Equipment tax, new trucks set for Middlebury ballot

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters at their town meeting will be asked to endorse a virtually level-funded 2010-2011 municipal budget; approve a six-year phase-out of the local machinery and equipment (M&E) tax; and float a five-year, $203,000 loan to buy some new municipal vehicles and related equipment.
The 11-article warning also includes a request for the town this year to again rescind its levy of a penny on the tax rate that raises money for conservation projects. For the second year in a row, the Battell Trust has agreed to generate those revenues (around $70,115) through some of the rental proceeds from the Chipman Hill telecommunications tower.
Residents will also be asked to set up a reserve fund for improved technology in land records management; and support two separate, petitioned items, one seeking $5,000 for the Addison County Humane Society (ACHS), the other $1,500 for Addison County Readers, Inc.
Selectmen on Tuesday endorsed the warning for the town meeting on March 1 and Australian ballot voting on March 2.
Virtually all the articles will be fielded at the March 1 annual meeting, set to begin at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Theater.
The proposed 2010-2011 town budget calls for $5,571,874 to be raised in taxes, which is $1,062 more than this year and would preserve the same municipal tax rate (for the second year in a row) of 80.9 cents per $100 in property value. It’s a spending plan that officials said would preserve current municipal jobs and keep town services at the same level.
Local officials have, for the past few years, been lobbying for a phase-out of the M&E tax as a way of encouraging economic development. But it has been a difficult tax to jettison because it has raised around $270,000 annually. Still, the selectboard decided to propose a six-year phase-out beginning next fiscal year, when the impact will be approximately $63,000 in lost revenues. Town residents will decide this question by Australian ballot on March 2.
The requested $203,000, five-year loan would allow the town to acquire a police cruiser and related equipment; a single-axle, 7-yard dump/plow truck; a push blade; and a turntable plow.
The ACHS and Addison County Readers funding requests took selectboard members somewhat by surprise. The board had interviewed other human service agency heads about their funding requests earlier this winter. The ACHS and readers groups gathered signatures to get their requests on the warning. According to the petitions, the ACHS is seeking the funds to “support their mission to promote the ethical treatment of and the prevention of cruelty to all domestic animals and forms of wildlife,” while the readers group is seeking the $1,500 to improve literacy skills for children under 5.
“I’m personally disappointed (the petitions) weren’t brought to our attention for discussion,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “To have these items come in this way is hard.”
Board members agreed to have the items voted on at the annual meeting on March 1 rather than decided by Australian ballot the next day. This, they reasoned, would allow the petitioners to explain the merits of their requests and explain exactly how the money would be used.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Approved liquor licenses for Middlebury College and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café.
• Selected the Rutland-based Quinn Company as the winning (low) bidder for the wet-well expansion and grit-removal system projects at the Middlebury wastewater treatment plant pumping station off Seymour Street. The Quinn Co. bid $1,088,590 for the project, which has already been approved by voters and will receive federal stimulus funding. There were a total of seven bidders, none of them local companies.
• Received a report on the recently completed audit of town finances for fiscal year 2010. In his report, local CPA Tom Telling reported Middlebury to be in sound fiscal shape, with no financial irregularities discovered.
• Received word that the Cross Street Bridge is now self supporting after a post tensioning procedure that successfully raised the massive span girders off some temporary steel piers that had been erected in the Otter Creek. The temporary piers will now be removed, along with the stone base on which the piers were sitting. Meanwhile, project managers have been busily designing the roundabout and other road components of the Cross Street Bridge project, scheduled for completion by this Thanksgiving.
• Approved a landscape design contract (for up to $5,000) with Middlebury resident Adam Portz to assist with tree planting/landscaping plans associated with the Cross Street Bridge and related roadways.
• Endorsed an energy audit contract for $3,955 with Bread Loaf Corp. to size up energy conservation improvements for Middlebury’s municipal gym (see related story).

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