Middlebury selectboard eyes tight town budget

MIDDLEBURY — At their Tuesday meeting, members of the Middlebury selectboard adopted an updated town plan (see story, Page 1A), as well as eyed next year’s town spending plan and considered town waterways.
The Middlebury selectboard agreed, as a first step, to try and limit the fiscal year 2013-14 municipal budget to a 5.5-cent increase on the municipal tax rate, which currently stands at 86.36 cents per $100 in property value. Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay noted the first draft of the 2013-14 budget would require an increase of 7.5 cents to support. A penny on the tax rate is equivalent to around $72,000.
The current municipal budget features spending of $8,420,920 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
Particularly distressing to selectboard members is the fact that more than three cents of the rate increase is associated with required debt service on the Middlebury fire station upgrades and the need to fortify the town’s lagging fund balance. In addition, officials are expecting an increase in the cost of health care premiums.
“I think 7.5 cents is just too much,” Selectman Victor Nuovo said, echoing his colleagues’ impressions.
Ramsay will ask department heads to go back and see what they might sacrifice to lower their budget requests. The board will also look at the capital improvement plan and proposed new positions to see if more money can be saved in those areas.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Held public hearings on proposed zoning and subdivision amendments relating to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a Fluvial Erosion Hazard zone affecting residents living close to local waterways. The planning commission began working on the proposed zoning amendments in 2010, following a Vermont Agency of Natural Resources review of the town’s administration of its flood hazard area regulations under the NFIP. The NFIP requires that communities maintain certain minimum zoning regulations in order to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management flood disaster assistance, according to Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington. The ANR reviewers recommended that Middlebury tighten up some of its regulations in order to continue to meet NFIP eligibility standards.
Meanwhile, the Fluvial Erosion Hazard zone is being proposed as a means of protecting water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, natural beauty of the shore lands and riparian buffer areas — as well as to prevent erosion — along waterways in town. The zone is being proposed along the Otter Creek, the Middlebury River and Muddy Branch (downstream from Route 116).
The new proposed zoning rules have generated concern among residents with homes along rivers — particularly folks in East Middlebury. The new rules place some restrictions on the way property can be improved within the proposed NFIP and Fluvial Erosion Hazard zones. The selectboard heard concerns from some affected property owners, including East Main Street resident Leslie Wright, who are concerned about how the new zoning could affect their property values and insurance rates.
The board will take additional testimony during the weeks to come before deciding on whether to approve the suggested changes.
•  Picked the Waterbury-based company Milone & MacBroom to conduct an engineering analysis of the Middlebury River. That project, which the firm will perform for a fee of $34,485, will include working with the community and a technical team (including state and federal regulators) to develop a shared vision for the river based on science that includes reducing flood risks to residents and the general public; improving property protection; reducing long-term infrastructure management costs; reducing the need for in-stream channel management activities around town infrastructure; and enhancing river functions, including in-stream and terrestrial habitat, flood and sediment storage capacity and water quality improvements through reduced bank erosion.
•  Agreed to draft a conditional letter of support for Vermont Gas’ proposed natural gas pipeline extension into Addison County. The board had a letter ready to sign, but agreed to revise it after hearing from several residents who pointed out the volatility of natural gas in terms of its negative impacts on the environment and its tenuous status right now as a “cheap” fossil fuel.
Resident Ross Conrad added that society should be weaning itself off of fossil fuels and toward renewable energy solutions. With that in mind, he said, endorsing a multi-million-dollar pipeline project for natural gas would be counter-intuitive to the goal of stopping society from digging itself a deeper hole in its dependency on fossil fuels.
“Vermont Gas is handing us another shovel,” he said.
Other residents pointed to the use of harmful chemicals in the practice of hydraulic fracking (sometimes used in the excavation of natural gas) and disasters that could result from pipeline breaks.
The selectboard agreed to revise its letter of support in deference to the concerns voiced by residents on Tuesday.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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