Brandon Budget Committee trims 6% from proposed budget


BRANDON—In a long, sometimes contentious meeting on Monday night, the Brandon Budget Committee revisited its failed FY2025 budget and trimmed the proposal from $3,796,180 to $3,557,180.  The difference of $239,000 represents a decrease of 6.2% from the original proposal.  The revised budget now represents a 6.3% increase in spending over the current year’s budget of $3,346,150, as opposed to the 13.5% increase that the failed proposal represented.

The original proposal, which failed at the ballot on March 5 in a 45% yes/55% no split, had sparked heated debate in town over taxes, spending, and affordability.

The Budget Committee comprises the Brandon Selectboard and a six-member citizen advisory panel whose purpose is to offer guidance but which cannot vote.  All members of the Selectboard were present, as were most of the advisory panel, some attending via Zoom.  Brandon Town Manager Seth Hopkins and Deputy Town Manager Bill Moore were also present.  There were roughly 20 town residents in attendance as well.

Advisory-panel member Barry Varian shared the results of a survey he had conducted on Front Porch Forum.  Though his query netted only 16 responses, 11 of the 16 stated that their opposition to the failed budget had stemmed from a general displeasure with the increasing expense of living in Brandon.  Mr. Varian suggested to the Committee that they be “sensitive to other pressures” that residents are feeling, such as the increase in school tax.

Much of the focus of the session was on the $300,000 that the failed proposal had earmarked for paving projects.  The $300K alone accounted for the bulk of the 13.5% increase. The Committee unanimously voted to reduce the $300K to $85K by allocating $100,000 from the town’s 1% Local Option Tax fund to paving, which reduces by $100K the amount needed to be raised by property tax, and by postponing the repaving of High Pond Road, which had been scheduled for this year and which was expected to cost $115K. 

Ultimately, Brandon’s Highway Department will have $185K to use for paving in FY25 under the new proposal.  Much of these funds will be used to repave Union Street from the Otter Creek bridge southward and North Street from Forest Dale Road to the Post Office.

The Committee also unanimously voted to reduce the amount of money in the budget for police cruisers from $48K to $24K.  Originally, the failed budget envisioned the lease-purchase of two cruisers at $24K per year each, for a total of $48K per year for three years.  Now, the $24K could be used for the first yearly payment on a new cruiser or set aside in a capital fund until the town has enough money in the fund to purchase a new cruiser outright.

The Committee also voted to discontinue automatically mailing ballots to all registered town voters, a practice which began during COVID and costs the town several thousand dollars every year even though fewer than half of all registered voters actually vote.  The vote on this item was 3 in favor of discontinuation (Bailey, Coolidge, and Ethier) and 2 in favor of continuation of the practice (Guiles and Nelson).  The precise amount to be saved by the discontinuation was not immediately clear.

The Committee also voted 4 to 1 (with Mr. Coolidge the sole nay) to allocate to the repair of the roof of the Town Hall whatever portion of the $60K in ARPA funds remain after the failed solar bond.  The Selectboard had originally allocated that $60K to initiate the solar array project, including the costs for the bond.  Town Manager Seth Hopkins projected that the total costs of the failed bond—engineers, lawyers, and mandatory advertising—would likely amount to $10K or so, leaving roughly $50K in ARPA funds available for reallocation.  ARPA funds are federal grants and do not come from the collection of local taxes.

The Selectboard had already designated over $200K in ARPA funds to the repair of the Town Hall roof, but a gap remained between the amount of ARPA funds available for the project and the total cost of the winning bid.  The reallocation of the $50K will allow the town to avoid, or at least minimize, the use of tax revenues to close that gap.

A motion to convert a full-time position in the Highway Department to part time was voted down 0 to 4, with Mr. Coolidge abstaining.  In response to the motion, Mr. Hopkins explained that a non-work injury sustained by the town’s Buildings & Grounds employee had reduced the number of workers available to the Highway Department, as did the retirement of Foreman Shawn Erickson (Jeremy Disorda was promoted internally to take Mr. Erickson’s place).  Mr. Hopkins had just made an offer of employment to another worker and did not want the town to have to renege.  

A motion to return the zoning administrator to 12 hours/week (from 24 in the failed proposal) was rejected 4 to 1, with Mr. Coolidge the lone nay.  Mr. Hopkins explained that on the day-and-a-half schedule currently in place, the zoning administrator is not always able to function efficiently and those seeking permits often face unnecessary delays.  The measure, if passed, would have cut $12K from the budget.

A motion to maintain the current town management team passed 4 to 1, with Mr. Coolidge the lone nay.  Mr. Coolidge had voiced disapproval of the current structure, with Mr. Hopkins as Town Manager and Mr. Moore as Deputy Town Manager, stating that the Deputy position was unnecessary.  The elimination of the Deputy position would have saved the town only $7K since Mr. Moore would still retain his salary as Rec Director and Economic Development officer.  His work as Deputy Town Manager adds only $7K to his salary.

A motion to retain proposed cost-of-living increases to the salaries of town employees passed 4 to 1, with Mr. Coolidge the lone nay.  The proposal to adjust employee raises had come from a resident in attendance.  Mr. Hopkins noted that the increases, which ranged from 3% to 6%, were still less than the past year’s rate of inflation.

A motion to maintain the proposed budget for the Recreation Department passed unanimously.  The proposal to eliminate some of the programs had been made by an attendee.  Several other attendees suggested that the Rec Department needed to do more to raise funds on its own to cover its expenses and should seek contributions to its budget from surrounding towns whose residents use Brandon’s programs.  A request to implement a policy to hold the Rec Department to its approved budget also did not gain traction.

The new proposal will be presented to the Brandon Selectboard at its regular meeting on Monday, March 25.  If the Board approves the proposal, a town-hall style meeting to discuss the proposal will take place on Saturday, April 13 with a re-vote on Tuesday, April 30 in coordination with the OVUU school board, which will be presenting its own revamped budget to the voters.

Share this story:
Back to Top