Letter to the editor: Proposed budget measures are reckless spending

Brandon taxpayers are being asked to approve a 13.45% town budget increase with a 9.7% increase in taxes, as well as being asked to approve a bond for $500,000 for a town solar array on leased land.  Brandon taxpayers will also see a rise in school taxes of approx. $262 per $100,000 of assessed homesite value, with a proposed spending increase for the OVUUSD of 12.7%, a projected Brandon tax increase of 18.3% for a projected enrollment of 1128 students or $24,155.87 per student.  In addition, the Brandon Fire District that manages our public water system is looking at purchasing land and putting in a new water reservoir and piping to connect that system to the existing water supply, which may range from $5 mil to $15 million in the future.  

The Town of Brandon Selectboard has done a lot of spending in the last year or so to include $1.16 million ARPA funds, almost $400,000 in 1% local option tax funds including $255,000 on a highway truck that wasn’t budgeted for under the previous Town Manager’s oversight, creating a deputy town manager position, spending for a plan for the $500,000 solar array on land we don’t own, and spending the $3 million dollar town budget.  Within the town budget, we spend approx. $113,000 for a full-time town clerk and part-time assistant salaries but have the office open and access to public records only available 80% of the time or 208 days for a cost of approx. $543 per day for gross wages alone.  

The Brandon Selectboard’s recent decisions have sparked much controversy in town.  There is a buzz of concern about the disconnect between the decisions and the public’s sentiment about the direction the town should go.  Micromanaging and canceling a 2-yr-old trained canine officer that we are lucky to have that can smell drugs, follow scents to search for citizens, and often allows police to get search warrants much easier when needed, in a community that has always struggled with drug issues was a serious misstep.  

Police equipment such as vehicles that are as much as 10 years old on the road, without a solid plan to purchase one per year to OWN, not lease, because of the high cost of fitup of a police vehicle for lettering, laptop, lights, backseat restraints, while forcing electric vehicles on a 3-year lease that are not police certified with heavy-duty frames, transmissions, and batteries is just plain silly.  With seven officers and a chief, the simple solution is to purchase one vehicle per year to rotate the fleet and none are over 7-8 years old and we retain them for years after fitting them up for police use, while paying zero interest.  

Electric vehicles are not delivering the mileage ranges, are seeing increases in insurance, require expensive infrastructures for charging at the police station as well as officer’s homes when they are on call, will require an upgrade of generators, and will most likely have zero value when the batteries expire, not to mention the damage to the environment to produce these electric vehicle batteries.  These pose new issues that Brandon can’t afford to learn and certainly not with public safety. 

 The solar array is proposed to be on leased land and involves an agreement with a public utility company that has increased site fees for the “net metering” programs regularly, relies on sunlight that we get little of compared to other parts of the country, relies on government rebates that we all pay for, and assumes a 40-year equipment life.  There is barely any equipment I can think of other than a tractor that could last 40 years and it would need work over those years.  The notion of paying the same as the electric bill to buy equipment to HOPE it delivers free electricity down the road is a notion that the solar business USES to SELL product.  If we had just mailed the $500,000 to the electric company, we could pretend we had $500,000 of free electricity, but it wouldn’t be true and it would surely eliminate the maintenance costs, the site fees, the disposal costs at the end of the useful life.  In short, the decisions of our local elected Selectboard and town clerk have been irresponsible and not mindful of their main purpose of providing access to town records, and providing sewer, highway maintenance and police services.  

Our schools, built for many more students than we currently have, are buying new temporary classrooms, while our proficiency scores are very low in math and science.  3rd, 7th and 9th grades are testing at 26%, 18% and 11% proficiency respectively.  5th, 8th and 11th grades are testing at 34%, 19% and 29% proficient in science.  Both scores are lower than the statewide average.

Put simply, we have elected officials who are spending away as if we are a city with unlimited resources.  If you are concerned about the cost of living, the answer is to VOTE and VOTE NO and to replace elected officials and move forward with new more responsible decisions!

Sharon Stearns


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