Middlebury town office costs to be felt next year

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Monday got a look at the first draft of a fiscal year 2016 municipal budget that projects a $430,259 increase over this year, which would translate into a 5.6-cent boost in the town’s tax rate.
Board members stressed that the $10,031,448 spending plan under review is just a departure point, and that the final number will likely shrink before being finalized for the voters to decide at the annual town meeting next March.
But officials acknowledged making significant cuts won’t be easy.
Approximately 1.5 cents of the potential 5.6-cent increase is associated with debt service on the voter-approved, $6.5 million bond to erect new town offices at 77 Main St. and a new recreation facility off Creek Road.
A penny on Middlebury’s tax rate raises roughly $72,000.
And Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay also noted that around 1.2 cents of the increase is associated with contractually guaranteed salary and benefit increases amounting to $83,186 and $39,525, respectively.
Other looming fiscal year 2016 budget drivers, according to Ramsay, include:
•  A proposed hike of $84,672 for the annual capital improvement budget, which helps underwrite local road and culvert projects as well as repairs to town buildings, equipment and other facilities.
•  A proposal from the Middlebury Police Department to phase out three part-time officers’ positions and replace them with one full-time post, for an increase of $36,000.
•  Debt service amounting to $20,623 for the Ilsley Library roof project.
•  A jump of $23,000 in costs for road salt.
•  A projected spending hike of $9,350 to heat the municipal building this winter. That number could go down, officials acknowledged, depending on the severity of this winter and due to a recent drop in fuel oil prices.
•  An extra $8,000 for labor to pay for sidewalk maintenance.
•  A request by the Middlebury Regional EMS ambulance service to once again receive some municipal funding. The organization suspended that request a few years ago as part of a new business plan. But MREMS is experiencing some budget challenges right now, and will ask for $18,240 at next year’s town meeting. Approximately $3,000 of that is expected to be covered by Middlebury College.
So excluding the roughly 1.5 cents related to debt service, the Middlebury municipal rate would jump a little more than 4 cents if the current draft were approved. Some Middlebury officials on Monday evening suggested the board shoot for a budget that would whittle that 4-cent boost down to 2 cents.
“You have to be realistic about fixed costs,” selectboard Chairman Dean George said after the meeting. “We will look at programs very carefully to try and save money.”
Ramsay has mapped out a schedule that would lead to selectboard approval of a final budget draft by Jan. 27. In the meantime, the board will listen to financial pitches from department heads and solicit public input in the proposed spending plan. Those discussions will take place at the board’s regular Tuesday evening meetings, which are open to the public.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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