Middlebury selectboard OKs budget, warning

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters at their town meeting will field a proposed 2015-2016 general fund budget of $9,949,155 that would require a 3.8-cent hike in the municipal tax rate, but they will not be asked to consider a stipend increase for members of the town selectboard.
The proposed 2015-2016 municipal budget represents a 6.7 percent increase over the budgeted 2014-2015 spending plan. The current municipal tax rate is 94 cents per $100 in property value, so a 3.8-cent increase represents a 4 percent hike in taxes.
As previously reported, some of the main drivers for the spending increase are debt services on the new municipal building and recreation facility, and substantial upgrades to the town’s two firehouses. Debt service for those and other capital projects, along with contracted salary and benefit increases for municipal workers, is responsible for 3 cents of the tax hike.
The Middlebury selectboard held a public hearing on the budget proposal last week and this past Tuesday OK’d the warning for the March 2 town meeting.
Resident Ross Conrad had asked the board to warn an article asking residents to consider increasing selectboard members’ annual stipend that currently stands at $1,500 per year, with the chairperson getting paid an additional $300. Conrad has suggested increasing the stipend to $2,700 per member and $3,250 for the chairperson.
But Middlebury’s town charter stipulates that only the community’s elected auditors can set compensation for selectboard members. Middlebury has no elected auditors at this time; no one wants to run for the job. The town commissions a professional company to audit its books. So while the board will offer residents an opportunity to discuss selectboard pay under “other business” at town meeting, it will focus on amending the town charter to remove the position of elected auditor. This would reflect the lack of electoral interest in the position and allow the town to change the selectboard members’ stipend.
Officials are considering putting the charter change to residents at a special vote on Tuesday, April 21. If approved, the charter change would then have to be OK’d by the Legislature, which could act on the matter during the waning days of the 2015 session.
Selectboard members noted a special election on April 21 would cost $1,000, but a majority said they believed the expense would be worthwhile.
“If we are not going to get people to step up (to run for auditor), we might as well get rid of it,” Selectman Gary Baker said.
Selectwoman Susan Shashok added the board would be well served researching other potential changes to the charter to make the most of the special vote. The board did not formally vote on an April 21 meeting.
The five-article town meeting warning that the selectboard approved included the 2015-2016 municipal budget proposal and a request for residents to approve a five-year loan for up to $117,000 to purchase two police cruisers, a one-ton dump truck and related equipment for the highway department, and a pickup truck for the vehicle and equipment department.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard learned that four separate groups have declared interest in developing a town-owned parcel behind the Ilsley Library, off Bakery Lane. Town officials has been soliciting interest from companies that could build some kind of economic development project — perhaps a combination of retail, office and residential uses — on that property to attract more commerce to Middlebury’s downtown. The four companies that have stepped forward are called DEW, RetroVest, NextBridge, and Redstone. The selectboard on Tuesday agreed to have all four companies develop proposals for the Bakery Lane property. The Addison Independent will provide more insight next week into the four companies and the process that will unfold in selecting the “winning” developer.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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