Thursday January 25, 2018
After reviewing several different budget scenarios, all with varying tax rates and city services and items included or excluded, the council arrived at a decision January 16 to present a budget with a 3.84 tax increase to voters in March. The vote was 4:1, with Tim Barritt voting “nay,” noting that the figure was too high.
At the previous meeting on January 4, councilors were presented with a budget that represented a 3.44 percent tax increase, but excluded a number of items they deemed important. Managers of all city departments gave presentations at the meeting and explained that while they could technically go without certain items in their budgets this year, such as a new cruiser for the police department and new winter jackets for half of the fire department, many cuts were not sustainable long term. It was anticipated, that over time, residents would begin to feel the impact of consistent budget constrictions via reduced city services. Aside from individual department reductions, Deputy City Manager Tim Hubbard also explained during the meeting that continuing to make cuts to the Capital Improvement Program would ultimately make it “an obsolete tool for long term planning.”
The 3.44 percent increase included meeting all of the city’s contractual and bonded debt obligations, providing support to as much of the Capital Improvement Program as allowable, funding annual assessments, supporting the Housing Trust Fund, and maintaining existing funding levels for the stewardship plan and sick bank. Proposed cuts to the budget included reducing the designated reserve by $50,000, the undesignated reserve by $21,000, the social services funding by $25,000, and the City Center Reserve Fund by $110,000. The delta, as a result of the above, would only be $27,000. The impact to the taxpayer of a 3.44 percent tax increase would have been $57.14 annually on an average home and $39.33 for the average condo owner.
Funding for the undesignated reserve, airpack maintenance, IT hardware, contributions to the City Center reserve fund, and the fire department jackets, as well as road paving and striping, were all items that rose to the top of the list of concerns for councilors. Monday night, January 16, they weighted their options. Barritt said he liked scenario one which would have brought the tax increase in at 3.64 percent and included $10,000 to the undesignated reserve and $10,000 each to paving and striping. Riehle and Nowak were in favor of scenario three which would have included an increase to paving and striping, the airpack maintenance, maintaining IT hardware, and funding the undesignated reserve. Emery indicated she was also leaning toward scenario three, stating that basic necessities needed to be covered such as those that presented safety concerns.
At the last meeting, as an exercise, the council had Hubbard add all of the items they desired back into the budget to see what the impact to the tax rate would be, however the jump to a five percent increase was not what they had in mind. Nowak said she “hates seeing taxes rise above what the council had anticipated, but it’s not enough to run the city ... especially between the increase in contracts and healthcare.”
Ultimately, a majority of councilors agreed upon a variation of scenario three which includes $21,000 restored to the undesignated reserve, airpack maintenance added for fire personnel, $25,000 added to paving, and $10,000 added to striping. This option eliminates the IT hardware upgrade and jackets for the fire department, but keeps these costs at the decreased funding level, not what was requested. In addition, the contribution to the City Center Reserve Fund was decreased, resulting in a reserve of $750,000.
The impact of this tax increase on the average homeowner would be an increase of $63.86 per year or $5.32 monthly and for the average condo owner, an increase of $43.96 annually or $3.66 monthly.
The council also approved the warning of the annual 2018 city meeting. On the city side, residents will vote on four articles Tuesday, March 6. These items include the election of two officers to city council, the FY 2019 budget of $15,272,174 to be raised by property taxes which constitutes a tax increase of 3.84 percent over FY 2018, a bond article regarding borrowing funds to pay the city’s share for piping system improvements to the Bartlett Bay Wastewater treatment facility system, and an article regarding the formation of a union municipal district to be known as the Chittenden County Public Safety authority for the purpose of providing regional emergency dispatch.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent