Brandon budget debated in advance of fourth vote
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | July 16,2014
BRANDON – It was round four of the town’s budget fight Tuesday night with residents continuing to question how and why the Select Board came up with its latest spending plan for town government.
Residents will vote for the fourth time next week on a $3 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Of that amount, $2,493,995 would be raised through property taxes. Three previous attempts to pass the budget were soundly rejected by voters.
The latest budget proposal however goes further in making cuts - $120,000. Those cuts include the layoff of two Public Works Department employees.
The tax rate for all town appropriations, including the budget and other taxpayer funded approved appropriations, would result in a 13.4 percent increase in the tax rate from 78.6 cents to 92 cents per $100 of assessed value.
But Selectman Devon Fuller pointed out town government represents just one-third of someone’s tax bill. The rest is the state education tax.
If the budget passes, the overall tax rate for the town will go up 6.8 percent, Fuller said.
A number of the 60 or so residents who attended the informational budget meeting Tuesday night at the Neshobe School questioned the wisdom of the DPW cuts while others suggested the board should look at scaling back the nine-person Police Department.
Still others, including Doug Bailey, queried the five board members on efforts to force town workers and their union to finally pick up part of the tab for their health insurance premiums.
The town is hoping the union will go along with a 5 percent contribution from union workers. But Bailey said the number should be more like 20 percent.
Fuller said gradually increasing the contribution is a goal but won’t happen overnight.
“It will take us a few years to get there,” Fuller said.
Brian Sanderson, the public works director, said he would do his best to maintain services with two fewer workers. During the winter, one of the laid off workers will be hired back.
Sanderson, who ticked off a long list of the jobs his department performs, cautioned that plowing and sanding the town’s roads this winter will take longer.
Cutting the road crew didn’t sit well with resident Susan Benedict. “It appears to me to be a little lopsided,” Benedict said.
She suggested the Police Department should shoulder some of the personnel cuts. “Our Police Department is exceptional and possibly exceptionally large for our population,” Benedict said.
One person suggested cutting staff at the town office but Tina Wiles, the former zoning administrator, said that was a bad idea. “The staff is maxed out,” Wiles said.
Brandon provides 24/7 police coverage and Police Chief Christopher Brickell said cutting his eight-officer force would mean a reduction in coverage. Brickell said since the town went to round-the-clock patrols burglaries have dropped 66 percent.
Brickell said that the town can no longer rely on the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department or the State Police to pick up coverage. He said both agencies are faced with their own budget and personnel issues.
The board did cut $38,000 from the department, including $30,000 for a new patrol car.
The problem for the town isn’t overspending, board members have pointed out, but a decline in revenue. The town no longer has a budget surplus which was chewed up by repairs following Tropical Storm Irene and to keep the tax rate artificially low.
The town is also facing a potential deficit of as much as $50,000 from the fiscal year that just ended.
What was galling to one taxpayer at Tuesday night’s meeting was the large number of tax delinquencies the town has allowed to accumulate.
“I think it’s a travesty we have a $1 million deficit in our taxation,” Joe Whalen told the board.
The town has estimated delinquent property taxes at $694,486 with $278,379 of that amount in the last year alone. In addition, several hundred thousand dollars is owed in delinquent sewer fees.
Fuller said it was the past practice of the town to wait five years to take action against a delinquent taxpayer. “We’re not going to wait five years,” he said.
He said the town will also begin publishing the names of delinquent taxpayers, which should provide some motivation.
The next budget vote will take place Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Neshobe School.