Thursday October 19, 2017
Believe it or not, the city budget development process for FY ‘19 has begun. Although voters won’t weigh in on the budget at the ballot box until town meeting day, city staff have been collaborating with department managers and evaluating various budgetary factors that will ultimately impact the tax rate. At the October 16 council meeting, Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard gave the council an initial overview of the pressures facing the FY ‘19 budget.
Annually, the council gives the city administration a tax percentage figure for which to strive, for example, the past two years, the guidance has been to come in just below the 3 percent tax increase mark. The council arrives at a figure after weighing both their fiduciary responsibility and the needs of the taxpayer. Hubbard explained that as a result of keeping the tax increases at 3 percent, this year the city only ended up $45,000 in the ‘good’ which means that there aren’t any funds going back onto the balance sheet. That’s cutting it a little too close, in Hubbard’s opinion.
The major cost drivers this year will be much the same as last year. Capital Improvement Projects are proposed at a cost of $438,000, the stewardship plan (the care and maintenance of facilities) is being slated at an amount of $125,000 as is the contribution to the sick bank. The city’s auditor has recommended making a $200,000 contribution to this fund. A 12 percent increase in health insurance costs is anticipated at a dollar figure of $275,000. After figuring in an increase in $400,000 in additional revenue, the total expenditures are still at roughly $700,000 or a 3.77 percent tax increase. This percentage does not consider the individual department budgets, the general fund, and the inevitability of slight increases to operational costs. Some of these figures are flexible, but after hearing these numbers, the council did not anticipate they would recommend staying under a 3 percent increase this year, but would perhaps recommend a figure in the 3.25 percent range. No official motion was made as more information will become available at the next meeting.
Another budget component the council has been discussing is the annual social services funding allocation. Last year, the amount totaled $41,000 and was distributed across non-profit organizations that serve both South Burlington and the region as a whole. At the last council meeting City Manager Kevin Dorn suggested that instead of spreading the money out across numerous entities, the council should consider allocating a larger portion of the funding to one or two organizations that are working to combat the opioid epidemic, in addition to three or four South Burlington groups such as the Chill Out Center, PACT, and Common Roots. Councilors agreed to individually review all of the organizations they contributed to last year and winnow down the list to their top funding priorities, which include opiate epidemic services, mental health, children, and housing.
If you are interested in following the budget development process, the schedule is posted on the city website. The proposed CIP (capital improvement program) will be available November 3 and the draft budget will be available to the council prior to the holidays. A special meeting on the budget is currently scheduled for January 8 with additional dates as needed going all the way up to town meeting day.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent