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Middlebury selectmen seek spending cuts

MIDDLEBURY — In their meeting Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard spent time considering additional reductions to the draft 2012-2013 municipal spending plan.
It was in late November that town staff presented the board with an initial budget draft of $8,504,690, representing a $230,825 increase compared to this year. It’s a budget that would require a 3.4-cent increase in the municipal tax rate in order to maintain existing services and capital improvement priorities.
Board members hope to shave around $100,000 from the budget draft, and on Tuesday saw a revised spending plan reflecting $73,093 in cuts and revenue adjustments. Among the cuts: $4,635 in library wages; $12,200 in equipment fund debt service; $12,000 out of the capital fund; $9,050 in various municipal building supplies and maintenance; $2,000 in postage; and $2,000 in insect control.
Selectboard members conceded the cuts consisted of a lot of nibbling around the edges of a budget they said does not feature a lot of extra meat or fat.
“I find myself wanting to find more savings than I am finding,” said selectboard chair John Tenny.
Still, the board asked assistant town Manager Kathleen Ramsay to explore cuts in other area of the budget, including various overtime accounts within the police department. The board reasoned that police are likely to require less overtime reserves, given that the department is now fully staffed.
Board members also expressed concerns about the Recreation Department budget, which they said is not generating enough revenues to keep pace with program expenditures.
The board will continue its work on the budget next Tuesday, Dec. 20.
In other activity at the meeting, the selectboard:
•  Noted that Middlebury College has agreed to match the town’s proposed contribution of $72,000 toward a new “economic development director” position that would be responsible for recruiting new businesses to town and help existing enterprises remain and grow. The business community would be responsible for pulling together another $36,000 in donations, grants and in-kind contributions to help bankroll the salary, benefits and related expenses for the new job.
It will be up to Middlebury residents at March town meeting to determine whether the town will put up its $72,000 share, equivalent to a penny on the tax rate. The selectboard is asking for a five-year commitment to the post.
•  Received updates on the Middlebury fire stations (see related story) bond and early planning for a municipal building project. Selectman Victor Nuovo said the municipal building needs will not be discussed at town meeting in March, in order to keep voters’ focus on the $4.8 million fire station project that will be voted that same month by Australian ballot. Nuovo also noted that the consensus on the municipal building planning committee is shifting toward a new structure, rather than trying to reuse portions of the current one.
“It does not make sense to look at a renovation scheme on (the municipal building) side of the structure,” agreed Selectman Dean George. Officials have already agreed that the connected municipal gym should be repaired and saved.
•  Agreed to consider asking local voters if they want to designate Middlebury a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) district, thereby making it easier for local homeowners to make energy-related improvements through Efficiency Vermont.
Act 45, passed by the Legislature in May 2009, allows Vermont communities to establish PACE districts to make it easier for building owners to invest in energy efficiency and or renewable energy projects in existing homes and businesses. If a municipality approves the creation of a PACE, property owners can choose to opt in to town’s newly created special assessment district, as have Burlington, Halifax, Newport, Putney, and Westminster. The municipality funds the district through bonds or other appropriate financing mechanisms, and the participating property owner can access funding for eligible energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and then pay back the cost as a regular municipal assessment on their property tax bill, according to Efficiency Vermont officials. Act 45 also allows for this repayment (excluding any past due balances) to transfer to the new property owner at the time of sale if the buyer and seller agree.
Middlebury selectboard members are warm to the idea, but want to make sure a PACE program would not result in new administrative chores for town staff.
•  Received an update from Addison Central Teens (ACT) officials on activities at the youth center known as “94Main,” located in the lower level of Middlebury’s municipal building.
Colby Benjamin, co-director of the center, noted 294 individual teens made 3,901 visits to the center between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. Of that number, 143 teens were from Middlebury, making for a total of 2,335 visits from local teens that year. The 94Main center also serves youths, grades 7-12, from the six other towns in the Addison Central Supervisory Union. Those towns each contribute between $1,500 and $2,000, while Middlebury has been kicking in $30,000 annually. Selectboard members will back ACT’s $30,000 request again this year, but said they want to make sure the town isn’t paying a disproportionate sum for the service.
“Is there a movement by any of the other towns to change their proportion (of the budget)?,” Selectman Nick Artim asked.
Benjamin replied that there was no such offer at this point.
•  Appointed resident and architect Anne Barakat to a vacancy on the design Advisory Committee.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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