Brattleboro Selectboard: Police-fire project likely on hold
BRATTLEBORO -- The $14 million renovation project for the town's police and fire stations will likely be out on hold after the board took a consensus vote Tuesday while discussing the FY 015 budget.
The board voted 3-2, in a nonbinding vote, to not take out the $9 million bond for the renovation project.
The Selectboard has been trying to come up with a new budget after voters rejected the $16.2 million General Fund budget during a special town wide referendum on April 17.
The board spent almost an hour talking about potential cuts, and once again listening to a range of comments from Brattleboro residents, but the board did not come up with a final budget Tuesday night.
But before moving on, the board went around the table to see what the board members felt about the police fire project, and at least three board members said they would not support moving ahead with the project as it stands at this point.
David Gartenstein, Kate O'Connor and John Allen said they would not support the town taking out the $9 million bond for the next phase of the project.
Board members Donna Macomber and David Schoales said they were less certain, saying they would consider taking out a smaller bond, but if the the other three members hold to their votes, then the project will not move forward with the project as it currently stands.
The discussion left the future of the police-fire renovation project very much in doubt.
It is not clear at this point what the status of the project is, or if any of the work will be done during this construction season.
"We need more time to decide what is going to happen to the police-fire project," Gartenstein said. "We can't decide in three or four weeks to go forward or to close West Brattleboro. We need more time."
The board members talked about closing the West Brattleboro Fire Station, or completing only Central Fire Station on Elliot Street, or possibly taking care of only of the health and safety issues at the three locations.
About 20 people showed up for the budget discussion at the regular Selectboard meting Tuesday night, and a handful of residents continued giving their ideas for ways to bring down Brattleboro's soaring tax rate.
The Selectboard has been contemplating a range of cost saving measures, including reducing the staff at the library and at the Recreation and Parks department, but those cuts appear to be on hold for now.
"There seems to be no stomach for service cuts," said Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein. "But we can't have the two things together. We can't lower our taxes without making cuts. That is the bind we find ourselves in. There are no good answers."
The board asked interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland to come back with what a 1 or 2 percent across the board cut would look on the budget.
The board did reach consensus on cutting out one new police cruiser and putting a sidewalk project on hold, but those final decisions will be made next week.
While the board declined to finalize the budget Tuesday, there were still some widely varying ideas shared among the board members.
Schoales said he wanted to present town meeting representatives with a few options and allow them to come up with a final budget.
Schoales said he would consider taking out a smaller budget this year to keep the project moving forward, and possibly take out a 30 year bond to lessen the impact on tax payers..
"I'm not sure we have to come up with a specific thing to recommend," Schoales said. "I would like to present a range of options based on what we heard last week."
Schoales said he would not vote in support of any staff cuts to the library or recreation and Parks Department.
Board member Donna Macomber also said she was opposed to staff cuts.
"I think most of the feedback we heard is that people are not in favor of cutting staff positions," Macomber said. "I would hope to avoid that."
Board member john Allen is trying to convince the other Selectboard members to use some of the town's surplus funds this year to help defray taxes.
"The reserve funds are just sitting there," he said. "We are in a crisis. That money is sitting there in an account for a rainy day, and it is pouring. We ned to use that money."
The board will make its final decision about the proposed FY 2015 budget at a special meeting next Tuesday, May 13, at 6:15 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room.
Town Meeting Reps will then make a final vote on the budget at a special Representative Town Meeting on Monday, June 2.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or email@example.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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