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A postcard showing Union Station in the 1920s. Town Meeting members will deliberate on whether to sell the town-owned building to the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center for $1.

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Representative Town Meeting is virtual for second straight year

Members will go online to consider a $20 million General Fund budget

BRATTLEBORO—For the second straight year, the annual Representative Town Meeting will be a virtual affair.

This year’s meeting will be held Saturday, March 19, starting at 8:30 a.m., via Zoom.

The proposed fiscal year 2023 General Fund budget includes total revenues and expenditures of $20,063,642, an increase of $379,651, or 1.9 percent, over the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Notable cost decreases from FY22 to FY23 include a transfer to the Capital Fund (down $91,000), debt service payments (down $149,775), and workers’ compensation costs (down $105,000).

Notable cost increases include an additional transfer to the Fossil Fuel Free Facilities Fund ($70,000), the creation of two new employee positions (an evidence technician in the police department and a human resource assistant, one for $50,523 and the other for $43,368), a one-time allocation for a strategic plan in the Fire Department ($25,000), and the first year of a recurring annual allocation to an online permitting system ($15,000).

There also are above-average increases in employee wages, which are based on collective bargaining agreements with the four employee unions that “improve the internal equity of town employee compensation and increase external competitiveness for better recruitment and retention,” according to this year’s Annual Town Report.

A rise in employee benefits is due to the increase in the cost of the employee health insurance program.

Finally, while it is funded with savings from vacant police officers’ positions for which the town will not have to pay salaries in FY23, and therefore is not (strictly speaking) a budget increase, an additional $100,000 allocation to the Community Safety Fund is included in the proposed budget.

As proposed, funding the FY23 budget would require property taxes to increase from $15,674,281 to $16,009,331, or 2.1 percent.

Assuming no change in the Grand List, this would require a municipal tax rate increase of 2.91 cents. Actual taxes paid for FY23 would increase by $28.08 over FY22 for each $100,000 of assessed property value.

This is the lowest proposed increase in more than five years.

Based on the substantial operating surplus at the end of FY21, the town had expected to have more than $500,000 available to pay for capital needs or other one-time expenses in the FY23 budget.

If that had occurred as expected, the proposed property tax rate increase would have been at or below the Selectboard’s recommendations of recent years.

Instead, due to an accounting rule and not an absence of funds, the town’s books show just $41,536 of available fund balance for FY23.

For FY23, the Selectboard proposes spending $300,000 for street paving, $208,000 for sidewalk replacement, $12,000 for bicycle infrastructure, $30,000 to replace the fire alarm system at Brooks Memorial Library, and $46,000 to replace computer hardware in various town departments.

The fire department seeks $115,000 as a contribution to the Future Fire Trucks Reserve Fund, $55,000 for the second year of a 4-year lease/purchase of an upgraded radio system, $35,000 to replace a 12-lead EKG, and $45,000 to replace the 2013 vehicle operated by the fire chief.

The police department seeks $116,000 to replace two 2017 police patrol vehicles, and $13,000 for ballistic vests.

The Public Works Department has asked for $315,000 to replace a 2005 grader, $80,000 toward replacing a 2013 dump truck (the $90,000 balance to be funded in FY24), and $19,000 for electronic signage.

The operating budget includes a 3 percent cost of living increase for town employees.

Other articles ask voters to spend $37,551 for the Community Marketing Initiative promotion of the town by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, and $80,000 through special assessments on Downtown Improvement District properties to be used for capital and operating costs of projects of the town’s duly Designated Downtown Organization.

Other proposed expenditures include $274,575 for human service programs and facilities, and $131,698.86 through special property assessments with the Mountain Home Park Special Benefit Assessment Tax District to pay old debt for improved water/sewer lines serving Mountain Home and Deepwood Mobile home parks.

Another article seeks $36,552 from program income (a revolving loan that originated as a Community Development Block Grant) to contribute to operate Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which has requested funding of $3/person in all the towns it serves.

Voters will also be asked to authorize selling the Brattleboro Union Station Museum building and associated land to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Inc. for $1, to expand the Agricultural Land Protection Fund and rename it the Brattleboro Agricultural and Food Systems Revolving Loan and Grant Fund, and to authorize the Selectboard to enter into tax stabilization agreements with alternative energy-generating plants and fix and maintain the valuation of such properties on the Grand List.

Representative Town Meeting will be carried live on Brattleboro Community Television on Comcast channel 1085 or at brattleborotv.org/channel-10-stream or facebook.com/brattleborotv.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #655 (Wednesday, March 16, 2022). This story appeared on page A3.

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