On April 17, Brattleboro voters will be asked to say yes or no to a $16 million budget that was approved by Town Meeting Representatives on March 22.
The issue was brought up for a townwide referendum after the Town Clerk received a petition signed by more than 140 people, 56 of them Town Meeting Representatives, requesting the revote.
If voters reject the 2015 budget, the Selectboard will need to come up with a new budget, which would have to be presented to the Town Meeting Representatives for their approval.
"There is a general feeling that the Selectboard does not appreciate the financial difficulties that many people in town have found themselves," said Town Meeting Representative Spoon Agave, who presented the petition to the Town Clerk. "The Selectboard put this budget together and there should be more discussion about it by the public."
Agave also said none of the Selectboard members has ever been "in the position of having to worry if they will be able to make their next mortgage payment. This vote is giving town government the message that they need to understand what is going on in this town economically."
The revote comes amidst concern that the town is getting in over its head with its $14-million police/fire department renovation project and also follows an intense discussion at Town Meeting, that resulted in a nay vote, over whether Brattleboro should institute a 1 percent local option sale tax to help pay for the project.
However, the vote on Thursday will have no impact on the police/fire project. The town has already borrowed $5 million and has submitted another application for $9 million, which could, conceivably, be canceled if done so before June 13.
"The Selectboard members are very concerned about the high tax rate, but we recognize that there are needs that have to be met," said Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein, who said any changes to bring the budget in lower would have crippled the town's ability "to provide core municipal services and to make sure we have emergency services available. I am not aware of any waste in the budget."
As one astute reader noted, "I cannot help but wonder if everyone understands the repercussions of a budget reduction. Forced to operate on a reduced budget, our town departments will have little choice but to reduce services.
But what does that actually mean?
Youth activities at Memorial Park might be curtailed and the swimming pool and the library might have to reduce the hours they are open to the public.
For all the complaints about the delay into plowing sidewalks following snow storms, a cut in the budget could result in no sidewalk plowing at all; better run down to the hardware store and get your snow shovel today.
Also in the winter, secondary road plowing might be delayed by two or three days. And recovering from a harsh winter? Think about the howls coming from Western Avenue every time a tire is destroyed by a pothole.
Other town departments -- such as the police and fire departments -- might have to lay people off. We think we know what the reaction might be if there's a serious fire and not enough fire fighters available, or if you need a police officer someday and they're all too busy to respond right away.
"I have also heard over the past several years that we need to increase our grand list," noted this reader. "I wonder who would want to move into a town that wont support its infrastructure. Who wants to move to a town that offers limited or no youth services, community services, library, safety service, or road and utility services."
Said another reader, who is also a Town Meeting Representative: "I can say with some authority that the town administration, in all departments, carefully vets its budget requests, with the Town Manager and Selectboard both demanding of department heads that they request only what is absolutely needed. For this reason, it would be very costly, and unreasonably so, of the town employees' and department heads' time to ask them to once again re-budget. You should have confidence that the services we are providing one another through the town and our taxes are the services that are actually needed, and that the town departments are run with economy and efficiency in mind."
So town residents, whether they vote early at the Town Clerk's Office or Municipal Center on April 17 between 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., should think twice about what they believe they can and cannot afford.
If you haven't voted and aren't registered, you can still do so, also at the Town Clerk's Office, before the end of the day on Wednesday. (Hopefully, more than 11 percent of the town's registered voters will turn out to cast ballots; that's how many bothered to vote on March 4.)
We at the Reformer believe town voters should vote yes to approve the budget. Your Selectboard and the town's department heads worked hard to bring it in just as needed and with no frills or bells and whistles. This is a bare-bones budget, and taking any more meat off it would result in serious harm to the town. Think before you cast your vote.