Should Brattleboro seek donations?


BRATTLEBORO -- As the Selectboard prepares for a new round of budget discussions after Thursday's referendum rejected the proposed 2015 budget, some town residents are asking the board to consider accepting charitable donations to help fund town government.

Former Selectboard member Chris Chapman and Police Fire Facilities Building Committee member Eli Gould came before the Selectboard Tuesday to present two different ideas on how the town might be able to raise money to offset the ever-increasing tax rate in town.

Chapman wants the board to consider forming a committee that would help establish charitable funds for people to donate money to, while Gould asked the board to consider setting up a volunteer 1 percent local option payment on the purchase of local goods. The board did not commit to the ideas, which were presented at last week's Selectboard meeting, but some of the board members were supportive and encouraged Gould and Chapman to continue working on their plans.

"I am ready to say that we should move forward on this," Selectboard member David Schoales told the two men. "We are in a situation, fiscally, where we can't afford to turn away from people's offer for support for new and creative approaches. We have to look everywhere, at things we've never thought about before."

Chapman, an estate planner and trust administrator for The Trust Company of Vermont, said individuals have been donating money to town projects for years and he said the town should be more assertive in approaching individuals about making donations toward town operations.

"This idea was moved by the fact that our town is beloved by many of its citizens," Chapman told the board. "It has many friends, actually across the country, and it's fair to say there are people scattered around the world who also love Brattleboro, and love it having been here, or having worked with people from here."

The town's ongoing fiscal struggles are putting pressures on property owners while preventing the town from moving forward and Chapman said he would be willing to work on a committee to establish a mechanism whereby individuals and estates could more seamlessly offer financial help to Brattleboro.

"It's fair to say that Brattleboro has needs that basically can't be met by asking yet more of its taxpayers," he said. "I am suggesting that Brattleboro do what many, if not most, charitable organizations do, which is to invite charitable contributions from those who appreciate the services of this community. In particular I propose that the town issue a general appeal for the specific purpose of gifts, of cash, or appreciated securities, to help purchase things that we simply can't afford in the budget right now."

Selectboard member Kate O'Connor said institutions such as Brooks Memorial Library and West River Park, as well as auxiliaries of the police and fire departments already reach out to residents for donations. She had reservations about having the town get more involved with charitable giving.

"I am not convinced that the town should be in the business of doing fundraising," O'Connor said. "It is harder than some understand it is and in some ways we are already doing what you suggest. I appreciate the thought, but I'm not sure we should be doing more of it under the umbrella of the town."

Gould told the board it was hard to be at Representative Town Meeting and listen to the debate over the proposed 1 percent local option tax. He also said he was disappointed to learn that the state would take 30 percent of any money collected through a local option tax. Gould said he wanted to find out if it would be legal to set up a voluntary 1 percent fund, that would give residents and visitors an option of donating 1 percent of their purchases toward the town.

"It would be a way of supporting the town and bringing people together," Gould said. "It would be a way for businesses to say 'I support that.'"

Gould recommended a card be issued that could be run through the credit and debit card machines.

Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said the two should continue pursuing the idea.

"These are conceptual ideas and I encourage you to continue looking at them and advocating for them. I am interested in the precedent for ongoing charitable giving campaigns whose beneficiary is a municipality." Gartenstein said. "We need to certainly look at and consider all potential avenues of revenue."

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


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