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Aldermen peg city’s tax rate at 75 cents

VERGENNES — As expected, the Vergennes City Council on June 30 increased the Vergennes municipal tax rate by 2.5 cents to 75 cents.
That increase will add $25 to city tax bills per $100,000 of assessed value. Aldermen had been targeting that number for months and in their recent meetings had made major cuts to a draft budget.
Aldermen also approved a 2015-2016 general fund budget of $2,121,912. That number is an increase of about $34,000, or 1.6 percent, over the 2014-2015 general fund budget of about $2.088 million.
The general fund budget includes police, public works and administrative spending, plus other expenses such as support of local and county agencies and charitable donations approved on Town Meeting Day. The budget does not include fire department spending, which is largely funded by surrounding towns and sewer spending, which is fee-based.
Unlike in other Addison County communities, in which residents vote on budget proposals in March, in Vergennes aldermen set the budget in June.
The city’s total tax rate remains uncertain due to the multiple votes on the Vergennes Union High School budget, according to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials. They were expecting state officials to make ANwSU school tax rates final later this week.
According to ANwSU estimates, Vergennes residential school tax rates could rise by about 6.5 cents, meaning city homeowners could be looking at a 9-cent hike that would translate to $90 per $100,000 of assessed value.
However, the majority of homeowners are also eligible for prebates, and would eventually receive tax relief for some of those higher school tax payments.
Last week, aldermen were happy to set the municipal rate at what they considered a modest increase. Earlier this spring, they believed a combination of budget pressures and an uncertain revenue forecast would make their job even more difficult.
“If you told me two months ago we would have a 75-cent tax rate, I would have bet against it,” said Mayor Bill Benton. “I’m glad we’re here.”
Instead, they learned from Hawley they would have enough of a cash carry-over from the past fiscal year to put toward lowering the tax rate, an amount comparable to that of a year ago.
 “I really think we’re going to land at about $147,000 (of a carry-over),” Hawley said.
Aldermen voted to use $103,000 of that fund balance to offset the tax rate, less than the $118,000 they used for that purpose in 2014, leaving $47,000 to protect against shortfalls in the coming 12 months.
“We’re actually better off this year,” Benton said.
Hawley said it was up to the council, but the rate could be lower.
“Could it be less than 75 cents? Yes, it could,” Hawley said.
Alderman Renny Perry spoke for the consensus that developed the budget, saying it would be a good idea to have some protection against the unexpected.
“But that would shrink the cushion for next year,” Perry said.
The budget includes:
• $765,303 for police, an increase of $22,385. Aldermen said no to requests for a new cruiser and Tasers that totaled almost $80,000 more.
• $373,737 for administration, an increase of $1,145.
• $752,307 for public works, an increase of $1,130.
• $208,233 for general operations, an increase of $1,130.
• $196,886 for general expenses, an increase of about $7,300. The category of general expenses includes the city’s share of the Vergennes Fire Department protection; support of county agencies, such Addison County Transit Resources and Regional Planning Commission; and support of local entities, such as the Bixby Library, Vergennes Area Rescue Squad and Vergennes Partnership.
• $33,679 for voter appropriations, an increase of $2,000.
In other business, aldermen:
• Heard from Alderman Mike Daniels that the city’s annual Youth Fishing Derby, held in the Otter Creek basin on June 24, 25 and 26, went well. The event drew about 300 participants, a higher-than-typical total, even though high waters and rain caused organizers to call off Sunday fishing and made the catch low. Only about 150 fish were caught. Business sponsors donated about $7,000 worth of prizes, Daniels said.
• Heard from Daniels that the lighting of the Otter Creek falls has been tweaked with new colors this summer. “You might see different colors on each falls,” Daniels said. “I urge people to go down and see the light show.” The lights will be on from about 9 to 11:30 p.m. until the weekend after Labor Day.
• Voted to change the wording of the city’s Watershed Fund policy to remove some restrictions on its use. Hawley had urged aldermen to make the change. “All this does is save us a step,” Hawley said.
• Agreed to change one of the three sites at which official city notices are posted. Such notices will still be posted at Vergennes City Hall and at the North Street U.S. Post Office, but now will be posted at the bulletin board outside the Small City Market on Main Street and not at the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office. The change was prompted by ANwSU’s move from a downtown location on Green Street to Kennedy Brothers at Main Street’s north end, aldermen said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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