Petition forces Brattleboro budget re-vote


BRATTLEBORO -- A special townwide Australian ballot vote will be held for the registered voters of Brattleboro to weigh in on the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget.

A petition was handed in to Town Clerk Annette Cappy at 4 p.m. Tuesday, one hour before the deadline, forcing the re-vote for the $16,069,625 million General Fund Budget that was approved by Town Meeting Representatives at the annual meeting on March 22.

The petition had to be handed in within 10 days of the Representative Town Meeting.

Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein, at Tuesday night's Selectboard meeting, said the board will hold a special meeting on April 7 to set the date for the vote.

He said the vote will probably be held on Thursday April 17.

The town charter allows for the re-vote if at least 5 percent of the registered voters, or at least 50 Town Meeting Representatives, call for re-vote.

Town Meeting Representative Spoon Agave delivered the petition to Cappy with the signatures of 56 town meeting reps.

He also handed in a petition with about 140 signatures, but Cappy did not have time to verify the citizen signatures before closing her office for the day.

The Selectboard will attempt to hold a public information session on the budget to give the public an overview since there will be no discussion during the Australian ballot vote.

"The voters have not really had a chance to study the budget in the same way that the board has, and that the town meeting members have," Gartenstein said.

It will cost the town about $2,000 to hold the Australian ballot vote, which Cappy said will probably be held at the Municipal Center.

If voters reject the 2015 budget, then the Selectboard will meet again to come up with a new budget, which will then go before Town Meeting Representatives for another vote.

That vote has to be scheduled within 30 to 40 days

Agave said the drive to gather enough signatures came together quickly over the past few days.

Agave said he received phone calls before the weekend from three different Town Meeting Representatives who were each trying to gather signatures independently, without knowing that the other reps were also working on a petition.

"There is a general feeling that the Selectboard does not appreciate the financial difficulties that many people in town have found themselves in," Agave said after Cappy verified the petition. "The Selectboard put this budget together and there should be more discussion about it by the public."

Agave made a motion from the floor of Town Meeting to reduce the budget by about $600,000 to slow down the $14.1 million police-fire project.

He said if voters turn down the budget at the special vote then the board would have to remove some money and reassess the police-fire project, though voters cannot direct line item spending.

Town Meeting Representatives approved the police-fire project at special October 2012 meeting.

A local option tax that would have raised about $600,000 to help pay for the project was turned down at that meeting in 2012, and then Town Meeting Representatives again rejected the option tax on March 22.

Gartenstein also said at Tuesday night's Selectboard meeting that the Police Fire Facility Building Committee has been asked to come up with a list of potential cost saving measures to make to the project to help bring the cost down.

Gartenstein said the committee was asked to come up wit the list following the March 22 Representative Town Meeting, when many representatives spoke out against the cost of the project.

Even though he thinks there are aspects of the project that do have to be taken on, Agave said the town should be able to move ahead with a renovation project that addresses the health and safety concerns for much less money.

"When Town Meeting Reps approved the project, they were trapped. It was either up or down," Agave said. "The payments on this project are going to be the biggest single line item in our budget for 20 years. There should be more than one choice."

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


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