Brattleboro Selectboard must come up with a new budget


BRATTLEBORO -- Fifty-six Town Meeting Representatives signed the petition that forced Thursday's special referendum on Brattleboro's $16 million FY 2015 budget.

And it is possible that there were 56 different reasons behind each signature.

District 3 Rep. John Wilmerding said he supported the budget, but wanted the voters to weigh in on it, while District 1 Rep. Lynn Russell said spending was out of control and the budget had to be reduced.

Likewise, when 771 residents voted "no" Thursday, defeating the budget and sending it back to the Selectboard, it is likely that among those voters there are dozens of different recommendations on how the town should try to save money.

Now the Selectboard will have to decipher the vote and come up with a new budget that will be approved by Town Meting Representatives at a special meeting, while not being overturned by the voters, if a re-vote is once again ordered.

And the board will have to do so with deadlines looming on sending out tax bills as well as on bonding for the final $9 million loan for the police-fire renovation project.

"The Selectboard is going to have a difficult job in front of them because looking at the consequences of an Australian ballot vote is not always easy or clear," interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said Friday. "One of the positive aspects of Town Meeting is that there is discussion, and it is a little easier to come away from Town Meeting with a sense of the will of the voters. It is much less so with an Australian ballot."

Brattleboro residents on Thursday voted 771-478 to reject the proposed FY 2015 budget, which would have raised the tax rate by 8.5 cents.

The budget was a largely level-serviced spending plan with no increases or cuts to any of the town departments. The budget also included about $1 million in payments on the $14.1 million police-fire renovation project. The Selectboard has asked the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee to come up with some suggestions on cost savings.

Moreland said Thursday's vote puts a little more pressure on that decision, though he said the committee has been looking at ways to shave money off the project from the start.

"Cost savings have been the focus of every single meeting. That discussion has defined every decision the committee has made," said Moreland. "There has been a lot of spirited debate throughout the oversight committee's work and they have done a remarkable job working with the staff to identify and explore cost savings."

Project Manager Steve Horton said the committee hopes to present the final designs for the police and fire stations to the Selectboard in early June.

Requests for bids will go out that month, and Horton said construction could begin in July.

"That was the schedule prior to the town vote," Horton said. "I don't really know how the vote is going to impact the project."

A subcommittee has been looking at the energy systems in an effort to save money and Horton said he expects there to be discussions at the next meeting about the committee's plans moving forward.

The next Police Fire Facilities Building Committee meeting is scheduled for May 1.

"In general it is never too late," Horton said about making changes to the designs. "But the longer we wait it does get harder to make changes. It depends on the nature of the changes. Some things are easier to change than others."

The Brattleboro Selectboard plans to hold its first budget meeting Tuesday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room.

Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said he did not want to speculate on how the board was going to proceed, adding that he wanted to give the board members a chance to come up with a schedule and plan.

"We have called this meeting to make a plan for how to respond to the April 17 vote," Gartenstein said. "The board is going to have to come up with a time frame for presenting the budget and convening a Representative Town Meeting to consider it."

Thursday's referendum cost the town between $2,500 and $3,000, Town Clerk Annette Cappy said, and a Representative Town Meeting at BUHS cost just about the same.

If the Selectboard does not have a budget before June 30, then the town will have to borrow money because tax bills can not be sent out until there is an approved budget in place.

The board is also working against a June 13 deadline for bonding for the final $9 million for the police fire renovation project, as well as starting the work during this construction season.

"Having worked through the presentation of the budget intensively leading up to March Town Meeting the Selectboard members are already well versed in where cuts in the budget potentially can come from and the impacts those cuts will have," Gartenstein said. "I anticipate we'll discuss those fully, and publicly, and then the board will decide how to proceed."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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