BRANDON — Prior to a fourth vote on its municipal budget, which took place Tuesday, Brandon had the dubious distinction of being the only town in Vermont without an approved 2014-2015 spending plan. After the votes were counted Tuesday evening that distinction was still intact.
Brandon voters rejected the most recent town budget proposal by a vote of 600-425.
The $3,098,670 spending plan, which looked for $2,493,995 to be raised through property taxes, represented a 7.17 percent increase in the net municipal budget. If approved, it would have meant a 13.4 percent increase in the tax rate, from 78.6 cents to 92 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
But the town budget is only one-third of the total tax bill for residents. The total tax rate, including funding for schools, would have gone up 7 percent to $2.2565.
Now, the Brandon selectboard is considering its next move. Rumors that three members resigned in the wake of the vote Tuesday were unfounded, and selectboard Chair Maria Ammatuna said Wednesday morning that the full board will meet for a regular meeting on Monday, July 28, at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall.
Ammatuna said the board will consider scheduling the next budget vote for the state’s Primary Election Day, Aug. 26.
At Monday’s meeting, there will also be discussion of the Sept. 30 deadline to re-pay what is spent of the town’s $1.5 million line of credit. The board approved receiving the line of bank credit to cover expenses once the 2014 fiscal year ended on June 30 in the absence of a budget.
“We will all be at the July 28 meeting in full form,” Ammatuna said Wednesday. “We have met with the town clerk on next steps as far as issuing regular tax bills and the current expense note, and on Monday night we will make some determination.”
On Town Meeting Day, Brandon voters soundly defeated a proposed $3,276,095 town budget, 817-399. On May 6, voters rejected a spending plan of $3,218,670 by a tally of 498-318. The selectboard presented the same spending plan to voters on June 24, plus options for additional spending, but that proposal was defeated, 671-376.
Turnout on for this past Tuesday’s vote was 36 percent of Brandon’s 2,858 registered voters, the third lowest of the four budget votes.
The June 24 vote garnered 38 percent. That is an increase over the May 6 re-vote, when only 29 percent cast ballots. On Town Meeting, 44 percent of voters exercised that right.
For the budget proposal on the table this time, the Brandon selectboard trimmed an additional $120,000 from the previous budget offering, including cutting one and a half Public Works positions, a planned police cruiser purchase and insisting on a 5 percent contribution to health care costs from town employees when the union contract is re-negotiated. That last item alone would save the town about $13,000. There were also cuts to mowing and paving, as well as cuts to line items such as culverts, tree maintenance, zoning, listers and buildings and grounds.
But it wasn’t enough for the “no” voters, who apparently want to see cuts in the police department that would end 24-hour coverage, and the full-time recreation department directorship, which was approved by voters last year after three budget re-votes.
The selectboard has been working on a spending plan with no reserve funds; they were used up by Tropical Storm Irene flood repairs and by previous boards to keep the tax rate down. Efforts to create a new reserve have been rejected by voters, who are insisting on a lower tax rate. The board is also working with a $211,000 decrease in projected revenues.
Then there is roughly $1 million in delinquent property taxes and sewer fees owed the town, which is severely affecting the town’s cash flow. Ammatuna said Wednesday that in addition to the “no” voters who want to see the cuts in police and recreation spending, there is also a new group who are saying they won’t vote for a budget until the town gets tough on delinquent taxes.
According to Town Clerk Sue Gage, Brandon is likely looking at a deficit of about $50,000 for fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, but the exact amount won’t be known until the next audit of the town books this winter.