Middlebury tax rate could rise by 2 cents

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Jan. 18 will get a chance to weigh in on a draft 2011-2012 town spending plan of $8,253,112, which would require a 2.13-cent increase to a municipal property tax rate that has remained level the past two years.
But town officials served notice the final budget number could change markedly before it is put to voters in March. That’s because the selectboard must still decide whether to ask voters for a combined total of $75,000 to help fund two proposed new positions aimed at creating jobs and stimulating Middlebury’s economy — positions that proponents say will pay for themselves in the near term.
Selectboard members will meet on Tuesday, Jan. 11, to discuss the proposed marketing coordinator and economic development director positions and decide whether to endorse one, or both of them, for local funding. The board would then have to decide whether to request that funding through the regular municipal budget, or through a separate article on the town meeting warning (as Chairman John Tenny has suggested).
The draft spending plan reviewed by the selectboard this past Tuesday does not include either of the new positions. Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo described the spending plan as one that would allow Middlebury to maintain current services and staffing levels without any new major initiatives.
“Overall, we are doing quite a bit better than other municipalities in the state,” Colangelo said of Middlebury’s current fiscal situation.
That situation is cushioned by a fund balance estimated on Tuesday at $440,000. Middlebury officials annually seek to maintain a reserve fund equal to at least 5 percent of the overall budget, and the $440,000 more than meets that threshold.
Colangelo is recommending the board apply $80,000 of that fund balance to the 2011-2012 budget to help offset what is a $270,000 gap between revenues and proposed expenditures. Colangelo believes the town — with union cooperation — can switch to a new health insurance plan that would save at least $40,000 in premium payments. Middlebury’s current policy through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns entered the new year with a 17-percent rate hike, according to Colangelo.
“I think if we change, we could see a 10-percent savings in health insurance,” Colangelo said. Middlebury is currently contributing $424,400 annually in health insurance premiums for its employees, Colangelo said.
Anticipated health insurance savings and applying the $80,000 in fund balance would leave $150,000 revenue gap that would have to be funded through property taxes. That would add 2.13 cents to the current municipal rate of 80.7 cents — a rate that has remained unchanged for the past two years. It should be noted, however, that the municipal rate makes up around one-third of Middlebury’s overall property tax levy. The remaining two-thirds is school-related. Addison Central Supervisory Union schools have been crafting 2011-2012 budgets calling for spending decreases.
A 2.13-cent boost in Middlebury’s municipal tax rate would add $43 to the bill of the owner of a homestead (house and 2 acres) valued at $200,000; $64 to a homestead valued at $300,000; $85 to a homestead valued at $400,000; and $106 to a homestead valued at $500,000. Those qualifying for tax breaks under Act 68, the state’s education funding law, would see a smaller increase.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Agreed to warn, for a Jan. 25 public hearing, a proposed interim zoning rule that would allow greater flexibility in the conversion of office space into residential apartments (as a conditional use) in the office/apartment, village-residential-commercial and central business district zones. Zoning in those areas currently allows one apartment unit per 10,000 square feet of lot size. This has made it difficult for some property owners to convert a long-vacant office unit into an apartment. If approved, the interim zoning rule would ultimately be incorporated in the 2012 town plan update.
•  Agreed to ask the Vermont Agency of Transportation to send an engineer to review what local officials believe is a dangerous stretch of Route 7 North at the intersection of Grandview Drive and May Apple Lane. The issue was brought to the fore by resident David Hamilton, who lives off May Apple Lane and said his family members have been involved in two major accidents that occurred as they were waiting to turn across traffic on Route 7 and onto their residential street. The narrowness of Route 7 and the way it curves in that location affords northbound traffic little space for going around traffic that has stopped to turn into the Grandview Drive/May Apple Lane neighborhood. The state of Vermont controls speed/sign regulations on that portion of Route 7.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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