Ferrisburgh officials propose 3-percent hike in municipal budget

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectmen have proposed a 2010-2011 budget that, including charitable donations to be decided by residents on Town Meeting Day, would add about a half-cent to the town’s property tax rate. That increase would translate to $5 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Including about $57,700 of charitable requests, selectmen are proposing increasing town spending from about $1.52 million to $1.565 million.
That increase of about $45,500 translates to roughly 3 percent.
Selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen were mindful of the difficult financial times as well as the town’s needs while they made the budget final late last month.
“We really worked hard to keep it down. We’re aware of the state of the economy,” she said.
Much of the higher spending can be found in the town’s highway budget. Road spending also includes a major cost shift out of paving and into bridge repair and gravel road maintenance: Proposed paving dropped from $265,000 to $50,000.
At the same time, selectmen boosted bridge repair from $36,000 to $175,000 and gravel road maintenance from $33,750 to $90,000.
Town Clerk Chet Hawkins and Assistant Clerk Pam Cousino said on Wednesday selectmen plan to use the bridge money and a grant to replace a deteriorating 60-year-old span on Old Hollow Road over Lewis Creek.
Officials are optimistic about the grant, which would help fund a six-week replacement process this summer during which drivers would have to take alternate routes.
“It’s very likely we’ll get it,” Cousino said.
They said the money earmarked for gravel roads was for overdue maintenance. Lawrence said more paving is still possible if the town is successful in obtaining paving grants, as has been the case in the past.
Elsewhere in the highway budget, payments on a new truck are $10,000 more than on payments on an older truck that ended last year, and the department is asking for an additional $18,000 for shop supplies and equipment and truck maintenance.
Elsewhere in the budget, there are no dramatic increases. The town’s fire contract with Vergennes will rise by $6,000, and the charitable donations sought are collectively about $13,000 higher than a year ago. Hawkins said some of that is due to a request from the Bixby Library for more support from the towns it serves.
As well as a race for the selectboard, where Kurt Plank is challenging incumbent Bob Jenkins, residents will be asked to make two other major decisions.
One article on the warning asks voters whether to use a projected $62,076 surplus to start a reserve fund for the eventual replacement of the town’s highway department building. Lawrence said the surplus materialized when the town budgeted paving money a year ago and then received paving grants.
If voters say no to that plan for the surplus, Cousino said the money would revert to the general fund and lower taxes. That $62,000 would be equivalent to about 1.25 cents on the tax rate, she said.
Another article asks residents to eliminate the office of town auditor. Lawrence said ultimately that the position is just not necessary and that the town has not been able to fill the three-person board. And without a full board, it has been unable to act for years for lack of a legal quorum.
Furthermore, she said, for the past 40 years, Ferrisburgh has paid for an annual audit upon which it has relied, not on volunteer auditors.
On top of that, Lawrence said the town’s one auditor, Joe Blasius, has criticized that audit and some town accounting practices — unnecessarily, in selectmen’s view. She said that criticism “probably did figure into” their evaluation of whether the position still served a useful purpose.
“He wants us to change to his way of thinking, but we have to rely on our professional audit,” Lawrence said.
She said in the simpler past, towns probably could rely on volunteer auditors, but times have changed.
“It’s big business now,” she said. “And we have to have professional audits.”

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