Oversight Committee continues to have open meetings about the project, and their meetings are the proper venues to offer suggestions on the project.
The vote Thursday is not directly linked to the police-fire project. The renovations to the police station, and to the town's two fire stations, have already been approved by Town Meeting Representatives.
"It is very difficult to attribute to any individual person what their motivation was for signing the petition, except we all share, including the Selectboard, a concern about taxes being too high in Brattleboro," Gartenstein said. "We believe that the budget that was approved at Town Meeting is a responsible plan for services to be provided by the town and for necessary infrastructure costs."
Vermont League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Steve Jeffrey said the way he reads state statute and the Brattleboro Charter, a vote by Town Meeting Representatives authorizes the Selectboard to take out a bond on the project, but it does not require them to do so.
So a "no" vote Thursday could encourage the Selectboard to make changes to the police-fire project.
The town's charter does not provide for any timeframe for the board to develop a new budget, if the FY 15 budget is rejected Thursday.
The town can spend money after June 30, when the FY 2014 year ends, without an approved budget but the town would have to borrow money to pay its bills because it would not be able to send out tax bills without a budget in place.
Gartenstein has said the board would get together soon after the vote to begin work on a new budget if it is turned down by voters Thursday.
The full budget and further information on Thursday's referendum is available on the town's web site: www.brattleboro.org.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.