BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro voters rejected the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget during a special referendum Thursday.

The proposed $16 million budget was defeated by a vote of 771-478.

There were 1,249 votes cast, or about 15 percent of the registered voters, more than the number of voters who took part in the March Town Meeting Day election.

The 2015 budget was overwhelmingly approved at this year's Representative Town Meeting on March 22, but the special vote was called after 56 Town Meeting Reps signed a petition requesting the special vote.

Under the town's charter any article that Town Meeting Representatives consider at the annual meeting can be put before all of the voters in a townwide referendum if 50 Town Meeting Reps, or 5 percent of the registered voters, sign a petition calling for the special vote.

With the results of Thursday's vote finalized, the Selectboard will have to begin budget discussions again to come up with a new spending plan to bring before Town Meeting Representatives at a special Representative Town Meeting.

"This vote sends a clear message that the registered voters as a whole in the town of Brattleboro don't want their taxes going up to the extent originally approved by Representative Town Meeting this year," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said after the vote total was announced. "The Selectboard will look forward to resuming discussions on the budget and presenting a new budget to the Town Meeting Representatives."

Gartenstein would not speculate how the board will go about putting together a new budget.

The Selectboard went into this year's budget meetings contemplating cuts across the board to help keep down the tax rate, but after hearing from department heads, the board approved a level funded budget, with no cuts or expenditure increases.

The proposed FY 2015 budget would have raised the tax rate by about 8.5 cents.

At Town Meeting this year a few motions were made from the floor to slash the budget, and the Town Meeting Representatives also debated the budget for more than an hour, but in the end the budget passed by a voice vote.

"It certainly is apparent that there is a substantial disconnect between the vote at Representative Town Meeting and the popular vote on the budget," Gartenstein said. "The budget passed by a significant margin at Representative Town Meeting, and that was not the case with the popular vote."

Gartenstein said the Selectboard will likely call a special meeting soon to begin the budget talks.

The board is not scheduled to meet until May 6.

It was also unclear Thursday how the vote could affect the town's $14.1 million renovation project for the police and fire stations.

The town has until June 13 to decide if it is going to go ahead and bond for the final $9 million for the project.

Joe Rivers submits his ballot during the budget vote on Thursday. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Joe Rivers submits his ballot during the budget vote on Thursday. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

The town has already borrowed $5 million for the renovations to the three buildings.

And though about $1 million in payments on the police-fire bonds were included in the budget that was rejected, Town Meeting Representatives have already approved the project and the Selectboard has the authority to move ahead with the bonding, even in light of Thursday's vote.

The board also has to get a budget approved before the end of the fiscal year, or else the town will have to borrow money to meet its obligations because tax bills cannot go out until a budget is in place.

"The Selectboard has noted that since the police fire facility renovation project was first proposed, that without an additional revenue stream the tax increase would be very substantial, but Representative Town Meeting twice declined to adopt the one additional revenue stream that is available to us," Gartenstein said about the two votes to reject a townwide 1 percent local option tax. "I can't predict at this point exactly what response the Selectboard will have and exactly what direction the Selectboard will take in formulating a new budget. The Selectboard is going to have to get together soon and make some decisions and present a new budget."

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