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Middlebury sets town budget that trims fire department fund donation

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday finalized a 2013-2014 municipal budget of $8,951,760 to present to voters at town meeting.
The proposed spending plan, if approved by residents, would drive an increase of around 4.5 cents in the town property tax rate and calls for a one-year, 50-percent reduction in the amount of money the community annually places into its fire equipment replacement fund.
The town has annually earmarked two cents on its municipal tax rate (which this year would represent roughly $144,000) for a special account to fund future, major equipment purchases for the fire department. Noting the prevailing economy, the selectboard has been looking to minimize the rise in the tax rate. At the suggestion of resident Mark Mooney, town officials recently approached Middlebury Fire Department leaders to ask about the prospect of reducing, for one year only, the town’s contribution to the fire fund by a penny.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George said Fire Chief Rick Cole agreed to bring the request to the department’s membership, which in turn elected to forgo the penny (amounting to $72,000) contribution for next year. The action will still ensure a $72,000 deposit into the account next year. The fund is expected to contain roughly $780,000 by June 30 of this year. The department was scheduled this year to replace its 20-year-old ladder truck, an apparatus that can cost upwards of $1 million, according to fire officials. The department will investigate the prospect of upgrading the current ladder truck in the short term, George said.
“We certainly appreciate the effort on the part of the fire department,” George said. “They said it was also a way of thanking the community for the fire station bond.”
Residents will formally vote on the one-year change in the contribution to the fire equipment fund.
Middlebury voters last year approved $4.625 million in bonding to substantially renovate and expand the fire department’s Seymour Street headquarters and replace the East Middlebury station. The first payment on that station will translate into 3.5 cents on next year’s municipal tax rate. The current municipal tax rate stands at 86.2 cents per $100 in property value.
The board on Tuesday also rearranged some budget priorities in order to provide $3,000 in funding for Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR). George, also a member of the ACTR board, explained the town’s contribution leverages an 80-percent funding match from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, meaning the $3,000 from the town could mushroom to $12,000 with the state’s match.
The board agreed to make some minor reductions to two of the Department of Public Works’ fuel accounts to come up with the money for ACTR, according to Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay.
In other action at its special meeting on Tuesday, the selectboard reviewed the warning for the 2013-2014 town meeting, which will be held on Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m. in the municipal gym. It is a nine-article warning that includes:
•  The proposed fiscal year 2014 municipal budget of $8,951,760, of which $6,360,945 would be raised by taxes.
•  Replacement of two police cruisers; one utility/sign truck and related equipment; a utility bed truck and related equipment; a backhoe; a roller attachment for a grader; and a laser grinder. Those equipment purchases would be made in accordance with the town’s replacement schedule, to be financed through a five-year loan of up to $330,000.
On Tuesday, March 5, voters will go to the polls to cast Australian ballots on various school budgets, referenda and local elections, including a five-person race for three spots on the town selectboard (see related story). The Middlebury ballot will include two petitioned requests. The first comes from the Otter Creek Child Center, seeking $7,000 to support the private, nonprofit’s “need-based tuition assistance program and its mission to provide quality, affordable early care and education to the Addison County community.”
A second petitioned, non-binding article seeks Middlebury’s “expression of opposition to the transport of tar sands oil and a deep concern about the risks of such transport for public health and safety, property values, and our natural resources.” The article also calls upon the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to “ensure thorough environmental impact reviews of any tar sands-related pipeline proposals, including the health and safety impacts of potential tar sands oil spills, along with clear guidelines for tracking the origins and chemical composition of pipeline contents and feed stocks, and request that the town transmit a copy of this resolution to all relevant state, federal, and Canadian officials, and the CEOs of Portland Pipe Line Corporation, Montreal Pipe Line Limited, Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil, and Enbridge Inc.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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