Brandon budget forces layoffs; town faces deficit
By Bruce Edwards
BRANDON – Voters in two weeks will decide the fate of a fourth municipal budget - one that is $120,000 less than the budget soundly rejected last month.
But the board was also given some grim news that the town is facing a deficit in the neighborhood of $50,000.
The $3,098,670 fiscal 2014-15 budget will cost the jobs of two Public Works Department employees. One union layoff is year round; the other layoff is for part of the year. The latter will be asked to return for plowing in winter.
The amount to be raised by taxes is $2,493,995.
The board also sliced $38,000 from the Police Department budget and made a sundry of other cuts.
Included in the budget is a hoped for savings of $13,000 by requiring a 5 percent contribution by union workers to pay for their health insurance premiums. The outcome will be decided in union negotiations that have yet to begin.
The meeting was the last of several held since the June vote to come up with a budget number that would pass voter scrutiny.
Last year it took four votes to pass a budget.
With no budget in place, the town was forced to obtain a $1.5 million line of credit at a local bank to keep the town running through Sept. 30.
Town Clerk and Treasurer Susan Gage said the town is facing a deficit of roughly $50,000 from the fiscal year that just ended. With no reserve fund to absorb the shortfall, Gage said by state law the town has no choice but add the deficit amount to property owners’ tax bills. She said the exact amount won’t be known until the books are closed.
Gage said the problem isn’t overspending but unpaid taxes.
For the fiscal year that just ended, delinquent taxes totaled $278,379. Total delinquent taxes owed the town total $694,486.
The town is also owed several hundred thousand dollars in delinquent water bills.
Gage said there is no room for error when it comes to the new budget. “It’s tight, it’s very tight,” she said. “It’s frightening to me.”
Board members said the town is ramping up its efforts to more aggressively collect back taxes, including publishing the names of delinquent taxpayers.
The five-person board faced a few exasperated townspeople, who turned out for last night’s meeting in the basement of the Town Hall. One person accused the board of not listening to voters after the May budget defeat and then presented the exact same budget again last month.
“People saw that as arrogance,” the man said.
Others raised concerns about the union negotiating process while others questioned why the board wasn’t looking to cut the Recreation Department. That brought a sharp rebuke from Cindy Bell, who reminded voters that would leave town youth with too much time on their hands. “We already have a drug problem in Brandon,” Bell said.
For the complete story, see Wednesday's Rutland Herald.