Discussions begin on town budget cuts
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | May 08,2013
BRANDON — Nearly a week after the municipal budget was soundly defeated by residents, town officials are trying to figure out ways to save money that will appease taxpayers.
At a special meeting Monday night, attended by more than 20 concerned residents, three Brandon Select Board members began preliminary discussions on where the budget can be trimmed. Before any significant work took place, though, the board opened the meeting to residents in an effort to listen to what ideas they might have.
Last week, Brandon residents easily defeated a budget that included a more than 10 percent increase in town spending. With a turnout 7 percentage points higher than in March, residents voted down the $3,292,280 budget, 672-390.
The increase in spending can be attributed, in part, to the addition of a fourth Department of Public Works position, which was eliminated to save money several years ago. Also contributing to the increase was the expansion of the recreation director position to full-time and the replacement of the town’s front-end loader.
“We are budget cutting. Is there a number that we need to get?” asked Devon Fuller, board chairman, during Monday’s meeting.
Based on residents’ comments the major concern seemed to be the overall budget increase.
Although the majority of the conversation revolved around the town’s recreation director, several points were brought up for the board to consider, including the possibility of trimming costs in winter maintenance of sidewalks or establishing low salt areas around town.
Another consideration was looking at the number of part-time positions in town and determining exactly how much they cost the town and if some could be eliminated. Fuller said the department of public works is getting by, but maybe that department could be cut.
“There are not a lot of cookies out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the meat and potatoes (of the budget) are in the employees.”
Selectman David Atherton said department heads need to look at the budget again with a fine-tooth comb and see where things can be cut.
“If we had dealt with this in January or February, it would have been better,” Atherton said.
The majority of the public comments though were focused on the recreation department budget, which was expanded with a part-time director position expanded to full time.
Some residents thought that it should remain part-time while others argued the upgrade was necessary, especially if the town wants to attract people to the community.
Among those was Sam Stone, who said an online petition is being circulated in support of a full-time director. She said the comments on the website were “very rich” advocating for a successful recreation department.
“The rec position is not a part-time position,” she said. “We will not be able to keep a solid person in the position. The current director has generated a tremendous amount of momentum.”
One person called for a greater balance in the recreation department so that activities were offered to more than just kids.
Other grievances raised at the meeting included asking the Select Board to report the numbers better, meaning outlining how much it will exactly cost town residents and how much savings they will get with any future cuts.
At the end of the meeting, Fuller also gave a brief update on the search to fill former Selectman Richard Baker’s seat. Baker recently resigned from the board to take the interim town manager position.
Fuller said they have received a handful of letters of interest from residents that the board members will review in executive session before making a decision.