BRATTLEBORO - After months of public discussion and debate the Selectboard approved a proposed FY 2015 budget Tuesday night.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the $15,881,866 budget, which will now be passed on to the town meeting representatives.
The town meeting reps will vote on the budget at a special Town Meeting on June 2.
Selectboard member John Allen, who has been trying to convince his fellow board members to use some of the general fund surplus this year, asked the board to use $200,000 this year to bring the projected tax rate down by about 2 cents.
The board voted 4-0, with David Schoales abstaining, to use the surplus this year to bring down the tax rate.
The board shaved $402,759 off the original proposed $16.2 million budget which was rejected at the April 17 referendum.
Those savings would have reduced the proposed municipal tax rate from 8.5 cents to about 5 cents
The board declined to cut staff in the library or Recreation and Parks department.
About $18,000 was cut from the fire department in vacation buy back, holiday and incentive pay, while the police department found about $19,000 in savings in salaries.
The board also saved $40,927 by delaying the purchase of one police cruiser and $50,000 in sidewalk work.
Gartenstein and Kate O'Connor said that while the board was able to save a few pennies, the board had to do more serious work in trying to bring down spending across all town departments.
And they both said next year's budget was going to be just as challenging.
"We're not out of those woods yet," said Gartenstein.
And Selectboard member John Allen said the long, tough budget work was going to pay dividends during the approaching budget discussions on the FY 2016 budget.
"I'm glad we had to go through this exercise. It was an eye opener," said Allen. "We are going into the next budget with our eyes more open than they were."
Board member David Schoales warned the board about relying too much on staff cuts for savings.
He said the board had to get out and talk to citizens about what they want the board to do to settle the town's financial challenges.
"We've got to find more money. We can't have fewer services," said Schoales.
Gartenstein also announced that the board has scheduled an informational meeting leading up to the June 2 Representative Town Meeting.
That meeting will be held Tuesday, May 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Academy School.
Prior to the budget discussion Gartenstein said it has been "a very vibrant time" in the life of Brattleboro.
In the last few months Gartenstein said he had heard from hundreds of people about the ongoing budget discussions and he thanked everyone who has commented on the budget process.
The board also got some good news Tuesday when Finance Director John O'Connor said the town's General Fund surplus might be greater than originally anticipated.
The town is going to have to find an additional $100,000 to pay for winter road maintenance, and there will also be obligations to meet for the Elm Street washout and for the police-fire radio system upgrades
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext.279.