City manager warns: Vergennes budget may be a challenge

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on May 26 got their first look at a preliminary 2015-2016 general fund budget, and City Manager Mel Hawley said he told council members the adoption process might challenge them this year.
“There’s work to be done,” Hawley said in a phone interview later in the week.
Hawley presented a first budget draft that called for $2,213,085 in spending, an amount that if aldermen adopted it by their June 30 deadline would mean a spending increase of about $125,000, or 6 percent.
Hawley said, however, he did not necessarily expect aldermen to simply adopt that figure. He noted the budget draft included the full amount requested by his department heads; for example, a $75,000 capital fund line item in Police Chief George Merkel’s budget for items that include a new cruiser, computer server and Tasers.
“This is not my proposed budget, particularly with regards to the police budget,” Hawley said.
Hawley also said he could not at this point predict how much of a fund balance Vergennes would have at the June 30 end of its fiscal year. A year ago, aldermen used a $118,000 carryover to help stabilize the municipal portion of the tax rate at 72.5 cents.
By June 9, when the council meets again, Hawley hopes to have a clearer revenue picture for items like mileage aid and state funding to Vergennes in the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, as well as a better idea of where the city’s fund balance might stand by the end of the month.
Hawley said the council did not discuss at its May 26 meeting whether it would seek to hold the line at 72.5 cents again or accept some sort of increase in the municipal property tax rate.
“The council has not taken any position yet,” he said.
In other business on May 26, the council:
•  Voted to close Macdonough Drive between Comfort Hill and High Street during the city’s annual Youth Fishing Derby, which is set for June 26, 27 and 28. Traffic may detour via Comfort Hill and High Street during the closing hours, which will run from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. that Friday and Saturday and from 5 to 10:30 a.m. on that Sunday.
•  Agreed to light the Otter Creek falls again this summer. The roughly $2,000 cost to do so will be paid out of recreation funds in the city budget.

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