I feel that I should strongly urge Brattleboro voters to approve the 2014-15 municipal budget in the referendum being held this coming Thursday, April 17. Story Body:
I feel that I should strongly urge Brattleboro voters to approve the 2014-15 municipal budget in the referendum being held this coming Thursday, April 17.
Voters also need to clearly understand that a vote on the overall budget cannot be taken as a referendum on the police/fire renovations project. It can only be taken as a vote on the budget overall, and if the budget were rejected, the Selectboard would have to come back with another one, hold yet another special Representative Town Meeting, and ask us representatives to approve it there. Any new budget would mostly likely have to sustain cuts in all departments and program areas.
Having served on Representative Town Meeting's Finance Committee for three years, 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.
I can reassure you that Brattleboro town government is run with integrity. 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.
To those who are critical of the police/fire project bonds, I say that in the town finance committee, we strongly questioned the project's budget estimates from the very beginning, and we saw the estimated cost come down from over $20 million to its current $14.1 approved level. That project has "jumped through all the hoops" of due process and diligence, and it will remain legally approved at its current level even if this overall town budget is rejected by the voters. The only way to exert downward pressure on the project's budget at this point is to show up at Selectboard or police/fire project oversight committee meetings and make your concerns or wishes known. And I want you to know that the Selectboard has already been doing that for you big cuts in cost have already been made, and the police/fire project manager and committee will come up with whatever additional cuts can be done, so long as the project can be executed with integrity and fulfill its goals.
I have had extensive talks with both Police Chief Wrinn and Fire Chief Bucossi, including meeting with both of them today, and they have taken my concerns very seriously over the years. They would do the same for you. Call them and ask for a tour of their facilities, if you are not one of the many people who already have taken one. Please remember that public safety buildings have to be constructed to much different, tougher standards than your ordinary store, warehouse, or home. Your garage doesn't need to house a vehicle weighing 31 tons, but the fire station does. And a police officer needs more than a 3-feet-wide, brick-lined, dog-legged stairway to safely escort a prisoner to his or her cell. All of the planned changes and additions to both stations have been carefully vetted for cost, adequacy, safety and integrity.
I was among the town Representatives who petitioned for the coming referendum to take place. I did so because the townwide referendum is a "safety valve" for democracy. We do not have a true democracy in this town, and the system we have could be further improved, say by electing representatives from our neighborhoods instead of from the three legislative districts. But what we do have provides for such a referendum, and it should be used whenever a substantial plurality of the residents reasonably question the budget, or for other important matters.
So among those of you who might have some question about this budget, let me ask you if your concerns are real, and substantiated with genuine knowledge of the issues. To those of you who raise property taxes as an issue, I say bear in mind that the state currently kicks in property tax assistance if your income or ability to pay them falls below a certain level. Our Selectboard just visited Montpelier to ask for consideration of our status as a "hub town," but that consideration is already in place to some extent when taxpayers statewide are thus, in effect, assisting us with our extraordinary "hub town" services needs.
Please vote to approve the 2014-15 Brattleboro town budget this coming Thursday. Our public servants work for us in good faith, and with great effort, and they eminently deserve our vote of confidence.
John Wilmerding holds an earned MBA from the School of Management at Binghamton University in New York. He is an elected Brattleboro Town Representative from the 2nd District, and has served from 2011-14 under appointment to the Town Finance Committee. He is also Chair of the Windham County Democratic Committee, and serves ‘ex officio' as a member of the Vermont State Democratic Committee.