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Brattleboro girds for possible 8.7-cent rise in property tax

Town officials continue a painful cutting process

BRATTLEBORO—Taxpayers may see less of a tax increase with the Selectboard’s most recent draft budget compared to earlier drafts. The smaller tax increase comes after scrutiny and cuts.

The board continued its budget discussions during a morning meeting on Jan. 3.

At their Jan. 7 meeting, Selectboard chair David Gartenstein said the board will vote at its Jan. 21 meeting on a municipal budget of $16,306,285 that will go to Representative Town Meeeting Members to vote upon on March 22.

Selectboard members also considered a level-service budget on Jan. 3, said Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland. This second budget, however, has been abandoned because it came in more than $400,000 higher than the level-funded budget.

“We’re not altogether done [with the budget],” said Moreland.

Moreland said the board decided against reducing the hours of some smaller municipal departments.

The board asked the Human Services Committee to reduce its annual request by $12,000, said Moreland. The committee ultimately decides what total it will present to Town Meeting Members in March.

According to Moreland, the draft budget “largely preserves staffing” levels and hours. Large cuts have been made to capital improvement projects.

The town also doubled the deductible on its liability insurance, from $500 to $1,000. This shift will save the town $100,000, said Moreland.

Transitioning street lamps to LED bulbs will save the town $40,000, added Moreland.

Departments have made individual cuts in areas like conferences and membership dues. “We continue to get lean in very small ways and reduce capital expenses,” Moreland said.

The goal remains keeping the budget lean but responsible, he added.

As part of budget discussions, the board asked municipal departments to report on the financial ramifications of cutting staff hours.

Reducing hours could save as much as $282,000, according to Moreland’s report. The long-term cost to the town, he cautioned, could do damage.

Moreland wrote that cutting hours could prompt employees to seek other employment. The loss of trained staff and institutional memory might hurt the town. Many employees have taken on responsibilities, such as radiological emergency response, outside their job descriptions.

“Simply put, these cuts would have a severe impact on the smaller departments, disproportionally more so than the cuts to the large departments,” Moreland wrote in his report to the board. “Morale would plummet.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #236 (Wednesday, January 8, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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