BRATTLEBORO -- Town Meeting Representatives overwhelmingly approved a fiscal year 2015 budget at a special Representative Town Meeting Monday night.

Town Meeting Reps voted 112-12 to support the Selectboard's $15.66 million budget, which was about $603,000 less than the budget that was approved at Town Meeting on March 22.

Registered voters have 10 days to collect enough signatures if they want to overturn the vote again, otherwise the town's proposed spending plan will go into effect July 1.

Following the March 22 meeting, where the budget was also overwhelmingly approved on voice vote, a special referendum on the budget was forced after 56 Town Meeting Reps signed a petition calling for the budget vote.

That vote, which was held on April 17, overturned the original town meeting approval of the budget, and so the Selectboard worked over the past few weeks to come up with a new budget.

Monday night's meeting lasted almost two hours but there was very little discussion directly related to the board's proposed spending plan.

Most of the debate centered on whether it was appropriate to talk about the town's postponed police-fire facility project.

Kurt Daims wanted to take $1.3 million from the police-fire bond that the town has already taken out and use that money to reduce the budget.

Town Meeting Moderator Lawrin Crispe, however, said the motion was out of order, and would not allow Daims to proceed with his motion.

Andy Davis agreed that the police-fire project required much more thought and discussion and he said it was not appropriate to take a vote on the bonded money at Monday's meeting.

Crispe's decision was upheld by a 104-18 vote.

Then Daims asked that $900,000 be moved from the Unassigned Fund Balance to defray taxes in 2015.

Billie Stark said taking the surplus would not address the town's real challenge, which she said was spending, and she said using the surplus this year would only come back to haunt the town next year if spending was not brought down.

(Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)
(Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said if the Daims motion passed then there would be about $1 million left in the surplus fund, far below the recommended 10 percent of the budget that financial analysts recommend.

The motion was rejected.

Many of the Town Meeting Reps who spoke said they supported the budget and appreciated the work the Selectboard put in to bring it down.

"I'm going to vote on the revised budget," Jane Southworth said. "I talked to a lot of people, and 90 percent of the people I spoke with said some progress was made They all said the budget at first was too high."

And Don Webster also said the budget should be supported.

"To me this is a very responsible budget," he said. "It has been reduced significantly and the voters will by and large support it."

Tad Montgomery asked the board if money for the projected $450,000 in upgrades to the Municipal Center was included in the budget.

During inspections for the proposed renovations at the Municipal Center, the State Fire Marshall determined that the historic building needed the fire and safety upgrades, even if the police department is not renovated.

Selectboard member Kate O'Connor said the town is required to come up with a plan, but she said the work does not necessarily have to happen in FY 2015.

Monday night Town Meeting Reps also agreed to support the formation of a Futures Committee to look at the town's long-range issues and challenges.

Spoon Agave, who proposed the idea, said the committee would be appointed by the Town Meeting Moderator, and would investigate energy, finances, governance and other long range issues.

The committee will report back to Town Meeting Reps at the 2015 Town Meeting with a blueprint for moving the town a more sustainable path, Agave said.

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