At $2.74 million, the general fund proposal actually spends more than in 2015, but it also assumes nearly $260,000 more in revenue, requiring a $1.5 million tax levy – a 5 percent decrease or $82,000 less than in 2015.
Calculated with the current grand list, the 2016 tax rate will decrease about a penny and a half, town treasurer Amber Baker said. For a $250,000 home, that means about $40 in savings.
Recent development is expected to grow the grand list even more, Baker added. She referred to Fairfield developer Tim Reed’s 19-unit subdivision off Georgia’s Route 7 that will help further reduce the tax impact.
Some of the biggest savings come from cell phone tower rent payments, projected at nearly $92,000 compared to last year’s $79,000. Having $110,000 cash in-hand to apply to the 2016 budget also helped tamp down expenses, Baker said.
Revenue from the state is up almost $5,000, while money from fees, licenses and fines is down about $7,000, as the town budgeted for fewer zoning and recording fees in 2016.
The town made its last loan payment for the John Rhodes land use lawsuit settlement in 2015, and this year will see the final payments for the fire department tanker voters approved in 2013.
The selectboard also increased that department’s reserve fund by $30,000 for capital expenses.
Replacing a 23-year-old fire engine was pushed to 2017 in the six-year capital budget, despite being three years past its useful life span, fire chief Keith Baker said. Because the estimated $550,000 expense will be partially funded with reserve money, the board upped the fund to $70,000 this year.
GFD will also get 12 new air packs in 2016, paid with a five-year loan. At about $7,200 each, the packs are overdue for replacement, officers said, as safety standards have changed for the 19 packs in use.
Replacing the packs slipped through the capital budget plan since they were originally bought alongside trucks and not in their own expenditure category, Baker said.
The selectboard and conservation commission also debated its reserve fund.
With $183,722 in the fund at press time with infrequent use, the selectboard questioned whether voters intended it to be a “piggy bank.” Established by voters in 2002 with a halfpenny allocation, since 2006, the reserve is funded with $12,000 annually.
In November, selectman Paul Jansen told conservation commission chairman Kent Henderson about capping the fund at a then-undecided number.
A month later, commissioners defended the reserve as a necessity to act quickly on large, sometimes-unexpected land purchases. They also anticipated using it this year for parking lot construction and trail work at Deer Brook, the town’s natural area.
In a compromise of sorts, the board agreed not to cap the fund, and the commission withdrew its request for $2,300 in general funds and $15,000 for its reserve fund. As such, the commission will receive no funds other than the established 5 percent of cell tower rent revenue.
The town will spend $148,000 on public safety this year, a $6,000 increase for AmCare, Franklin County Sheriffs Department, Vermont State Police and St. Albans City dispatching services.
Capital spending will replace a dock at Georgia Beach for $25,000, and almost $14,000 will resurface and line tennis courts and repair the pavilion and basketball hoops, completing phase two of beach improvements following last year’s paving and boat launch repair.
“The dock down there will be huge,” Baker said. “There’s some good things in this budget that are being done.”
Georgia Public Library trustees requested $12,600 more in 2016, a 16.9 percent increase they readily acknowledged was much higher than their average 1.1 percent over the last four years, but was needed to bring salaries to market value.
Georgia library employees start at $11 hourly, compared to $14.57/hour in Fairfax. One worker left for St. Albans this summer to earn $16 an hour, trustees said.
The board didn’t fully fund the request, setting the library’s bottom line at $80,000, a 6.6 percent increase.
Labor costs drove the winter maintenance budget up by more than $3,000 in 2016. The sand and salt provision remains at $75,000; it was upped from $50,000 in 2014 when a harsh winter drove nearly half the budget increase.
Though this season has proved less nefarious, and Georgia’s sand and salt shed looks full, Baker said the town isn’t taking any chances.
“We never want to put people’s safety at risk,” she said. “You can never predict the weather.”
Highway fuel and oil costs, however, are down $5,000 this year, thanks to lower costs for gas and diesel.
The town also saves $20,000 in benefits after changing health insurance coverage options for town employees, requiring them to pay in for the first time.
Georgia voters will have their say on the budget through paper ballot vote on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 1 in the Georgia Elementary and Middle School big gym.