BRATTLEBORO — Select Board members approved a $19,658,991 budget proposed for fiscal year 2022, with minimal changes from the original pitch from town staff.
At a special meeting held remotely Tuesday, the board voted 4-0 to send the spending plan to annual Representative Town Meeting, happening virtually again due to COVID-19, on March 20. Municipal property taxes would increase by 3.6 cents for a 2.7 percent increase or $36 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
“I know we didn’t agree on everything and it’s been a process,” said Ian Goodnow, who is finishing up his first term on the board and seeking reelection. “I’ve also been pretty amazed at this entire process and I’ve been really grateful to be part of it. I’m excited to vote in favor of this budget.”
Board Chairman Tim Wessel said he appreciates all the effort town staff put into preparing the budget. Board member Brandie Starr didn’t attend the meeting.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said the board has been discussing line items on a 19-page budget for the last three months over the course of 10 meetings. Only four changes have been made to expenditures.
Taking the suggestion of the Representative Town Meeting Human Services Advisory Committee to provide all requests made by human services agencies, the board decided to increase the proposed funding from $210,339 to $276,400. The board increased funding for paving, going from $350,000 to $400,000 to start getting to streets sooner than scheduled. Brattleboro Community Television’s request to get $7,000, a $2,000 bump, was approved. And at the recommendation of the town-commissioned community safety report, the board level-funded police training at $27,000 rather than the $40,000 initially proposed by staff so that needs can be assessed before further investment.
“The largest individual category of increase proposed for FY22 vs. FY21 is funding for capital infrastructure projects ($325,000) and the second largest is employee salaries and benefits ($243,978),” Elwell told the Reformer in an email.
In a budget message published in November, Elwell said the budget proposed by staff represents their “best efforts to estimate the actual cost of maintaining town operations to provide existing levels of service for another year” but also increase levels of service in a few areas.
An assistant assessor position will go from 30 to 37.5 hours per week. About $12,500 is budgeted for improved human resources software. Funding for capital projects includes $20,000 for a redesign of the intersection of High and Green streets; $35,000 to upgrade fire and smoke alarm systems at the Gibson-Aiken Center; $30,000 for a utility-sewer upgrade at Living Memorial Park; $60,000 for paving at Living Memorial Park; and $10,000 for swimming pool improvements at Living Memorial Park.
Town Meeting members can reduce or increase the budget but can only advise or provide guidance on where to take or add the funds, Elwell said.
On Tuesday, the board also voted 4-0 to warn articles for Representative Town Meeting and the March 2 Town Meeting Day. Elected Town Meeting members vote on articles at Representative Town Meeting and all Brattleboro voters can participate in the March 2 vote.
Elwell called Article 10 for Representative Town Meeting “unusual because it looks backwards instead of forward” by seeking permission to fund already-completed projects to replace the salt shed at Department of Public Works for $28,000 and an animal control officer’s vehicle for $80,750. A $12.5 million bond for upgrades at the water treatment plant will be discussed under the next article, but ballots deciding on the matter will be mailed to Town Meeting members who can drop them off at the Municipal Center or mail them immediately after the meeting.
Another article asks Town Meeting members to give guidance on future funding amounts for human services. Last year, they passed a nonbinding motion to bump the funding up to total 2 percent of the municipal budget but the human services committee didn’t have enough requests via applications to meet that figure.
Town Meeting members will do routine matters such as ratify appointments of town officials, and elect members to several committees and boards. They’ll also discuss Select Board compensation, which some Town Meeting members hope to raise in hopes of attracting more diverse candidates in the future.
Article 14 asks if general fund balance or surplus funds should be used to replace an elevator at Gibson-Aiken Center for $130,000, replace sidewalks for $100,000 and pave streets for $300,000. The next article proposes taking $75,000 from the same source for upgrading the town’s website.
The community marketing initiative will be considered in Article 16. Brattleboro Area and Chamber of Commerce are looking for $37,551 to continue the project, with the amount requested representing the equivalent of 10 percent of the revenue collected by the local option tax for rooms and meals taxes in the prior fiscal year.
Article 21 sees whether a $36,147 contribution should be made to Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies. The funds would come from program income, a revolving loan fund that disperses proceeds originating as Community Development Block Grants.
Other articles will determine if special assessments on properties in certain sections of town should be paid to fund the DBA’s annual work plan for $80,000, and cover debt service on capital improvements to the water and sewer lines in the Mountain Home and Deepwood Mobile Home Park for a total of about $223,276.
The last articles ask if groups should be exempt from paying their portion of municipal taxes for the next five years. The list includes Brattleboro Post 5 American Legion’s Little League Field, Camp Waubanong, The Family Garden, and Garden Path Elder Living’s Holton Home and Bradley House.
Three informational meetings are expected to be held remotely before Representative Town Meeting. One will be about the water treatment plant project. Another will address all items and the last will be a test run to work out technological issues.
All voters can weigh in on articles on the March 2 ballot, which features questions about whether retail cannabis sales should be permitted in Brattleboro; if the town charter should be amended to allow voters to make future changes to the charter if it’s something that already exists in another municipal charter in Vermont; whether Brattleboro voters want to return to having a separate school district and if Brattleboro will allow the other three towns to withdraw from the merged Windham Southeast School District if they wish to. Another article deals with elections of Select Board members for a three-year term and two one-year terms, and Town Meeting members.