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Brattleboro Town Meeting and Police/Fire Project


THE POLICE AND FIRE FACILITIES PROJECT

It is not a mystery that the Selectboard placed the sales tax but not the Police/Fire Facilities project on the March 4th ballot as a straw or nonbonding vote.  Were they on together both would have likely been voted down.  Thus the Selectboard gave us only one choice.  In the same way the P/F project itself was presented at Town Meeting as only one choice. Town Meeting Members were forced to accept it all even if only one piece, or none of it at all seemed necessary.  It was as if the administration believed that citizen input had no place in the development of the project.  Since the vote was taken any further questions have been dismissed with ‘it’s been voted on.’  Conversation over.

It should be noted that there are some important problems solved and improvements made by the project as it is proposed although none are absolutely necessary.  I advocate that the project be paused at this point not because there is a lack of merit or good intentions but rather to give it a chance to be reconceived to provide affordability.  Over the year I have heard countless viable alternatives. 

The project’s advisory committee was only permitted to look at the cost of the project as it was designed. It had no authority to question any part of the concept or major elements.

The administration told the taxpayers it was affordable.  Perhaps to them it seemed so at the time.  It does not seem so now.  One of our Selectboard members used to lamentingly quip that we appeared to be in a race to reach a $3.00 tax rate.   By next year three dollars will be disappearing in our rearview mirrors.

Income is rising far more slowly than the tax rate.  The economy has been in recession and stagnation for over six years.  Data is not showing evidence of the economy turning around soon in Brattleboro or the region.  

It may seem to some that the project is affordable because of Vermont’s progressive property tax program.  This softens the blow a little.  The people with income below $47,000 are protected by the circuit breaker and the people over $97,000 clearly don’t need protection.  However most of our population is managing on something between $47,000 and $60.,000, the lower end of that middle range.  Only a portion of their tax increases for this project will be returned via the income sensitivity or rent rebate programs.  We too often hear from those in that income range that they will soon feel compelled to sell their homes. 

The proposed increase in our sales tax does not lower the cost of the project.  It will cost $20 million no matter how many different pockets we take it from.  Nor is it clear that the sales tax shifts much of the cost to non-residents.  This is because the state takes 30% of the collected tax for administrative purposes.  Most of the remaining 70% that is sent to us is probably close to what Brattleboro residents themselves spent.  In other words, most of the $650,000 is our own money!  A slightly lower property tax coupled with a higher sales tax doesn’t lower the cost of living in Brattleboro.  Most of what we accomplish is simply shifting a tiny amount of our cost of living from a more equitable property tax to a regressive sales tax.  In short, shifting expenses from the wealthier to the poorer.

At the same time we increase the motivation for people to spend their money out of state.  Whatever tiny amount we might gain from a higher sales tax is probably offset by an overall decrease in the amount sold.

 

                                                                 CONCLUSION

Since the smaller $5 million dollar bond is already in our hands and a couple hundred thousand has been spent on the project an appropriate action at this time is to not proceed with the project as it is now and then with fresh planning proceed with one piece at a time.  This removes the need more financing at this time.  In this way little or no money is lost.  The remainder of the project can be tackled when our economy is stronger and incomes are growing again.

If we do not proceed with the project the sales tax is a moot point.

Thank you                                                                                

Spoon Agave                      

March19, 2014

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Thanks!

Of 12,000 residents, only 99 Town Meeting Reps voted for the renovations at a special Representative Town Meeting. Less than 1%.

I like that you point out that shifting costs over to a different tax doesn't change the overall cost to the people of Brattleboro, and doesn't lower anyone's cost of living. The only way to reduce costs is to not spend the money in the first place.

Pausing, and treating each facility as a unique project might be a good compromise between going full steam and stopping entirely.

 
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Am I Mis-Remembering?

Somewhere back when this 1% tax was proposed I remember hearing a figure of $350,000 or so in money to be gained. Now it seems that this figure is now around $600,000. Of course all this is projected anyway but am I misremembering (sic) or did the supposed amount made from imposing the tax suddenly double in size? Any info anyone?

 
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My mass appeal to my distrect reps, and general agreement

After a quick read, I have no issue whatsoever with Mr Agave's thesis.

I have an axe to grind regarding the options tax, and while I hit most of the Reps in my District, perhaps some read this site while not offering an e-mail address. I re-post my e-mail below, which offers some suggestions, and also work in some numbers I posted on another thread on this site. Without further ado:

To All District 3 Representatives:

While the straw poll results are in--438 for, 402 against--only 11% of the registered voters cast ballots. (That means, in a town of 12,040 people--according to the 2010 census--there are 7636 registered voters, or about 63.4% of the population. This strikes me off-hand as quite near the median and mean representation for such a small section of the Republic's population.) I found it interesting that the total number of counted votes was less than 22% of the number of counted votes for the unenforceable warrant issued to the sitting POTUS and VPOTUS six years ago.

In sum, 52 and 1/7th of a percent of 840 voters is statistically insignificant. Of all registered voters, just over 5.7% voted for it, and a bit under 5.3% voted against it. A mandate this is not.

As Mr Agave points out, the published, righteously-skepticism-inducing projected revenue are a drop in the bucket compared to The Town Project's published, righteously-skepticism-inducing projected cost.

The most important issue, to me, is the options tax. Like all flat taxes, the sales tax is highly regressive and directly leads to the issue of income inequality that has become a talking point in the national media. It disproportionately affects the poor as it attaches to many items that are basic necessities. It will also surely drive commerce across the river.

As to the issues of the Police and Fire departments, I do not understand why the two are being conflated. (I do not know if Vermont has passed a law found in many states wherein, if you want to drop off your newborn without consequences, you can do so at your local fire department, but if the police station abuts the fire station it will obviously discourage women from employing this otherwise humane law.) The needs of the police are quite different than those of the fire department, and both have differing levels of urgency.

Something must be done about the police station, not so much because it is part of Town Hall, but the stairway leading from the booking area to the jail cell is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Since this is common knowledge, as soon as some drunk hurts himself on the way in or out of temporary incarceration, the damages will be significant.

But demanding that they attach to the downtown fire station--probably justified by some "shared cost" rationale--is not necessary nor is it necessarily more efficient. (While large companies' accounting departments routinely toss out a figure for "synergy", I've never seen an actual after-the-fact figure that is compared to the projection.)

Two solutions that popped into my head without much deliberation: construct a trailer-like jail cell in the Town Hall parking lot, thus avoiding the stairwell, or build a new facility using that parking lot off Main that is consistently empty (I imagine the only time it is truly useful is during the Strolling of the Heifers or an unusually busy First Friday).

I absolutely love my local fire department, but their reasoning for an upgrade is shaky in difficult economic times. It's not even clear to me if the roads could carry the weight of "modern" fire engines; certainly, if the floors of the station can't take the weight as they stand now, there will be road damage as a consequence of "modernity", and I would like to see projections of the cost of this extra maintenance. Serious fires in Brattleboro will always require the assistance of neighboring towns. I just don't find the reasoning compelling.

Finally, the complaint of snakes in the West Brattleboro station warrants little action except perhaps a few web searches. I would certainly hate to see any serious money being spent on that issue.

Thank you for hearing me out.

 

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