Ferrisburgh eyes jump in municipal spending

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh residents in March will be asked to approve a 2015-2016 town budget that calls for the first recent significant spending increase, a 5.6 percent hike to about $1.77 million.
Line items pushing spending higher include increased hours for town office workers, an additional road crew employee, a deficit from the current year that must be retired, and projected higher insurance and road resurfacing costs.
According to Ferrisburgh officials, the town’s municipal tax rate could increase by about 3.5 cents (almost 15 percent) if that budget is approved, and residents also back $30,800 of charitable requests and three other financial articles totaling $80,000. The current municipal tax rate is 23.36 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Selectmen are also asking residents if Ferrisburgh should:
•  Spend $40,000 to buy a lot that abuts both the Ferrisburgh town office building and the Ferrisburgh Central School.
•  Establish a $30,000 reserve fund to be dedicated toward maintenance of town-owned buildings.
•  Add $10,000 more to the budget by increasing its highway contingency fund to $30,000.
Meanwhile, residents will also be asked to back a 2.99 percent increase in Ferrisburgh Central School spending to about $3.6 million and to back a $10.47 million Vergennes Union High School budget.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials estimate approval of both those school budgets and related spending articles would add about 10.5 cents to the town’s current education tax rate of $1.5557 for residents, which represents a 6.8 percent increase. Therefore, backing all spending could mean about a 14-cent hike in the town’s overall residential tax rate of $1.7893, or an overall increase of 7.8 percent.
That increase would translate to $140 for every $100,000 in assessed value.
About two-thirds of Ferrisburgh households are eligible for property tax relief under the state’s education financing laws and should receive prebates that would lessen the impact. Most prebates for households earning under $90,000 are more than $1,000, often much higher.
Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said coming up with a spending plan this winter proved to be a challenge, especially given that the board started out staring at a deficit of about $100,000.
“Right off the bat we went into this over budget,” Lawrence said.
Personnel spending accounted for most of the shortfall. Lawrence said a majority of the board in October approved hiring the extra road crew member, and those wages are reflected both in the shortfall and in a salary of $30,000, not counting benefits, in the proposed highway department budget.
The town also began the current fiscal year budgeting only for a halftime clerk and treasurer, but instead spent nearly fulltime wages on both, adding more than $36,000 to the current bottom line.
Lawrence said the board wanted to make sure the office was running properly with new personnel in place. The new budget leaves the clerk at fulltime and increases the treasurer line item by about $8,000, adding $31,000 to the next budget.
“We had to err on the side of caution and get the office back in shape. But it all came together,” Lawrence said.
The selectboard will continue to monitor town office staffing levels and needs, she said.
“We’re trying to figure out the best way to handle it, and we’ll evaluate it again next summer,” Lawrence said.
Fortunately, the town also received in 2014 a $72,000 settlement from VELCO, which paid back taxes and interest to Ferrisburgh and other area towns after mistakenly under-estimating the value of the company’s property in each community. That cash allowed Ferrisburgh to limit its deficit.
But other factors are pushing proposed spending higher, including increases of $28,000 for health benefits, $25,000 for paving, $12,000 for salt and sand, and $10,000 for fire protection.
The town will also spend $42,500 for the new highway garage and office now being built, but that bond payment will be offset by the end of two other scheduled bond payments, $30,000 for a truck and $35,000 for the town office building.
Lawrence said she hopes residents understand the net increases.  
“We worked hard on the budget, and it’s up to the taxpayers,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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