At what cost?

Tuesday October 23, 2012

Brattleboro Town Meeting Representatives last weekend met to vote on two items: a proposed $14 million renovation plan for the town’s police and fire stations, and a proposed 1 percent sales tax that could have paid for about 60 percent of the bond needed for that project.

They approved the renovation project. The sales tax proposal was overwhelmingly defeated.

We’ve used this space in the past to advocate for better quarters for our police and fire departments.

But, especially after reading some of the letters to the editor over the past couple of weeks, we can’t say we blame the Town Meeting reps for voting the way they did on the 1 percent sales tax. After all, when you consider what downtown merchants have had to deal with over the past several years -- the Brooks House fire; flooding from Irene; the economy in general; sidewalk renovation; not to mention the drama that came with the new downtown street lights -- wouldn’t adding even more tax to their goods be the final nail in the coffin, so to speak?

As Sam’s Outdoors Outfitters co-owner Stanley "Pal" Borofsky put it during Saturday’s meeting, small, locally-owned stores are struggling against sprawl, and a new 1 percent tax will make it harder to survive. For every store that closes, Borofsky said, jobs are lost and shoppers have one less reason to stop in Brattleboro.

But without the revenue generated by this tax, how will the project be paid for? There really is only one way, from an increase in property taxes for those living in Brattleboro.

We don’t like the thought of that any more than you do. However, is it fair for the cost of such a project to fall on the shoulders of a few -- as it would have if local businesses were forced to shoulder the burden with a tax increase -- or should it be spread out among the entire town who most benefits from the services rendered by the Brattleboro police and fire departments? If you really want to be fair, should neighboring towns pay their share, too? After all, they benefit from the police and fire departments’ services (hence the reason the tax was initially proposed).

We’re hardly advocating for an increase in any taxes, however, only stating what we believe is fair. And we echo the sentiment of both town resident Kurt Daims -- who is presumably putting together a resolution on this topic -- and Brattleboro Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray, who are both advocating for a townwide vote on the matter, albeit for different reasons.

Is it more fair to spread the cost of this project around town? Given the circumstance, we believe it is. And that’s why each and every voting-age resident should have an opportunity to have his or her voice heard on the matter.

And, we would hope, if it came to that, we’d see better than 18 percent voter turnout.


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