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Town school budget passes despite uncertainty of Act 46

RATM members approve spending for multiple capital projects, a marketing program, SeVEDS, and more

BRATTLEBORO—Representative Annual Town Meeting members considered seven school-related articles and 24 municipal-related articles during their 13-hour annual meeting on March 23.

In addition to the human services articles, the 1-percent local-option sales tax, and energy/environment/climate change spending [see main story], members of the body made a number of other decisions.

School funds approved — just in case

Members started their day by approving all school-related items.

The $15,368,219 budget for fiscal year 2020 was approved, after some discussion and much clarification. Like many of the conversations surrounding Windham Southeast Supervisory Union schools in recent months, Act 46 hung heavy.

The FY20 budget presented by the Town School Board is a stopgap to ensure that the Brattleboro town schools will have a budget in the new fiscal year just in case lawsuits related to the state education reform bill or legislative action to delay the mandates put a halt to school mergers.

First, a little context: The State Board of Education has ordered that schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney merge into one district.

This merger will result, in part, in establishing a single unified school board and a single budget for all the schools in the four towns. This merger will also mean the creation of one pre-kindergarten-through-grade-12 school system that incorporates all four towns. Under Act 46, this newly merged district must be functional by July 1.

Members confirm appointments

Meeting members confirmed the following Selectboard appointments: Hilary Francis as town clerk for one year, John O’Connor as treasurer for one year, and the law firm of Fisher & Fisher as town attorney.

They approved the following appointments to town committees and boards: Capital Grant Review Board: Georges Herzog and Kathy Urffer; Town Finance Committee: Ben Coplan, Conor Floyd, Oscar Heller, David Levenbach, Franz Reichsman, Mary White, and Maya Hasegawa; Library Trustees: Elizabeth Ruane, Howard Burrows, Jane Southworth, and John R. Woodward.

Members give the nod to town expenses

Police-Fire Facilities Upgrade Project loose ends: Members approved the use of proceeds remaining from the Police-Fire Project’s bond for five items, including replacing a portion of the roof and updating communications equipment in Central Dispatch.

An amendment failed to remove $160,000 in funding related to building a carport to shelter the department’s vehicles.

Members also authorized rolling any residual proceeds into the Capital Fund for future expenditures.

Town Manager Peter Elwell explained that the proceeds were in part from interest earned on the project’s initial bond.

Multiple capital projects: Members also approved using $295,000 from the Unassigned General Fund Balance (sometimes referred to as “surplus funds”):

—$25,000 to replace the windows in the Children’s Room at Brooks Memorial Library

—$100,000 to replace the swimming pool deck and warming shelter boiler at Living Memorial Park

—$170,000 to replace a dump truck at the Department of Public Works.

Promoting and marketing Brattleboro: Members amended a request from the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance to use a portion of the Unassigned Fund Balance for a promotion and marketing program for the town.

The organizations will jointly receive $42,119, after presenting a marketing plan with measurable goals to the Selectboard, per the RATM Finance Committee’s amendment to the original article.

The Downtown Brattleboro Alliance’s annual funding request passed with little discussion. This year the request, which is funded by a special assessment on downtown properties, was $80,000.

• Mountain Home Park special assessment tax: The annual request for this tax on property within the Mountain Home Park Special Benefit Assessment Tax District was also approved.

The assessment — this year, $223,276.47 — pays the debt remaining on capital improvements to the water and sewer lines serving Mountain Home and Deepwood mobile home parks.

Annual Representative Town Meeting first authorized the special assessment in 2007.

Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS)’ request for $25,000 was approved, subject to an amendment that requires the organization to present a status report about the Brattleboro economy to the Representative Town Meeting body.

Support for home rule

Meeting members authorized joining the Selectboard in “showing strong support” for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ Limited Self-Governance Proposal.

This proposal, under consideration by the Vermont Legislature, would start a pilot program for towns to explore home rule [“Brattleboro to consider $18M in spending,” News, March 20].

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Originally published in The Commons issue #503 (Wednesday, March 27, 2019). This story appeared on page A2.

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