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Town finances for FY2015? Better than expected.

BRATTLEBORO—“The results from 2015 were really good,” Finance Director John O’Connor told the Selectboard on Sept. 15.

According to the unaudited accounts for fiscal year 2015, the books closed out better than expected, he said.

The town’s three main budgets — general fund, parking fund, utilities fund — “all closed the year better than budgeted,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor highlighted a surplus in the parking fund of $44,809, of which more than half he attributed to higher than expected revenues from parking meters or tickets.

The news is especially good, O’Connor said, because the town had $549,787 in unbudgeted transfers from the general fund to other areas of the municipality for things like repairs to town infrastructure.

These transfers were offset by savings in the Town Manger’s office, the Police and Fire departments, and in risk management benefits, according to O’Connor.

O’Connor said even the general fund’s anticipated deficit was less than budgeted. The town had expected a shortfall of $200,000. Instead, it only had a deficit of $176,168. This was almost $24,000 less than budgeted.

A deficit? This is good news?

According to O’Connor, the planned deficit helped keep down the tax rate.

He explained that in the accounting world, not all deficits are the same as they are in household budgets.

In the case of the fiscal year 2015 general fund budget, O’Connor said the deficit refers to the town collecting fewer taxes than planned expenses. Another way to think about this is that the shortfall in revenues was planned.

O’Connor explained that for fiscal year 2015, Representative Town Meeting approved using $200,000 of the town’s unassigned fund balance — that’s surplus in household budgeting terms — to balance the budget rather than raise that amount through taxes.

So, on paper, the general fund looks like it had a deficit — less revenue coming in than expenses going out — but in reality, the town’s surplus met the planned shortfall.

The town aims to keep 10 percent of its budget, approximately $1.5 million, in reserve for emergencies or substantial repairs like the Green Street retaining wall.

The $200,000 used to offset the general fund, however, was monies above the 10 percent goal.

Since the surplus had come from taxes, some, such as Selectboard member John Allen, had argued to essentially return the money to taxpayers by using it to offset the amount of taxes the town needed to raise.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #324 (Wednesday, September 23, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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