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Fourth time’s the charm for Brandon budget

BRANDON — Brandon has a budget. Voters went back to the polls for a fourth time on Tuesday and the ayes had it, 516-399.
The latest version of the municipal budget asked voters to approve a $3,147,634 spending plan, with $2,331,134 to be raised by property taxes. That amount represents a $84,084, or 3.7 percent, increase in spending over the current budget. Now that it’s approved, the tax rate will increase to 71.27 cents per $100 of property value, an increase of 2.49 cents over the current rate of 68.78 cents.
“It’s a good day,” Brandon selectboard Chair Devon Fuller said on Wednesday. “I’m very glad and relieved. On the one hand, it’s not a huge victory because it’s such a tight budget, but at least we have a budget.”
Because the fiscal year ended on June 30, the board Monday night approved the use of a $540,000 line of credit to pay the bills.
Voter turnout was up over the last vote just three weeks ago, when the budget failed on June 18 by a tally of 371-326.
Before that, on April 3, a re-vote had been petitioned and the budget that originally passed on Town Meeting Day in March by a vote of 428-420 was handily rejected by a vote of 672-390.
The voter turnout totals were as follows:
•  Town Meeting: 848
•  April 30 re-vote: 1,062
•  June 19 vote: 697
•  July 9 vote: 915
Tuesday’s vote drew 32 percent of Brandon’s roughly 2,800 registered voters.
Unlike the previous information meeting before the April 30 vote, which was dismally attended by 37 people, over 60 people showed up for the information meeting this past Monday night. Fuller made a PowerPoint presentation of the latest budget proposal, saying he believed the board has cut as much as it can.
“We were able to pull a little more out of the budget, but I believe this is as far as we can go,” he said.
Fuller said the board has remained committed to building the town’s tax base, creating a full-time recreation or activities director, expanding the Public Works Department to four full-time employees from the current three, and improving overall communication about the town’s budget and financial dealings with the public.
“Times have changed, and we feel we need to change with them,” he said. “It will take a concerted effort to increase and maintain properties and businesses. A strong infrastructure, amenities and activity programs will help bring more people to town.”
Since the Town Meeting Day budget, the selectboard has cut $150,000 from the budget.
A silver lining of the entire budget experience in Brandon over the last four months has been an engaged selectboard that some say is much more in touch not only with the opinions of the voters, but with the budget itself. Since the resignation of former Town Manager Keith Arlund in March, the board has had a crash course in municipal finance. The board members have spent hours going line by line, trying to untangle a convoluted thread of various accounts and funds, tightening, simplifying and streamlining the budget while educating themselves on where taxpayer money goes.
“We’re kind of in a rebuilding phase,” Fuller said, “and we’re going to take what we’ve learned about how to build a better budget and by the time we get a new town manager in August, I think we’ll all be working better together. It’s nice to have this behind us and be able to move forward.”

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