Brandon SB revises budget for 3rd vote: spending down 0.5% but tax revenue up 2.5%


BRANDON—In a special meeting on Monday evening, the Brandon Selectboard unanimously approved a revised FY2025 budget that reduces spending overall by 0.5% (less than 1%) while increasing the amount to be raised by taxes by 2.5%, both figures in comparison to the current year’s levels. Brandon voters will now vote on the town budget for the third time since March, with the date of the latest vote set for Tuesday, May 21.

The new proposal reduces the FY2025 budget to $3,328,882 from the FY2024 (current year) level of $3,346,150, a decrease of approximately .5% (less than 1%). The amount to be raised by taxes in the new proposal will increase to $2,804,212 from current-year $2,737,260, an increase of approximately 2.5%.

The reductions were achieved through the removal of several line items from the proposed budget that failed on April 30.

First, the $85K for paving in the latest failed proposal has been removed from the budget and will be presented as an appropriation to voters on May 21. If voters approve the amount, it will add $85K to the budget and will increase the amount to be raised by taxes by that amount. The $85K will be combined with $100K from the 1% local option tax fund for a total amount of $185K for paving in FY2025. The motion to place the $85K in an appropriation to be approved by voters passed 3 to 2, with Board members Brian Coolidge and Ralph Ethier voting nay.

If the $85K appropriation fails, the $100K from the local option tax will still be available for paving. However, Brandon Town Manager Seth Hopkins noted that $100K would not be enough to cover both of the paving projects that remain on the Highway Department’s FY2025 schedule: North Street in Forest Dale and the stretch of Union Street between the river and High Pond Road. If only $100K is available, Mr. Hopkins said, the priority would be to repave North Street.

Mr. Hopkins also stated that the town has applied for paving grants that would, if received, allow the town to complete both projects in FY2025.

Second, the new proposal eliminates both new police cruisers from the budget, saving a total of $48K. The previous, failed proposal had eliminated only one of the two $24K line items that were for police cruisers. The Brandon Police Department currently has seven vehicles, and the new cruisers were meant to replace existing cars.

Third, the new proposal eliminates one of the four positions in the Highway Department, saving $102K on salary plus benefits (e.g., health insurance, etc.). Mr. Hopkins stated that the Highway Foreman, Jeremy Disorda, had told him that the department could function with three employees. Bigger projects, Mr. Disorda suggested, should be hired out and additional drivers could be called in to drive snowplows in heavy storms.

The new proposal was not met with universal approval by Brandon residents in attendance. Some residents, including former members of the Budget Advisory Committee, urged the Board to schedule additional budget workshops in which the budget would be revisited line by line. Other residents expressed concern that the reduction from the original proposal that failed in March was now too steep and compromised public safety and infrastructure. 

A few attendees asked that the Board specifically re-examine the budget of the Recreation Department, stating variously that out-of-town users represented too large a percentage of all users and that residents who do not take advantage of the Rec Department should not be asked to subsidize it with tax money. 

Mr. Hopkins revealed that both the Rec Department and Buildings & Grounds had already gone overbudget 10 months into the current fiscal year. But he noted that both departments had brought in significantly more revenue than anticipated, negating the effects of the overbudget spending.

Not all attendees were critical of the new proposal, or of the prior proposals, for that matter. Some attendees stated that spending more now will reduce the likelihood of needing to spend more down the road, when costs are likely to be higher. 

Board Chair Doug Bailey started the meeting with a quote from U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York: 

“These are challenging times and people need to come together to find common ground.”

Former Board Chair Tracy Wyman addressed the Board as a citizen to state that he’d been offended by comments he’d heard that some current Board members blamed him for the failed budgets because of his insistence on including $300K for paving. He stated that he’d made the demand only because he’d been told that there were $150K of other expenses that could be cut to offset the increase for paving.

An alternative proposal to use money from the town’s general fund to offset expenses was shot down, primarily on the grounds that to do so would create a situation similar to the one the Board found itself in this year: having to make up with tax revenue the amount offset by the general fund. The decision by the Board to use money from the general fund for FY2024 created the impression among some town residents that spending had increased more than it had when that amount had to be raised by taxes in the proposed FY2025 budget. 

As the meeting wound down, after the adoption of the new proposal, Mr. Bailey stated that he planned to make himself available between now and the May 21 re-vote for discussion with town residents. He will announce those “office hour” sessions on Front Porch Forum.

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