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After the budget vote, Selectboard begins process of cutting $1 million

BRATTLEBORO—Town staff, Representative Town Meeting members, and a few residents occupied seats on Tuesday night in the same room where the vote to reject the town’s budget had taken place the previous week.

Town staff looked pensive. Town Clerk Annette Cappy held in her lap a three-ring binder, its spine stamped with budget in large capital letters.

Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein told the audience that the town-wide vote that overturned the budget [story, page A1] signaled to the board that building the next budget would not be “business as usual.”

To keep taxes from rising — as the board felt the voters were asking for — the town will need to cut about $1 million.

Both board and audience members referred to the not-business-as-usual phrase multiple times, but not always in reference to the same budget changes.

Audience member Steve Minkin passionately urged the board to realize that the town-wide budget vote was about the Police-Fire Facilities Upgrade Project, not a mandate to cut other municipal services.

Many audience members told the board to not overreact.

Lynn Russell called for eliminating all raises in the budget, noting that during the Great Depression, unions voted to take pay cuts so none of their members would be laid off from their jobs.

She also asked the Selectboard and School Board members, in the spirit of “generosity and community,” to return their stipends to the town.

But in a careful-what-you-wish-for moment, the Selectboard members outlined potential cuts to the budget.

Gartenstein’s list of potential changes and cuts included not taking out the $9 million bond on the police-fire project, eliminating one or two full-time positions in the recreation and parks and the Library departments, and eliminating winter sidewalk plowing.

He also said that not taking out the bond would save the town only about $200,000.

Selectboard Member Kate O’Connor suggested reducing the town workweek from 40 hours to 36 or 32 hours.

Board member John Allen suggested closing the West Brattleboro Fire Station and turning it into a storage garage. He also suggested finishing work on the Central Fire Station with what was left of the original $5 million bond that funded the project.

Spoon Agave, one of the organizers of the effort to revisit and reduce the town budget, stood at the microphone and told the board, “Your responsibility is to raise the revenue for the services towns people would like to have.”

He told the board that nothing in the Town Charter dictates how the board gathers feedback from residents.

“I’m encouraging you not to feel confined to the same process,” said Agave, who co-chaired the committee that oversaw the most recent round of changes to the Town Charter, the document that provides the blueprint for how Brattleboro government functions.

Audience member Jane Southworth said that the board had done its fair share of hard work.

Now, she said to the audience, the time has come for those concerned about the budget to become involved.

“It’s our responsibility, if we have these concerns, not to sit back,” she said. “But to have a dialogue.”

In an effort to ensure that the town has a budget in time for the new fiscal year, the board will hold a budget meeting Tuesday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Gartenstein asked department heads to have information on the potential ramifications of cutting services or staff to the board by Friday.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #251 (Wednesday, April 23, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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