Brandon SB faces scrutiny over failed budget


BRANDON—The Brandon Selectboard convened on Monday evening for its first regular meeting after the Budget Committee—which is composed of the Selectboard and six non-voting citizen advisors—revised the proposed town budget on March 18.  The proposed budget had failed at the polls on March 5 in a roughly 45% yes/55% no vote.

The March 18 revision stripped approximately $240K from the failed $3,796,180 budget—or approximately 6.3%—largely by reducing the $300K that had been budgeted for paving in FY2025.  The reduction in paving was achieved by removing a $115K paving project (High Pond Road) from the coming year’s calendar and by earmarking $100K of 1% Local Option Tax (LOT) funds toward the remaining paving projects.  These changes reduced the amount of tax revenue needed for paving in FY2025 from $300K to $85K.

Regardless, the Selectboard faced strong pushback on Monday from attendees and even from one of their own—Brian Coolidge—for not cutting enough from the budget and for engaging in methods that Mr. Coolidge called “deceiving” and some attendees called “smoke & mirrors.”  

The thrust of the criticisms was that even with the changes to the proposed budget, the amount to be raised by taxes will still increase by over 10%.  In FY2024 (current year), the amount to be raised by taxes was $2,737,260.  In the revised FY2025 proposed budget, the amount to be raised by taxes will be $3,032,510, which represents an increase of $295,250 (or 10.8%).  This is even after proposed FY2025 spending was reduced from $450,030 to $211,030.

In a year when school taxes are projected to increase by double digits as well, residents are concerned about their continued ability to maintain their homes and provide for their families.  Attendees at Monday’s meeting insisted that the Selectboard to do more to ease the tax burden on Brandonites.

Board member Tim Guiles pushed back against some of the criticisms, calling the revised proposal “responsible” and “balanced.”  Mr. Guiles stated that the Board had an obligation to all of the residents of Brandon, not just to those in attendance.  He also cautioned attendees that the budget may ultimately never be as low as some may want.

Attendee Bill Claessens made several specific recommendations that would result in a further reduction of $49K: 

  • Taking an additional $35K for paving from the LOT fund, thus reducing to $50K the amount to be raised by taxes for paving
  • Cutting $2,500 from equipment expenses
  • Cutting $5,000 from guardrail maintenance
  • Cutting $5,000 from road salt expenses
  • Cutting $1,500 from tree maintenance 
  • Tapping into the town’s General Fund, which currently has over $700K

Town Manager Seth Hopkins defended the original line items and warned against further depleting the LOT fund to lower taxes, since the town relies on those monies to match grants.  And in response to attendees’ request to hold another Budget Committee workshop for further revisions, Mr. Hopkins cautioned that much of the increase in requested tax revenue in FY 2025 was due to the use of General Fund and LOT monies in FY2024 to lower the amount needed to be raised by taxes.  Without those injections of cash, the difference in needed tax revenues between FY2024 and FY2025 would not be so pronounced, suggesting that the appearance of excess costs in the proposed FY2025 budget was misleading.

Despite the calls for another workshop from attendees, some of whom were on the budget advisory panel, the Board did not vote to schedule another budget workshop.  And the motion to accept the March 18 revision did not pass on a 2-2 vote, with Mr. Guiles and Heather Nelson voting to accept it and Mr. Coolidge and Ralph Ethier voting nay (Board Chair Doug Bailey was absent from the meeting because of an injury.)  

The Board will now have to vote again on Monday, April 8 to adopt the revised budget in anticipation of the townwide re-vote on April 30, which the Board set on Monday evening to coincide with Otter Valley’s budget re-vote.

Other business

In preparation for the influx of visitors for the eclipse on Monday, April 8, the Board voted to set the traffic lights in downtown Brandon to caution (allowing a freer flow of traffic on Route 7 through town); to station police officers to supervise traffic in downtown; to prohibit use of the stretch of Carver Street from the bridge to the Pittsford line; to prohibit use of Long Swamp Road from the intersection of Short Swamp Road to Burr Pond Road; and to possibly close Stone Mill Dam Road.  These precautions will be taken to minimize traffic and the possibility of visitors becoming mired in muddy roads because of their GPS.

The Board voted to allow the Gran Fondo bicycle race on June 29 to use roads in Forest Dale, specifically Route 73 and North Street.  The roads will remain open for regular traffic during the event.

The Board voted to appoint Dan Snow and the Brandon Representative to the Rutland Regional Transportation Commission, with Jeremy Disorda as alternate.  Mr. Disorda is the Foreman of Brandon’s Highway Department, which also employs Mr. Snow.  

The Board voted to waive the town policy that prohibits Selectboard members from serving on other town committees so that Mr. Ethier could continue to serve as an alternate on the Development Review Board.  Mr. Ethier abstained from the vote.

The Board voted to accept the proposed winter operations policy.  The full text of the policy can be found in the Selectboard packet for 3/25/24 on the town’s website.

The Board voted to approve a warrant in the amount of $99,091 to satisfy the town’s expenses and obligations.  The Board also approved a transfer of $99,000 from one bank to another as part of the town’s management of funds.

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