Selectboard struggles to close $522,000 budget deficit

BRATTLEBORO — The Selectboard has asked to see a municipal budget with a 1 percent tax increase for the 2013 fiscal year.

The board, which has worked on the 2013 budget over three meetings, has yet to finalize any changes. Once approved by the board, the budget travels to Representative Town Meeting for final debates, and votes by the Town Meeting members.

The fiscal year 2013 budget-in-progress does not, yet, reflect any tax rate hikes. On Dec. 5, the board instructed municipal staff to offer additional budget cuts, or find more income to combat a $522,000 deficit, said Town Manager Barbara Sondag.

According to Sondag, municipal staff have whittled a budget shortfall of more than $1 million down to $522,000.

Staff has altered the Capital Plan, said Sondag, and reviewed revenue, but found “it was moving in the wrong direction.”

One reason? The school district recently ended a services agreement with the town. An audit of the school district's books had suggested the district did not receive enough benefit to justify the $42,000 agreement, said Sondag.

Reduced expenses include the finance department and ambulance service. The board cut $100,000 from the paving budget, she said, and also cut $30,000 from unemployment compensation.

According to Finance Director John O'Connor, the town self-insures for unemployment compensation. Brattleboro reimburses the state when a former town employee files for, and is granted, unemployment, he said. The line item now totals $10,000.

In recent budget meetings, the board also discussed adding $64,000 as a 1 percent increase for “salary adjustments” for employees, said O'Connor.

Sondag said that the board discussed a level-funded budget for fiscal 2013, understanding that Brattleboro's taxpayers are experiencing economic strain.

“There's also some increases that can't be contained without cutting services,” said Sondag, adding the town “is also looking at how we do some of our business.”

The board has held three budget meetings so far, said Sondag. The meetings are open to the public. The next budget meeting is Dec. 19 at 7:30 a.m.

Fiscal year 2013 starts on July 1, 2012.

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