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Brattleboro Budget Rejected

Brattleboro voters rejected the proposed budget Tuesday.

478 voted in favor, but 771 voted against, sending the Brattleboro Selectboard back to work on another version.

1249 people participated by voting. 554 of those were by absentee ballot. Results are for the entire town; votes were not counted by district.


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So I have a hypothetical

So I have a hypothetical question: at this point the budget will be going back to RTM after the Selectboard reduces it. If RTM members indicate that they don't in fact want the budget cut and reject the second budget where would that leave us?

I know this is far fetched but just throwing out possibilities...


It's only hypothetical in Brattleboro

Reduces the budget?!? OBVIOUSLY the message to the selectboard is that a level-services budget is not enough and the voters of the town demand better. Clearly we rejected this article so that the town would add $200,000 for repaving Route 9 / Western Ave as the Reformer said that the state Agency of Transportation suggested. The selectboard should add $200,000 to the FY15 budget and present that to Representative Town Meeting, since they are a guiding body for the town and a source of ideas, proposals and comments, elected by district, as defined by the board of civil authority and exercise exclusively all powers vested in the voters of the town.

As I read the charter, the selectboard MUST legally (since we voters/Representatives mandated it) authorize the following capital improvement: The renovations to the Central Fire Station, the renovations to the West Brattleboro Fire Station (Station 2), and the renovations to the Police Department at the Municipal Center, at an estimated cost of Fourteen million, one hundred thirty thousand dollars ($14,130,000), and will authorize the issuance of notes and/or bonds in the aggregate principal amount not to exceed $14,130,000 at a rate of interest not to exceed five percent (5%) per annum and for a term of twenty years to pay to that extent the cost of said public improvement.

Soooo - is that not what we voters of the town meant? Everyone *I* talk to says that the only problem in Brattleboro is -(insert pet project here)-. It's a good thing we have Representatives who can vote for us - they overwhelmingly voted down several measures that would have reduced our taxes this year, otherwise the selectboard might have assumed that a no-vote for article 19 meant they should reduce the budget.

I apologize for the sarcasm (although I would ask, who really knows why voters opposed the proposed budget?). I sincerely thank the people who have served and are serving on our selectboard and as Town Meeting Representatives. However (as a Vermonter who completely opposes Representative Town Meeting) I suggest that perhaps the voters of the town would rather cast their own votes on major issues like the transporation center, the skatepark, pay-as-you-throw trash, the police/fire facilities, and the annual town budget and school budget, etc...


Thanks for speaking clearly in the end

Thanks for making your point more clear at the end of this piece. It really is impossible to tell sometimes what message is beyond a writer's sarcasm.

I think your point is a very valid one. Furthermore, of course, the selectboard is free to insist that the people only rejected the budget, and not the unaffordable expansion of the police and fire station.

One of the reasons I voted against the budget is that we need to pay our police a higher salary. This debt load might make it impossible to do so, for a long time. My vote, was not for slashes to services or to education budget, but rather against a debt load that will make such cuts impossible to avoid.

People certainly voted down the budget for more than one reasons, but the fire station and police station expansion were very vocally identified as being the cause of much of the popular discontent. But, as you say, some clarity of message is lost. We can only hope that it is not willfully lost by those who are determined on the building expansion going forward, no matter how much opposition there is to it.


Facefocus on the escalating housing problems

Now that a new budget is forthcoming, perhaps these next several years can be the time to honestly facefocus on the escalating housing problems, including rents mysteriously getting higher without obvious due cause. There’s something unsettling about shelters that put up people for the night but not by day, especially in cold weather and that the seasonal Overflow will close on May 1st.

Article extract:
MONTPELIER -- Vermont's homeless population grew by 9 percent this year, according to a report released Wednesday by two anti-homelessness groups.
The report, performed annually, only includes people who meet the federal definition of homelessness. It does not count people living with friends or "precariously housed."

Some said the study failed to capture an accurate picture of homelessness in Vermont. "It's grossly undercounted, there's way more people that are living homeless than what this report says," said Morgan Brown, a member of the Vermont Council on Homelessness.

The cost of housing causes many people to become homeless, said Rita Markley, executive director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, a Burlington shelter. In Brattleboro, Josh Davis, the executive director of Morningside Shelter, said over the past three or four years he has seen an increased need for overnight shelter.

"Unfortunately, it seems like that's the trend in Vermont right now." Currently, Morningside, which supplies temporary housing to those without homes, has a waiting list of 36 households, or more than 72 people. And the Overflow Shelter, which is operated by the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Brattleboro and is staying open until May 1 this year, has hosted on average 30 people a night. "One third of all the people we serve are children. It's difficult for adults, but really traumatic for children."
~By Laura Krantz/ VTDigger //Brattleboro Reformer


Time to revisit our town's governance structure, again

I was encouraged to wake up this morning to the news that the FY15 budget has been rejected by voters and ponder with trepidation what this means for the future of our town and its citizens. The way the referendum vote was presented does not give our governing powers any direction as to what we voted FOR, only what we voted against.

The cumulative impacts of higher cost of living, too many low paying jobs in the area, too much trust and/or apathy, and inadequate oversight and management during previous town manager/Selectboard tenures — coupled with the lack and loss of for-profit businesses to bolster our tax base, a note vote on the 1% options tax, and the fact that so much of our town infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, physical facilities, etc.) needs serious attention — has caused a perfect storm that's rallied citizens to say enough.

While some may feel that a clear message has been sent, we need to be mindful that now is not the time to get back to our own busy lives, assuming Brattleboro's leadership knows what to do.

When a large number of town meeting reps approve a budget that is publicly opposed by the town's own Finance Committee chair and then overwhelmingly overturned by citizen vote, there's a problem. While I have gratitude and respect for the job that the town manager and Selectboard members do, it's clear to me that our structure no longer serves us as citizens. We're too big with too many issues to address, and 5 votes, none of which is for the person actually responsible for running the town, does not give us adequate control over Brattleboro's — and by extension our own — future.

Our direct link to town finances and budget is through our district reps. Unfortunately, we don't have elected district reps; we have the illusion of electing our district reps. When was the last time there was a contested election in District 3? To be elected one has only to say "I'll do it", because there aren't enough people interested in running to even fill the slate, let alone have to know the nitty-gritty of what it takes to run this town, be able to read and understand the numbers and implications in a financial report, declare a position, and win a contested election.

We need a truly democratic process. A 5-person, homogenous Selectboard and representation by district reps hasn't served us for some time, nor is it going to in the future. Until changes are made at the foundational level of Brattleboro's town governance structure, in the catchy phrase of Tony Robbins, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Awkwardly phrased, but it makes my point perfectly.


Agreed. I have been saying

Agreed. I have been saying for a while that we need to move to a Mayoral government. Is anyone else seriously interested in pursuing this? We need to start a citizens committee to get the dialogue going.


While I have much sympathy for a re-vamping of the charter

so as to allow the townsfolk to choose an appropriate form of government, given the wide disparity between "representational" and "direct" democracy (nearly as many people voted down the budget as did elect the current Reps), conflating the change in government structure with The Project and the many nuanced challenges posed by the current disconnect would be, IMO, a tragic mistake.

Let's skewer and screech about the state of things as they are, and once that is "satisfactorily" resolved to the town's voters, the Charter committee desperately needs young and attentive blood.

One step at a time.

Greenfield MA moved to mayoral model, but all accounts I've read is that the successful transition was due to Greenfield being able to generate a clear, lucid and level-headed two mayors to being with: whether this is a good thing in the mid-to-long term is awaiting future events and protagonists. The experiment is still in progress.

Trying to give the townspeople the voice they are clearly processing since the late 2012 greenlight for The Project while also up-ending the Charter is, IMO, too much to ask and invites loopholes that our lawyered class to exploit.

Re-fix The Project's vision and scope, and I'll start sitting in on Charter Committee meetings again. I have serious reservations about a 12000-citizen town with low voter participation trying to deal with two major issues at once, and first and foremost the budget is the thing before us. It seems to be the only speck of control that the Brattleboro voter can exercise. I've spoke my piece, and I still have no certainty whatsoever whether my views are well, somewhat or poorly supported by a plurality in this town.

The "citizens committee" you speak of is really the Charter committee, which IMO needs a serious changing of the guard. The concept that you elect a SB member who is not given sufficient power to influence the TM a couple of weeks away--a change that got voted in during a time when I was disengaged from the politics outside my door--is positively ridiculous. If a quick overhaul of the personnel there is possible, please someone point me in the right direction, because that is where the fundamentals change.

In the meantime, a succession of votes on the budget soundly-defeated-by-the-hoi-polloi appears inevitable, in no small part due to the disconnect between the RTMs and the voters who rose to the occasion to defeat it. The SB needs to give the people line items at this time to give a yea-or-nay, and--judging from their media soundbites--that necessity is not felt to be urgent by the SB.

Difficult politics and policy ahead. I truly hope the town can navigate its way without undue Sturm und Drang, but the reality is that false hope springs eternal.


I don't think most people are

I don't think most people are suggesting that we start dissolving our current town government next week - just that perhaps it's time to begin to think about whether this is the best form of governing for Brattleboro. Any changes would obviously be a very long and complicated process - one that would require much thought, information and discussion. You're right that our most pressing issue right now is the new budget and how the police/fire project can be possibly revamped to a more affordable expenditure. And, maybe, try to think about ways to get more voter participation. A turnout of only 30% of registered voters is not a good sign.


Charter Committee?

The "citizens committee" you speak of is really the Charter committee, which IMO needs a serious changing of the guard.

Re-fix The Project's vision and scope, and I'll start sitting in on Charter Committee meetings again.
I’m confused. What is this “Charter Committee” ? The town website names 32 Town Boards and Committees. None of which includes the word “Charter”.

A few years ago, there was a Charter Revision Committee which is required by State Law every 10 years. I sat on that committee which met for about two years. We investigated the subject of a mayor for many months, and in great detail. We had sitting and retired mayors from 3 states come in and share their experiences with us. We had “Strong” mayors and “Weak” mayors (Refers to the powers and duties of the office, not the individual). In the end, most of the committee slightly favored the idea, but the opponents felt more strongly that the town would reject it. So we did not include it in our recommendations. We did suggest a seven member selectboard, which was rejected by the town.

Our meetings were open to the public, all properly warned and publicized. The town clerk or assistant clerk or both attended all of our meetings of their own volition. Very few other citizens ever sat in. I can remember all who attended the meetings in which I was present, but I don’t remember you.

After our business was finished and our recommendations submitted to the town, the committee was disbanded.


Let's do ONE

My reading of all this is that while we like the idea of all these improvements, we realize it is risky to pay for them all at once in a big lump.

It may be less expensive to do all work at once, but that requires spending $14+ million we don't think we have. (Often those with most limited resources have to pay the extra costs of being low income and cannot get a bulk discount. It's not really fair, but it is the way things work out for many people.)

So, how do we fix up buildings without borrowing more?

I'd suggest we pick one of the three projects and finish it off. Get it off the list by using the $5 million already borrowed. That would be a 1/3 victory for the proponents of upgrades, and one of three projects completed and done.

Let's, for example, completely renovate the Central Fire Station within that $5 million. We'd make progress toward the overall goal of multiple facility renovation while spending less at the current time.

In a few years, we revisit the remaining work, now reduced to two projects and a lower overall number.

I do like David's hypothetical, because it leads to a hypothetical loop. If the board eliminates the second PFP bond, and presents a new budget to RTM, and it is rejected, RTM members or citizens could again petition for reconsideration, another special referendum would be scheduled, and so on… it would be fascinating way for a town to self-implode. I'd might start lobbying for expanding the Retreat to take over the entire town and care for our collective mental health.

More seriously, this does point out an interesting dynamic - voters views versus the views of their representatives. One would think that if a representational system was working effectively, the two results would be the same. A good question to ponder is why Reps and Voters are out of sync in their views on this issue, and then whether this split would also be evident on other issues.

One thought is perhaps there is a bit of peer pressure to go along with others at RTM that is absent in the privacy of a voting booth.


I hope that this rejection of

I hope that this rejection of the budget and the obvious discrepancy between RTM and the rest of the voters (or at least those that turned out to vote) is the beginning of a series of discussions in Brattleboro about whether this is the best way to govern a town.To me, it doesn't seem to be working that well and I wonder about whether an entire town of voters can actually be represented fairly by a few dozen people. I would like to see a system in place where all major projects in town that require large expenditures of money be put to a general vote - not decided by RTM and the Selectboard alone.
I'm sure this would not be an easy change to make happen but it's something to think about and to ,hopefully, have opportunities for everyone to be able to discuss and weigh the pros and cons in a thoughtful and rational manner.

I like the idea of using the $5 million dollar bond to focus on one of the projects that are currently on the table. That's much more in keeping with the "you can't spend what you don't have" premise.


I voted to reject the budget

because I believe The Project is an overreaching behemoth, and the cost will adversely affect the economic welfare of the town.

The only issue that absolutely needs to be dealt with is the jail, which is a known liability. As I wrote to most of my D3 reps the night before the town meeting, once someone gets hurt on the stairs to/from booking to the cells, the lawsuit that follows will make the Clark settlement look like pennies.

There was a mandate from the Town Reps. My interpretation of the rejection of the budget was that it really was a rejection of the mandate to go forward with The Project now that the gory details and costs are more plain to the eye.


My thoughts are

that the SB not even consider applying for the additional $9M. Use the $5M that we've already borrowed and take care of safety issues at all 3 buildings (such as the jail mentioned above) by priority. Once thats completed see where we're at as far as work still needed and what is affordable. Renovations ONLY. No additions or tearing down buildings to build new ones. No bells and whistles included anywhere at anytime!

The town reps are not representing us. I agree with the prior writers that we need to run Brattleboro differently, all of the citizens of this town need to have the opportunity to have a vote on:
1st - do we even want a project (any project over xxx amount of dollars and/or changing the look, feel or enviornment of our town.
2nd - if we do decide we want a project do we want to approve the expendeture.

To whoever the Town Reps were who organized the petition drive I want to say THANK YOU. You did a service to this town.


Do we really need a jail?

Bennington doesn’t have one. Rutland doesn’t have one. The State Police on Western Ave. don’t have one. The Windham County Jail in Newfane is used by the jurisdictions of Windham to confine inmates for short periods while awaiting trial or processing.

Here’s an interesting solution:
Swampscott Police consider leasing portable holding cells By Debra Glidden/The Daily Item | February 1, 2010
SWAMPSCOTT-When it comes to housing prisoners, the Swampscott Police Department is thinking outside the box.
The town voted down a debt exclusion override that would have authorized borrowing money to build a new police station leaving the department in a bind. According to most town officials, the police station is woefully inadequate, including the area where the holding cells are located.
Police Chief Ronald Madigan on Friday confirmed he is looking into the possibility of leasing satellite cells to house prisoners.
“We are looking at options,” he said. “This could be a viable temporary arrangement. There are specialty units that house two prisoners that can be leased. We have to do some more research on it.”
Madigan said the existing police station was built in 1938 and, other than a small addition to the rear of the building, there have been no changes or upgrades. Madigan said the holding cells are obsolete. He said when prisoners are brought into the station they are taken through areas open to the public and escorted down two flights of narrow stairs to the cells. There are also problems with flooding in the holding cell area. Madigan said the satellite cells would help ensure the safety of detainees and officers until a more permanent solution is found.

Here’s more:
Portable Holding Cell Sturdy steel modular structures customized for secure detention use in compliance with American Correctional Association (ACA )standards
DRC Jails on Demand has a Portable Holding Cell available. This 8' x 20' secure room is portable and is ideal for temporary use.
Most recently it was used in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana during the oil spill for over a year. The Sheriff's Office used this unique facility in Venice, LA to hold arrestees awaiting transport. Perfectly suited for Mardi Gras, Music Festivals or any situation where arrestees need to be detained temporarily. Pix available here: http://www.jailsondemand.com/protableholdingcell.html


Well we need a different jail

As incarceration is at least a daily and necessary recourse.

My first impulse was that a trailer could be set up in the parking lot, circumventing the great big liability of the stairwell I've posted two or three times on this site.

But in a phone call with Tad Montgomery--quite soon after the TM--he informed me that raising the issue of re-siting and re-scoping The Project would simply lead to a dismissive, we've done that already response, which is fair enough as I dropped out of the discussion at the time when my voice may have provided useful talking points.

Given the number of times I've heard the word "pause" in relation to The Project over the past month, and with a fully resounding defeat of a budget that the SB clearly thought should be, such dismissive attitudes are no longer viable. This is clearly the most difficult policy issue Brattleboro has faced since I moved here seven years ago.

If the skatepark can be sited and then thrown back to square one, a much larger endeavor deserves the same fate if met with the same resistance. I would argue that a mandate to change something was issued by the the town residents on Thursday, but exactly what to change was not on the ballot, complicating matters greatly.


Do you really believe there is no jail in Bennington? The tiny hamlet of North Bennington has one, if the top Google results are to be believed. As a regular reader of the Reformer's Police Log, the ability to detain someone in custody is necessary for the BPD--or any small PD--to function.

The VSP have the SVCC. If they are on the case, using the facilities of local jurisdictions is highly inappropriate.

Jail is for short-term incarceration. Once the VSP gets involved, the bail is much higher and the place of incarceration seems to be the SVCC and the SVCC alone.


no jail in Bennington

Excuse my lack of thoroughness. I spoke to the Bennington Town Clerk's office, and they informed me that Bennington has no jail.It didn't occur to me to ask about North Bennington.
I had a friend who was the Town Constable in Wardsboro. At the time, there was a spate of burglaries in second homes around town. My friend opined that these would stop if Wardsboro had a jail. My response was "You haven't caught anyone yet. Who are you going to put in the jail?"



"To me, it doesn't seem to be working that well and I wonder about whether an entire town of voters can actually be represented fairly by a few dozen people."

The fear is that if put to a vote, most projects will never see the light of day. However, the amount of time and effort expended on some of these "pet projects" in town is such a waste. There is something very valuable about doing the work to gain public "buy in" before starting with the political battering ram. That takes gaining the public's trust and therein lies the rub in Brattleboro.


And if the voters were saying

And if the voters were saying a resounding no to various projects then maybe those projects shouldn't come to fruition. It seems that if we are paying taxes and raising families here then the public voice should be heard when it comes to big projects that will have an impact on the town and the people living here. I don't think there is a lot of faith in the way the town is being governed right now nor of the decisions being made.


Just the Firehouse

I completely agree. Let's fix the existing firehouse with the 5 million already in hand.

The rest can wait.


Staying away in droves

1249 people participated by voting. The population was 12,049 at the 2010 census. Registered Voters were 4.078. That’s 30%. Hardly a mandate. Where was the other 70%?


Some of the other 70%

make up the community of under-voting-age citizens. My last run at the numbers came up with about 7000 registered voters; the Bush/Cheney arrest warrant petition voted on (successfully) in 2008 had nearly 4000 votes cast total.

It would be nice if the Town Clerk's office would give us a number as to the number of registered voters in the town, as clearly you and I have significantly different figures.



My numbers came from the published results of the 2010 federal census, not the town clerk.
If there are in fact 7000 registered voters, that means only an 18% turnout. So, where are the other 82%?


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