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Vergennes to see 1.5-cent uptick in city tax bills

VERGENNES — The Vergennes city council on Tuesday adopted a 2013-2014 municipal tax rate of 63.5 cents, up by 1.43 cents from the 2012-2013 levy needed to pay for city services, but not schools.
The increase of 1.43 cents will translate to $14.30 of additional taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, or $28.60 on a $200,000 home.
It is only the second increase in the municipal portion of the city tax rate since 2008. A year ago the council added two cents to the rate, the first change since 2008.
On Wednesday, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathy Cannon said the city’s school tax rate before a Common Level of Assessment (CLA) adjustment would be $1.32.
The Vergennes CLA, according to City Clerk Joan Devine, is 1.0421. Because it is higher than 100 percent, that CLA will bring down the rate to about $1.267.
Adding the municipal rate of 63.5 cents to that projected school tax rate — and adding a small amount for property tax breaks for disabled veterans and the Masons’ School Street building — leads to a total city tax rate of about 3.2 percent to $1.90.
That rate would be about a total 6-cent increase from the current rate of $1.8421, or about $60 per $100,000 of assessed value.
More than half of Vergennes homeowners, however, pay taxes based on their incomes and not on the full assessed value of their homes and thus receive prebates. Those homeowners would not pay the full amount of that increase. 
CITY RATE DETAILS
Aldermen had initially expected to set a higher rate this month to pay for municipal services in the coming year. But City Manager Mel Hawley told them on Tuesday that the financial picture at the end of the current fiscal year proved to be much rosier than he first projected.
“I am pleased to announce,” Hawley told aldermen, that the administration, public works and police portions of the city spending plan all came in under budget, leaving the city with projected cash carryover of about $200,000.
“I feel pretty good about that,” he said.
Hawley said his earlier numbers were preliminary, and he gave aldermen a working number of a $100,000 carryover, suggesting they use half of it to offset taxes. Once he was able to dig into his spreadsheets in more recent weeks, he said it was clear the carryover would be $200,000 or a little more. 
The council plans to use up to $140,000 of that surplus to keep the tax rate in check, and what they had worried might be a 66- or 67-cent rate ended up being a more modest 2.3 percent increase.
“That’s the cost of living,” said Mayor Bill Benton of the hike.
The decision will leave about $60,000 — assuming a severe winter doesn’t spike public works spending, Hawley said, or another unforeseen crisis doesn’t crop up — for aldermen to use next summer to offset the first year of bond payments on the police station that will be built later this year.
Last year’s municipal rate ended up at 62.33 cents once property tax breaks for disabled veterans and the Masonic building were added in. The exact size of those breaks during this fiscal year will not be known until the city’s school tax rate is made final, but residents can expect at least another quarter-cent to be added to the municipal rate of 63.5 cents.
BUDGET DETAILS
The general fund Vergennes city budget — all except fee-supported sewer spending — that aldermen approved on Tuesday came to about $1.86 million, up from a little over $1.77 million in the current fiscal year.
Most of the new spending comes in the police, fire and public works budgets — the administration budget is dropping by about $7,000 to a little less than $358,000.
Approved police spending is increasing from $507,472 to $551,872. Hawley said more overtime and gasoline use, plus the phasing out of a federal grant supporting one of the department’s fulltime officers, are driving spending higher. Aldermen during budget talks nixed a request from Police Chief George Merkel for an all-wheel drive vehicle.
Approved public works spending will rise from $710,450 to $740,390. Most of that increase is in badly needed stormwater control projects, including on Monkton Road, Hawley said.
Fire spending will rise from $138,100 to $155,450 because of needed improvements to the Green Street station, but Hawley said Vergennes and the other towns that contribute to that budget will not feel the impact. An expected cash carryover in the fire budget will fund most of the work, he said.
Aldermen also approved some funding for the Vergennes Partnership and discussed funding with a representative of the Vergennes Opera House (see related story).
In other business on Tuesday, the city council:
•  Re-appointed Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, as the city’s representative on the Addison County Transit Resources board, and appointed transportation engineer Greg Edwards as the Vergennes representative on the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
•  Authorized Hawley to spend $2,000 for the Water Tower Fund to buy two drop boxes to place near the city docks. Officials hope to collect donations in the boxes from the 400 to 600 boaters who visit the Otter Creek basin each summer and tie up to city docks and use city-provided power at no charge.
•  Agreed to purchase 20 dual trash/recycling bins to be placed around the city at a net cost of $4,350 once Vergennes receives partial reimbursement from the Addison County Solid Waste Management District.
•  Heard from Benton that 275 participants had signed up for the past weekend’s annual Youth Fishing Derby in the basin despite uncooperative weather and high water.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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