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A ‘vanilla’ budget for fiscal 2012

BRATTLEBORO—Financial Director/Treasurer John Leisenring calls the fiscal 2012 budget of $14,377,294 “pretty vanilla.”

“We did everything we could to keep costs down and to keep the taxes down,” he said.

Still, Leisenring said he’s concerned about the town’s infrastructure needs.

To cut costs in fiscal 2012, he said that the town has deferred capital improvements, such as sidewalk maintenance, replacing a 40-year-old fire truck, and maintaining town buildings. 

According to Leisenring, Brattleboro’s fiscal year 2012 capital improvement plan totals $5 million. “The cost of government doesn’t get cheaper,” he said. “Things cost more this year than last year.”

In the short term, deferring big-ticket items to cut costs saves pennies now, but over the long term, it takes more pennies to replace or repair the deferred items.

For example, said Leisenring, the town has put off replacing a town truck to save money. But the vehicle has gotten so rickety that it now requires $10,000 of work just to keep it roadworthy.

And then there are the unanticipated changes, such as increases in fuel and employee health insurance costs, that can send budgets into adjustment overdrive.

Employee health insurance costs have jumped $262,000 between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, from $1,230,000 to $1,492,000.

Leisenring said the Department of Public Works has spent $12,000 more in salt this year than last.

And this year, the town has also decided to hire an Assistant Town Manager, adding $60,000 to the budget. “The need [for the Assistant Town Manager] never went away. Just the funding,” said Leisenring.

Leisenring said Town Manager Barbara Sondag has performed both positions’ duties for since 2007. Department heads have also chipped in, he said, but this has hindered everyone’s progress.

But no one wants to raise taxes either, said Leisenring.

“Every dollar represents a service, and any [dollar] change represents a change in services,” said Sondag in an earlier interview.

But town budgets translate into town services, and cutting one cuts the other, she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #92 (Wednesday, March 16, 2011).

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