Downtown Brattleboro Alliance's surplus questioned, budget approved

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BRATTLEBORO — Town Manager Peter Elwell assured Selectboard members that a surplus within the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance's proposed budget was no mistake.

"Everything appears to be in order," he said during Tuesday's meeting. "I didn't see anything that appeared to be in amiss."

DBA President Michelle Siegel-Simpson said her group should be looked at as the marketing and beautification organization for the Downtown Improvement District. Tax credits, available through the state by having the district and being part of the Vermont Downtown Program, have assisted "numerous" businesses.

After the group's proposed fiscal year 2017 and work plan came before the Selectboard in December, Elwell was asked to review the financial records. The DBA Board had approved of spending a surplus to fulfill a work plan that would use $12,000 for a utility vehicle to support maintenance efforts, $8,000 for lighting on the Whetstone pathway and $5,000 for designing, printing and distributing rack cards. But the Selectboard needed to sign off on it, too.

Questions involved accuracy and the source of the surplus funds, according to a memo from Elwell stating the group "unquestionably" had an operating surplus of $10,522 in FY15 mostly due to coming in below its staffing budget that year.

Records before June 30, 2014 were complicated by the group's ownership and sale of the River Garden property, Elwell said. The Main Street building was sold to Strolling of the Heifers in 2013 when DBA was known as Building a Better Brattleboro. Also contributing to the confusion was the DBA's acting as a financial agent for the Literary Festival.

An operating surplus of $8,992 in FY14 was "somewhat less clear," Elwell's memo said, but it included a combination of coming below expected expenditures related to staffing and event and rental income.

According to Elwell, the group's financial records showed a remaining fund balance of $30,389 at the end of FY15.

"Despite the fact that the total of the two operating surpluses noted above is only $19,514, I have no reason to believe the $30,389 figure is not accurate," the memo said. "However, after reviewing profit and loss records back to FY11, a report of year-end retained earnings for FY05 through FY15, and balance sheets from numerous different moments in time throughout those years, I am not able to state with certainty what the sources of those surplus funds were."

The budget and work plan were approved unanimously by the Selectboard on Tuesday night. The vote was held off for two meetings while Elwell reviewed the numbers. He noted the cooperation between officials associated with the group, past and present.

"It was just an accounting thing. It goes before their people. They were the ones who accepted that budget," Selectboard member John Allen said. "I think we were just looking for, 'Where was that money going?'"

Representative Town Meeting will have final say over the budget.

"It's an assessment to the taxpayers in the Downtown Improvement District," DBA Treasurer Dick DeGray told the Reformer. "Town Meeting, like anything else that comes before it, can increase, decrease or give them what they ask for."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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