Town sets fiscal year 2012 budget

The Selectboard finalized its FY2012 budget at a special meeting Monday, Jan. 24.

The board unanimously supported a $6,171,350 general fund budget, up $276,129 or 4.5 percent from this year’s $5,895,221.

This year’s tax levy, or the amount to be raised by taxes, is $4,452,663, up from fiscal year 2011’s $4,171,369.

The municipal tax rate is estimated to be $.4146 this year, up 2.5 cents from last year’s $.3896. This includes 1.25 cents for the library expansion and West Milton Road reconstruction projects approved by voters last year.

The average homeowner will see a $45 increase on his or her tax bill, town manager Brian Palaia said, adding that much of the increase is due to the library expansion and West Milton Road projects.

Board chairman Lou Mossey said he preferred to keep the tax rate lower but realized that the board’s two-year history of level-funding has nearly diminished the capital improvement plan.

“We need to start putting money back into that to replace things like snow plows, police cruisers and copy machines,” he said, later adding, “We have a lot of capital needs, but not a lot of capital.”

Cuts and additions

The board decided to purchase two vehicles out of the general fund. A midsize plow was added to catch up on the town’s 10-year replacement plan for highway vehicles.

The $111,000 truck will be paid by borrowing money from the Catamount Industrial Park and Husky tax increment financing (TIF) districts, and repaying $37,000 for three years, Palaia said.

“We’ve added a lot of growth in terms of the town roads,” he said, adding, “Once we have that additional truck, I think people should see a significant difference in the time that it takes to conduct winter operations in a storm.”

The Police Department will also get a new SUV-style cruiser to replace the aging Dodge Durango, Mossey said. This will cost about $35,000, but the board budgeted $47,000 for future seed money.

“Hopefully in the [fiscal year 2013] budget, we’ll be able to use that to get two cruisers and get back on track,” Mossey said.

The board also agreed to pay for part of project to add a sidewalk to Hobbs Road. The project is partially covered by a $150,000 grant from the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The remaining $198,000 will come from the general fund and impact fees in FY12 and ’13, Palaia said.

The Selectboard went through every line item and made adjustments, Palaia said.

The Highway department was level-funded for its winter salt budget, though Palaia had suggested a lower amount in his initial proposal. It’s budgeted at $109,730, the same amount as this year, he said.

Typically the department has had to transfer money from other line items to fulfill the town’s need, he added.

Another addition is three hours to recreation coordinator Kym Duchesneau’s schedule, increasing from 20 to 23-hour weeks.

“There’s always more demand for recreational opportunities, and the town has certainly grown in the past decade,” Palaia said.

The library had asked for additional part time staff, but that was denied. The board did, however, leave an “unfunded” position for a police officer as a placeholder for a federal grant.

The Community Oriented Policing grant, if available and awarded to the town, would pay for an officer’s salary for three years; the town would pick up the cost for training, equipment and Social Security tax. All these costs are assumed in the budget, Palaia said.

The board opted not to apply for this grant a few years ago, because it didn’t want taxpayers to absorb the cost in the fourth year, Mossey said.

One small cut, but one that was discussed at length, was to the Visiting Nurse Association.

The non-profit requested a $11,500 stipend, but the board agreed to cut this to $500.

“The majority of the board felt that since they were a paid non-profit from insurance and Medicaid that we had to cut some corners in our own budget,” Mossey said. “Although it’s a worthy organization, we needed the money more for our own use in town.”

Other non-profits the board funds with small stipends include Arrowhead Senior Center, Milton Family Community Center, Women Helping Battered Women and Green Up Vermont.

Mossey was pleased with the budget turnout, even if it is an increase, he said.

“I would have loved to have kept the general fund level-funded, but it’s not realistic, and nobody wants their taxes going up no matter what the economy is like,” he said. “We’re at the point now where there’s no low-hanging fruit to pick from as far as funding the budget.”

Ballot items

The Selectboard also voted on 10 ballot articles, two of which are capital projects.

Article IX will ask voters to replace a 1998 ambulance for $175,000, paid for by a bond. The cost would impact fiscal year 2013.

Article X is for a two-phase, $3.25 million project to add water and sewer access to the town core.

This would be paid through the wastewater budget and repaid by TIF funds from the new town core TIF. The financing plan for this new TIF will be in place this spring, Palaia said.

Other articles ask voters to raise the disabled veterans’ property tax exemption from $20,000 to $40,000, exempt the Grange from property taxes, allow money received from liquor licenses to support the school lunch program and accept the town report.

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