Middlebury begins budget work

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials will spend the next month trimming the first draft of a 2016-2017 municipal budget that reflects a $290,522 increase in spending, which would translate into a 4-cent rise in the town’s municipal tax rate.
The initial budget draft represents a departure point for the Middlebury selectboard in its annual exercise of crafting a spending plan to present to local voters at the annual town meeting. Individual board members will propose adjustments to the budget based on their views of essential services and what local taxpayers can afford. Residents at town meeting have the power to pitch amendments to the budget from the floor.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay presented a list of the “major drivers” for the suggested budget increase to the selectboard at its meeting this past Tuesday. The main driver is a new “facilities and safety director position” at an estimated cost of $100,000. That position — which has yet to be approved — would support the highway, water, wastewater and parks & recreation departments, as well as directly supervise a new, part-time buildings and grounds supervisor. According to recent Middlebury Personnel Committee minutes, the facilities and safety director’s main responsibilities would include:
• Day-to-day facilities maintenance and management.
• Overseeing the municipal equipment fund.
• Ensuring worksite safety and compliance with federal safety rules.
• Operational oversight and supervision.
• Training and employee development.
Other major drivers in the first draft of the budget call for $35,100 for the police department to replace three part-time officers’ position with a full-time post; $112,895 in contracted wage and benefits increases; an additional $6,000 for elections; and another $6,000 for legal expenses.
If approved, the resulting $7,155,930 spending plan would create a new Middlebury municipal tax rate of 99 cents per $100 in property value, up from the current 95 cents.
But Selectboard Chairman Dean George said the budget will certainly undergo some changes before being placed on the town meeting warning.
“My first thought is, it is more of an increase than any of us can comfortably support,” George said. “We will try to reduce it.”
In other action on Nov. 24, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Awarded the winter sand contract to J.P. Carrara & Sons, for $8.91 per ton.
• Heard a proposal from Gerhard Meyer of the Knights of Columbus to place a KOC placard on the “Welcome to Middlebury” signs on Route 7. The board asked Meyer to come back with mock-ups of several options for displaying a properly scaled placard either on the existing Middlebury welcome signs or elsewhere near the entrances to town.
• Adopted a proposed Middlebury Bike Ordinance, which regulates and provides guidance on the safe operation of bicycles and other “rideable” devices in the downtown area. The ordinance will become effective 40 days after its adoption by the selectboard (Jan. 3), unless a resident files a petition asking that it be put before voters as a referendum.
• Reviewed a proposed lease with Middlebury College for a dog park on the Porter Medical Center campus, near Middlebury Regional EMS headquarters. David Pistilli, president of the Middlebury Regional EMS board, voiced concern about the proximity of the dog park to the EMS helipad, noting rules for set-backs from such facilities. The board asked park organizers, college officials and Middlebury Regional EMS to further discuss use of the site to see if the helipad-related issues can be resolved.
• Approved Parks & Recreation Director Terri Arnold’s request to apply for a state grant of $15,000 to partially fund a proposed bocce court at the town’s recreation park.
• Awarded a contract to Markowski Excavating to stabilize around 140 feet of embankment at the northern end of Creek Road that collapsed after a recent storm. At $29,239, Markowski’s was the low bid for the project.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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