Community comes out for special meeting on Brattleboro budget
BRATTLEBORO -- More than 160 people showed up for a special Selectboard meeting Thursday to weigh in on the board's proposed cuts to the FY 2015 budget.
The Brattleboro Area Middle School multi-purpose room was packed with Brattleboro residents who wanted to comment on the board's plans to slash services to a wide range of town departments following an April 17 townwide vote that rejected the board's original FY 2015 spending plan.
The meeting was still going on at press time and it was not clear how the board would react after gathering comments from dozens of Brattleboro residents who were concerned with the board's proposed cuts to the budget.
Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein opened the meeting by explaining how the board got to Thursday night's meeting.
He stressed that the meeting was warned as a Selectboard meeting and that the board was going to have discussions about the budget, with the ultimate goal of coming up with a new budget which will then be passed on to Representative Town Meeting.
Gartenstein said that while the board was contemplating a 5 percent cut across the board, that strategy would be too severe.
Gartenstein said he got more correspondences over the past few weeks about the budget than at any other time since he joined the board, and there were a wide range of ideas expressed, he said.
"There are no good choices that we face at this point," he said.
He said that while the board was considering halting the police-fire project, both department buildings need structural help right now.
He went on to say any cut, from the police-fire project to sidewalk snow plowing was going to affect the quality of life in Brattleboro.
"We're looking at those cuts and we're going to have to make some difficult decisions," he said. "None of these cuts are something we are looking forward to deal with."
Selectboard member Kate O'Connor said she also was going to vote to halt the police-fire project and she warned the crowd that there were tough decisions ahead.
"This is the reality we're in right now in this town," O'Connor said. "And it's not going to stop when we get this budget done."
Board member John Allen said he wanted to try to move ahead with the renovations at the Elliot Street Fire Station, and use some of the surplus fund to keep the tax rate down.
He also said he wanted to close West Brattleboro Fire Station to save money and use it on Central Fire Station.
Thursday night's meeting was called after an overflow crowd packed the Selectboard Meeting Room in the Municipal Center Tuesday night, causing the board to postpone the meeting because the room was filled beyond capacity.
The board's original budget was approved at Representative Town Meeting on March 22 but 56 Town meeting Representatives signed a petition asking for the townwide vote.
After voters rejected the budget by a vote of 771-478 the Selectboard began working on a new budget, which will once again go before Town Meeting Representatives at a special meeting in June.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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