Selectboard puts police-fire project on hold
BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro's $14.1 million renovation project for its police and fire facilities has been officially put on hold after the Selectboard voted Tuesday night to take money out of the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget that would have gone toward paying down a bond for the project.
The board called the special meeting for Tuesday to discuss the proposed FY 2015 budget after voters rejected the original budget at a special referendum on April 17.
The board has been discussing a wide range of options to help bring down the projected FY 2015 tax rate, and while the board did not approve a final budget at the meeting, a number of cost reductions were approved.
Among those decisions was a 4-1 vote to not include a projected $261,000 payment on the $9 million bond the town was going to take out to pay for the police and fire renovations.
Board member David Schoales voted against the motion.
Earlier in the night the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee met and voted unanimously to endorse a scaled down $11.7 million project that includes building a combined police and fire facility on Elliot Street at the site of the current Central Fire Station.
The Selectboard did not take a vote on the new proposal.
Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said the board is going to first put a budget together to present at a special Representative Town Meeting on June 2, and then begin talking about alternatives to the original $14.1 million project.
Gartenstein said he is in favor of moving ahead with a police-fire project, but he said the Selectboard would not have enough information before the June 2 special Representative Town Meeting to move ahead at this time.
If the board comes up with a new police-fire project another Representative Town Meeting will have to be called to approve the plan.
Along with making a decision about putting the project on hold for now, the board also moved ahead on a range of other funding decisions to reduce the FY 15 budget.
The board members did not move ahead with an earlier proposal to cut staff members of Brooks Memorial Library or the Recreations and Parks Department, but they did make a number of smaller cuts.
A final budget was not approved Tuesday.
Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland is expected to bring a budget with the newly approved cuts to the board at its next meeting.
Town meeting representatives will vote on the budget at a special Representative Town Meeting on June 2.
And while the board declined to move ahead with its proposed staff cuts, there were some cuts made to the original budget.
The board members agreed to take $50,000 out of the budget that was earmarked for sidewalk work, another $40,900 for a police cruiser, and they agreed to reduce the animal control officer from 40 hours per week to 30.
The board voted 5-0 to cut the sidewalk work, though Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett said the town will be able to get some sidewalk work done with grant money as well as with additional DPW funds.
And even thought the board eliminated the purchase of a cruiser, the police department will buy one new car next year.
The board voted 4-1 to eliminate one cruiser, with board member Donna Macomber voting against the proposal.
The board asked department heads to consider cuts of 1 percent to their budgets and the board moved ahead on a number of those cuts.
The board agreed to slash the town clerk's budget by $1,805, the planning department by $1,250 and the general services budget by $2,177.
But the board rejected salary cuts to the offices of the town manager and the finance department.
The board took $6,185 out of the library budget after Library Director Jerry Carbone said the library would be able to find some of that money in other line items without reducing programming.
Cuts to the Assessor's Office were turned down after Town Assessor Russell Rice said any additional cuts to his department would force him to reduce staff hours.
Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said staff retirements and resignations helped him save some money and the board approved an $18,311 cut to the fire department budget.
And the police department budget was also slashed by $19,308.
The Department of Public Works was spared $15,500 in budget cuts after DPW Director Steve Barrett said the cuts would affect pedestrian safety and other projects.
And Recreations and Parks Director Carol Lolatte said she would be able to reduce her budget by about $2,000, less than the full 1 percent, and the board agreed to slash the budget by that amount.
Throughout the department head presentations Gartenstein said that while staffing cuts were put off for now, the town is going to face the same budget pressures next year, and the departments likely will face the same staffing reduction proposals.
At the end of the discussion board member Kate O'Connor said the board did not take enough out of the budget. She said the board is going to face a very tough year in 2016 and O'Connor wanted to take additional actions now to soften those impacts.
Board member John Allen continued his argument for using some of the money in the surplus fund now to keep the tax rate down. Allen said he will make a recommendation at the June 2 Town Meeting to use some of that money next year.
The board might still make other cuts as it tries to get a final budget done in time for the June 2 meeting.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
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