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Brandon Select Board Struggles To Trim Budget After Three Defeats

Nina Keck
Officials in Brandon worry that not having a town budget in place for the start of the new fiscal year, will make staffing the town's popular Indepence Day activities more difficult.

Brandon’s Select Board will meet in an emergency session tonight to trim a budget that’s already been voted down three times by local residents.

Officials in Brandon were hoping the third time would be the charm this week, but no such luck.  Voters overwhelmingly said no to a $3.2 million municipal budget. 

Richard Baker was among them. “Our tax rate is very high. There were people who put up 'vote no' signs this time that really amazed me,” said Baker.  “So I think people have just had it.”

The former select board member said he and many others in town have lost confidence in the current board. 

At an emergency meeting of the board on Wednesday, Baker suggested town officials redefine core services. "One thing that’s happened over the last several years is things that are discretionary have now become part of the town budget,” said Baker.

He cited funds earmarked for the local library, the senior center and the mosquito control district.  He suggested taking those items out of the core budget and having them voted on separately.

Another person at the meeting suggested cutting the recreation department.  

Members of the select board said cuts in the public works and police departments are likely, but union contracts will need to be worked out.

Select Board member Blaine Cliver said no matter what gets cut it will be painful. “I think the current budget increases are high,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to pay higher taxes , but they’re the result of Brandon not having as much income aside from taxes that it’s had in the past. That’s dropped off dramatically, like 29 percent.  We’ve kept our expenditures to a low 2.3 percent increase,” said Cliver, “but the loss of this income has made it very difficult and the taxpayers have to make up the difference.”

Cliver says a decline in grant funding, a drop in real estate values and costs from tropical storm Irene have all taken a toll on Brandon.

At the same time, he said the town’s reserve funds have been spent keeping taxes down the past few years. “So we’re reaching a point where we have no reserves and we have services we’d like to keep up and we’re having difficulty finding the funds for that.”

The uncertainties come at a bad time. Town coffers are typically low at the start of the new fiscal year and the town’s popular Independence Day celebrations require lots of overtime from a police force facing cuts. But organizers say the parade and other events will go on.

Meanwhile, the select board will meet again in emergency session to hash out cuts and decide when to put a new budget before voters - again.