Council OKs sewer, fire funds in budget

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen at their May 22 meeting began their work on the 2012-2013 city budget by agreeing with City Manager Mel Hawley’s recommendations for fire and sewer department spending, Mayor Michael Daniels said the next day.
Daniels said aldermen moved quickly on Hawley’s $123,100 Vergennes Fire Department proposal because it will allow city officials to mail out contracts promptly to the other towns that share that cost with the city: Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham.
The city’s share will be slightly higher this coming fiscal year (July 2012 through June 2013), rising to $47,110 from about $43,800. The communities’ shares of the department’s cost are based on the grand list value of the property protected in each municipality.
User fees, not taxes, fund the sewer department. Hawley proposed increasing spending by $2,000 to $595,000 and told aldermen earlier in May that the fund balance is healthy and that he foresaw no need to raise fees.
Daniels said last week aldermen are happy with Hawley’s evaluation of the sewer fund.
“We’re fairly comfortable with that. There’s really nothing we have to do there,” he said.
Proposed sewer spending includes $40,000 toward cleaning of the sewer plant’s lagoons. That money will be set aside for a few years to pay for sludge spreading on state-owned farmland near Northlands Job Corps. Daniels said the city is beginning to work on the new permit and to discuss the leases needed to do so.
Overall, aldermen have until the end of June to make decisions on spending. If they accept Hawley’s budget, and his revenue projections are accurate, the council can probably set the city municipal tax rate (not including school taxes) at 60.3 cents, the same rate it has been since 2008. Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials and Hawley expect the residential school tax rate to drop by a little bit less than a penny.
Daniels said during their budget workshop, aldermen did begin to discuss police spending, which, unlike that of other departments, has increased in recent years. But officials came to no conclusions.
Hawley has said costs have risen, at least in part, because of rising demand for police service. Aldermen have asked him to study police spending in comparable towns to make sure the city’s spending is in line.
Daniels said some of the higher spending is natural with a new chief on board. Chief George Merkel signed on about two-and-a-half years ago, not too long after Hawley returned to his post.
“Anytime you have a new chief you have a shuffling of goals and standards,” Daniels said. “You may have some expenses to get where the new chief and the city manager want to be.”
In their regular session, aldermen also discussed potential sites for a new police station. Hawley said he had spoken to the owners of 14.4 acres near the North Main Street VELCO substation.
“They haven’t really come to any decision whether it is in their best interest to convey an acre or two to the city or not,” he said.
Hawley said he also learned that land across the street under the former Vergennes Building Supply building is owned by the Agency of Transportation, not Vermont Railways, and it is at least possible the AOT might sell the land. Aldermen had believed they would need a long-term lease from the railroad company to consider that parcel, and Hawley said he viewed the news as positive.
The other sites that remain on the list are a city-owned parcel off the north side of New Haven Road, and the Denecker Chevrolet dealership and the Kennedy Brothers building, both on North Main Street.
In other business, aldermen set goals (see related story) and also:
•  Said further work on a policy for city green usage — such as how to handle requests for displays, including the annual holiday crèche — would be postponed until late June.
•  Scheduled a work session on proposed new zoning regulations for their June 12 meeting. Hawley said he hoped aldermen could wrap up work on the laws and adopt them by September. If they don’t, he said, the city’s development review board would have to evaluate proposals solely on existing laws.
•  Approved DRB and planner Jason Farrell as acting zoning administrator while Hawley is briefly sidelined after elective surgery.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent

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