On Town Meeting Day, Milton voters will be asked to approve a budget of $8.36 million, an increase of $385,700, 4.8 percent, over the current year.
The biggest piece of that increase, said town manager Don Turner, is the $235,000 payment on the $1 million paving bond voters approved last year. “The voters voted on the bond. We borrowed the money. We paved the roads,” said Turner.
Another chunk of the increase, $98,000, is raises for staff which the town is contractually obligated to make. Health insurance increases are another $70,000.
Turner said the town did look at some other health insurance options when the premium increased 13 percent, but couldn’t find a better option.
Outside of those increases, the budget is mostly status quo.
The town’s largest single expense, the police department, will cost $2 million in the next fiscal year, an increase of 3.3 percent.
The second biggest expense, the highway budget, is slated to go up 2.1 percent to $1.4 million. Public Works Administration is up $100,000 to $328,000 because an existing position was moved from the planning and zoning portion of the budget to public works, explained Turner.
The fire department budget is $227,700. Rescue is expected to cost $444,800, with offsetting revenue of $270,000, meaning taxpayers will cover $174,800 of its costs.
Milton’s recreation department is budgeted for $244,000 in expenses and $69,000 in revenue.
“We’re going to keep the doors open. We’re going to keep providing good services,” Turner said, describing the budget. The town won’t be doing much paving this year “because that’s big dollars,” Turner said, although work will continue along Route 7.
Provided the grand list remains stable, residents can expect to see an increase of less than four cents in the tax rate as a result of the budget.
The town is planning a reappraisal and has sent out bids for the work, which are due on Feb. 28. Turner said it will likely take two years to complete.
“It’s essential we do it now,” said Turner.
The town’s common level of appraisal (CLA) is 95 percent, meaning houses in Milton are selling for roughly 5 percent more than their appraised value. When the CLA drops below 100 percent, the education tax rate increases to compensate for the under-appraisal.
The other tax challenge Milton faces is the Green Mountain Power hydroelectric dam. The company pays taxes into the town’s general fund based on generation at the dam, but with so much power coming from other sources, GMP hasn’t been producing as much power as in the past, explained Turner. That’s dropped the amount GMP owes the town by $8 million.
Turner said he spoke with GMP about the issue. “They understand it,” he said and are working with the town to avoid creating a major hole in the town’s budget.