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Selectboard edges forward on FY19 budget

Total has risen about $58K since start of discussions

BRATTLEBORO—As the Selectboard makes their way through the Fiscal Year 2019 budget cycle, they recently moved forward on some proposed general fund items.

Since the beginning of the FY19 budget discussions, the total budget has gone up about $58,000 to $14,653,643, due to an increase in workers’ compensation insurance and the cost of snow removal at the police station, a decrease in the town’s bond interest, and a few other items.

For taxpayers in Brattleboro, this means a 3.16 percent increase in the property tax rate if Representative Town Meeting passes the budget as presented.

During the Jan. 2 regular Board meeting and the Jan. 9 special budget meeting, the lengthiest debates centered on big-ticket equipment like the $950,000 aerial ladder fire truck and the $140,000 second sidewalk plow.

The crux of this decision was questions about the relationship between the fund balance — money the town has in reserve — and the property tax rate.

If the town spends too much money from the fund balance, it won’t keep enough of it in reserve for emergency expenditures. If the town raises taxes too high, it will put a burden on property owners. The town can borrow for some capital expenses, but interest and an increased debt load is also a concern.

At the Jan. 2 meeting, Elwell reminded members that if they approved putting the $950,000 firetruck — which would replace a used, 24-year-old ladder truck — into the proposed FY19 budget, it wouldn’t have an immediate effect on taxpayers.

“The first year is debt service, just paying the interest on the borrowing [...] of $500,000 would be around $15,000,” said Elwell, who added, “That’s equivalent to approximately 0.13 cents on the tax rate.”

The remaining $450,000 of the aerial ladder’s cost would come from the fund balance.

“One thing you should be cautious about,” regarding the aerial ladder truck, Elwell said, is, “even though it’s a very expensive item, for the FY19 tax rate, deciding not to do it frees up $15,000. It doesn’t free up hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Elwell noted he isn’t advocating for or against including this purchase in the budget.

“But, it does take away from our reserve [fund],” Selectboard member John Allen pointed out.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, the Selectboard — minus the absent Kate O’Connor — voted 3-1 to approve keeping the aerial ladder truck in the proposed budget, with $450,000 of the $950,000 purchase coming from the General Fund, and borrowing the remaining $500,000. Board member Tim Wessel cast the dissenting vote.

The Board voted 4-0 to place the decision about the second sidewalk plow in the hands of Representative Town Meeting members. That item won’t go into the budget until RTM votes on it in late-March, but if it passes, taxes will cover the plow and the staffing necessary to operate it.

The Board approved including some smaller items to the proposed budget as separate articles in the RTM warning. Elwell provided Board members with the amount each item will add to the property tax rate.

At the request of the Human Services Committee, the Board approved increasing the social services line item by $26,000, for a new total of $146,000. This will raise the property tax rate by 0.23 cents. The town will contribute $300 to Green Up Day, which will cost taxpayers an extra 0.003 cents, and $1,000 to the Southern Vermont Watershed Alliance, which adds about 0.009 cents to taxes.

Selectboard members voted to move forward on two expenses: $60,000 for a human resources professional, and $10,000 for implicit bias training for town staff. But these items were already included in the FY19 budget, so including them for RTM approval didn’t raise the total.

The Board agreed to put a separate item on the RTM warning regarding the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies’ request for funding, but they denied SeVEDS’ request for $36,147 and approved a $24,000 contribution.

Downtown street lights and the day-work program must wait until another budget season. Although the Selectboard acknowledged they will work on those topics throughout the year, it is too early to add them to the FY19 budget.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #442 (Wednesday, January 17, 2018). This story appeared on page A3.

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