Middlebury budget set for 1.7 percent bump

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Jan. 17 will be asked to comment on a proposed 2012-2013 municipal spending plan of $8,417,735, representing an increase of 1.74 percent ($148,370) that would require a 1.8-cent bump in the local property tax rate.
The Middlebury selectboard recently approved the budget for public hearing after agreeing on a combined total of $116,443 in cuts and revenue adjustments since November, when they first began cobbling together a fiscal year 2013 spending plan.
One of the biggest adjustments: Municipal workers agreed to consider a new Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance option expected to save taxpayers $25,000. This new option — which around half of the town’s 52 workers have decided to embrace beginning Jan. 1 — features a high-deductible health care plan. Employees share in both the lower premium and high-deductible co-pay.
Those not opting for the high-deductible plan can remain with the current, more conservative Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.
The new option carries lower premiums, making it more appealing to younger workers, whereas more senior workers are likely to remain with the current policy, officials explained.
Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay outlined other recent tweaks to the budget that helped shave $116,443 from the bottom line:
•  A $15,000 decrease in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance, due to an improvement in the town’s experience rating.
•  A $12,000 reduction in tax dollars needed for capital improvement projects. That money, Ramsay said, will instead be covered through reserve funds.
Other economies, Ramsay said, were made by “nibbling away” at the budget bottom line, focusing on various overtime accounts, tuition reimbursement, equipment repair and service contract line items in the police budget.
“The board went into (the budget planning process) with a level-service concept in mind, and reviewed any budget reduction recommendations with that at the forefront,” Ramsay said.
It should be noted that there are other, outside variables that could have major impacts when the new tax rate is set next summer. Those variables include the outcome of a major property assessment grievance, uncertainty over federal reimbursement for Tropical Storm Irene damage, and the results of votes in March on a new economic development director’s position and a $4.8 million bond to upgrade Middlebury’s two fire stations. Those factors, combined, could add another 5 cents to the municipal rate, though selectboard members are optimistic the toll will not end up being that high.
The public hearing on the proposed budget will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal building conference room. Budget drafts and supporting information are available on the town’s website, www.middlebury.govoffice.com. Copies of budget documents are also available upon request at the town offices, or by calling 388-8100, extension 201.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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