Middlebury board ready to pare draft town budget

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Dec. 6 will begin paring back the first draft of a 2012-2013 municipal budget that would require a 3.4-cent increase in the local tax rate in order to maintain existing services and capital improvement priorities.
The draft $8,504,690 spending plan, reviewed by the selectboard for the first time at a meeting last Tuesday, represents a $230,825 increase compared to this year’s municipal budget. One penny on Middlebury’s tax rate raises roughly $72,000.
It should be noted that this initial budget draft doesn’t include another potential 5 cents that could be added to the municipal rate pending the outcome of a major property assessment grievance, federal reimbursement for Tropical Storm Irene damage, and the results of votes next March on a new economic development director’s position and a $4.8 million bond to upgrade Middlebury’s two fire stations.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said he and his colleagues should try and find $100,000 in cuts to the budget draft in an effort to soften the financial blow on taxpayers. Shaving the budget proposal by $100,000 would limit the impact to a 2-cent increase on the tax rate.
“If we can (cut $100,000), we can make a better case to the townspeople, our voters and taxpayers for providing these services,” Tenny told municipal staff and his colleagues at a Nov. 22 board meeting.
Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay outlined several reasons for the potential $230,825 increase, including:
•  A 2-percent cost-of-living wage increase for town workers, adding up to a combined total of $87,574.
•  A potential $68,835 increase in benefits, largely associated with health insurance costs and Workers Compensation expenses. Ramsay said health care premiums under the employees’ Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan could go up by 10 percent. The administration is talking to the employees’ union about a possible switch to a lower-cost, higher-deductible health insurance plan.
•  A projected $16,126 rise in fuel and electricity costs.
•  An additional $20,000 for property and casualty insurance.
•  An outlay of $11,300 to pay for police department equipment to replace two failing outdoor security cameras, a patrol bike and portable radios.
•  $6,000 to reflect the added costs of the presidential election next November.
On the plus side, Ramsay projected some revenue increases related to interest on delinquent taxes ($24,000), Current Use program revenues ($7,000), state payments to the town in lieu of taxes ($21,000), recreation fees ($8,500), and revenue from the new solar array being built next to the Middlebury police headquarters ($1,000).
But Ramsay warned there will likely be around $51,000 less in surplus money available to apply to next year’s budget.
Selectboard members agreed they will need to make some cuts to the budget before it is put out to voters next March.
“It is easy to come up with the ($8,504,690) total and say, ‘This makes sense, this is what we should propose,’” Tenny said. “I feel that while that is sensible, it is not a total that I will support.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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