BRANDON — Here we go again. Brandon residents defeated the proposed town budget on a re-vote Tuesday, 498-318.
It was a $3,218,670 proposed spending plan, with $2,613,995 to be raised by taxes, which represented a 12.2 percent tax increase.
While the original Town Meeting Day vote resulted in a 44 percent voter turnout, Tuesday’s vote only drew 29 percent of the electorate despite a mass mailing and selectboard members pounding the pavement.
Last year, the budget was approved in Marchby eight votes, only to be put up for re-vote by petition, then cut and re-voted three more times until it was finally approved on July 9. Looks like 2014 may mirror 2013.
The proposed $3,276,095 town budget on this year’s Town Meeting Day ballot, which carried a 14.8 percent increase on roughly $2,670,000 to be raised by taxes, was soundly defeated by voters, 817-399.
A CUT ABOVE, AND BELOW
The board went back and cut an additional $63,425 from the Town Meeting Day budget that was defeated, including $15,000 in contingency funds and a $35,960 administrative line item that erroneously listed a part-time staff member as drawing a full-time salary.
But with revenue down by a whopping 26 percent, and a loss of all surplus funds used in past years to keep the tax rate down and for Tropical Storm Irene repairs, there isn’t any meat on the budget bone for a capital improvement fund, or to build up a surplus.
With a $16,000 addition to the lister’s office budget for a contracted assessor approved by voters on Town Meeting Day, and the reduction of $24,700 in lister expenses no longer necessary, the total cut from the proposed revote budget came to an additional $55,935.
But it wasn’t enough. Tuesday’s budget defeat, by the closest margin in recent re-votes, came despite a very smooth and in-depth presentation by the Brandon selectboard at the public information meeting Monday night at Neshobe School. Unfortunately, only 50 people showed up for the presentation.
“I cannot believe there are so few people here,” Budget Committee member Cindy Bell said at the meeting. “If this budget doesn’t pass, the only way this can go is up.”
The board illustrated exactly how this budget would affect property owners:
• $100,000 property = $184 tax increase this year or $15.33/month.
• $150,000 property = $276 tax increase this year or $23/month.
• $200,000 property = $368 tax increase this year or $30.66/month.
Reached by phone after the vote count Tuesday, selectboard Chair Maria Ammatuna was clearly frustrated.
“Where do you get money to fill potholes?” she asked. “Where do you get money to maintain the water system, the sewer system? We’re not talking about grandiose services with this budget. This is nothing … nothing.”
Ammatuna said the board has been working overtime to try and do the work of the people and she doesn’t understand this outcome.
“There are plenty of people in Brandon who need help, and Brandon is so generous,” she said. “If people are starving here, they open up their wallet, their closets, their homes. But to keep the town running, I guess it’s another story.”
The board chair also said that not everyone who voted against the budget did so because they thought it was too high.
“A lot of people voted ‘no’ because they felt there wasn’t enough in the budget,” she said. “You can’t win.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The most interesting point to come out of Monday’s budget information meeting was made by a member of the citizens’ Budget Committee, a group of taxpayer volunteers that have been working with the selectboard to craft this year’s budget proposals so far.
Larry Rogers asked the board after its general budget presentation Monday night what was the original spending amount approved by voters on Town Meeting Day 2013. He also wanted to know what the final 2013 re-voted budget amount was, compared to the current proposed budget.
“How much mischief did that re-vote process entail?” Rogers asked the board. “I think that is pertinent to this discussion.”
With the help of previous town reports on hand and a little time to do the math, Town Manager Robin Bennett came up with answers for Rogers.
The budget approved by voters at the 2013 Town Meeting was $3,292,280, with $2,480,080 to be raised by taxes. It was up 10.8 percent, or $240,000.
The 2014 budget that voters defeated on Tuesday represented a $133,915, or 5.1 percent, increase over the current budget.
So, had there been no re-vote initiative last year, there would have been one budget vote, not four, and it’s much more likely that Brandon taxpayers would have easily passed this year’s budget on Town Meeting Day, because the increase would still have been well below 10 percent.
That said, it’s hard to know how the selectboard will proceed from here. While Ammatuna agrees that spending needs to increase in order to fix roads, maintain equipment and police cars, and start to build a surplus up from zero, it’s unclear how the board will reconcile the voters who want level funding, and those who want more.
“This is one active, engaged, listening board,” Ammatuna said. “We’re trying to do what the people are asking us to do, but then we’re not being supported.”