Vergennes overall tax rate seen likely to fall

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen at their May 24 meeting got their first look at a draft 2011-2012 budget that City Manager Mel Hawley said should mean no increase in the municipal portion of the city tax rate if they adopt it as proposed in the weeks to come.
And Vergennes homeowners might be looking at a lower tax rate overall.
The current municipal tax rate rounds to 60.3 cents. The city’s full 2011 residential rate including school taxes is $1.8895, and the non-residential rate is $1.9641.
The 2012 school tax rates have not been finalized yet, but according to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union estimates the city’s school rate could drop by 6 cents.
That change could translate to a decrease in taxes of $120 for a Vergennes home assessed at $200,000.
The full effect of that decrease would probably only be felt by households that are not eligible for tax relief under Act 68. In 2008, the most recent year for which statewide data is fully available, 74 percent of Vergennes households received tax relief that averaged $899.
Hawley told aldermen his draft budget of roughly $1.7 million (including $30,800 of voter-approved charitable donations) contained some increases, notably for the public works and police departments. But he said higher revenue and an uptick by almost 1 percent in the value of city property were helping offset those hikes.
“Our revenue picture is a little bit stronger,” he said, pointing to more interest earnings on city funds, a bump up in state payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned property in Vergennes, and higher police fines.
Hawley is also proposing to use $125,000 of a projected $150,000 budget carry-over toward keeping the tax rate in check. He said despite the tough winter, which meant some paving had to be postponed because of high road maintenance costs, he and department heads have kept spending in line.
Aldermen adopt the city’s budget each year by the beginning of July. If they adopt the amount Hawley proposes with his other financial recommendations in the weeks to come, it will mark the fourth year in a row the municipal tax rate has remained at 60.3 cents.
Hawley and aldermen said they have taken pride in maintaining both the city’s tax rate and a respectable level of services to residents.
“We work real hard to keep many functions … but to keep that tax rate,” Hawley said.
Aldermen will meet for their first budget work session in Hawley’s office at 6:30 p.m. on June 7.
In other business on May 24, aldermen:
•  Heard that longtime planning commission member Cecile Gebo had resigned. At Alderman Peter Garon’s suggestion, Hawley will check with the commission head before replacing Gebo right away because, as Hawley pointed out, the panel is in the middle of a complex rewrite of the city’s zoning laws and it might be difficult to bring a new member up to speed.
•  Agreed to Alderman Lowell Bertrand’s request to move the city’s annual Youth Fishing Derby from late June to July 22 through 24 this summer. Bertrand, the council’s liaison to the derby, said high water in the Otter Creek basin made the June date problematic.
•  Heard from Alderman Randy Ouellette that the city’s farmers’ market is working on an online ordering system, and that the market appears to be still growing.
•  Approved unanimously a request from a military family that it may transfer the value of a free family pool pass into credit for swim lessons instead. The city offers families with a member on active duty a free pass worth $95, but the family in question has a pool and asked if instead it could apply the credit toward lessons.
•  Approved a motion by Garon to require social service agencies requesting donations on Town Meeting Day to file reports on their service by the following Dec. 31. Aldermen agreed with Garon that the reports would allow residents to make more informed decisions on the value of their donations in the following March. Currently reports are due a year after voter approval.
•  Formally accepted an expected Community Development Block Grant that will fund a major renovation of the John Graham Shelter.
•  Heard from Mayor Michael Daniels that the latest edition of the city’s newsletter is now available on line and at stores in the city. Officials have decided not to try to mail the newsletter to residents.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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