Ferrisburgh board crafts lean town budget

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday, Jan. 19, is expected to adopt a town budget proposal, one that will add about $56,500 of spending and, including voter charitable contributions, total $1,855,667.
Residents will have the final say on the Ferrisburgh municipal budget at Ferrisburgh’s town meeting, which will be held at Ferrisburgh Central School at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27.
Town officials said they expect the selectboard’s current proposal would add a penny or less to the Ferrisburgh property tax rate, before school taxes are added in.
One cent on the tax rate would add $10 per $100,000 of assessed value to residents’ tax bills, but the increase could be less depending on how much growth occurs in the town’s grand list of taxable real estate.
Selectboard Chairman Steve Gutowski said he believes the board did well in the budget process to support town services without creating an appreciable tax impact.
“We’re happy. We’re trying to get things down as much as possible. It’s a hard fight to work on a budget and really whittle it down as much as possible when it’s such a small percentage of the overall tax bill considering the school part of it,” Gutowski said. “There are some tough decisions, but you’ve got to be realistic that we maintain a budget that’s going to let the town function.”
He and town office workers hope the one-cent impact of proposed town spending will be a worst-case scenario.
“I don’t know if we’re at a cent, or even below it,” Gutowski said. “An increase is an increase, and nobody likes to see that. But realistically we also have expenses that increase, and we have to provide those services.”
One major area of increase is the administration/general government budget, about $35,500. But one portion of that higher spending is misleading: Assistant Clerk and Treasurer Pam Cousino is listed as getting an $11,000 raise, but in fact that is a cost shift. Cousino works 10 hours a week for the board of listers, and the past budget accidentally omitted those wages. The new budget simply lists all her salary in one place.  
There is one actual raise: The board is proposing five more hours a week for Treasurer Garrit Smits at the cost of $5,500. Higher spending in the administration budget also includes $5,000 apiece for more costly general insurance and for a zoning law rewrite, $6,000 for more expensive supplies and equipment, and $3,100 for greater election costs (Ferrisburgh is one of three Addison County towns to add a vote tabulating machine this year).
Another significant increase comes under “Miscellaneous” — the board is proposing $30,000 for a maintenance reserve fund for Ferrisburgh’s town office building and community center.
Highway spending is projected to increase by $10,000, with all of that due to the expected purchase of a new three-quarter-ton pickup to replace the department’s existing 14-year-old truck. Gutowski said the pickup, among other things, is used to plow small areas.
The budget draft available last week includes that $10,000 in a maintenance/repair/equipment line item, but Gutowski said the board is leaning toward removing it from the budget and treating the purchase as a separate article for voter approval on Feb. 27.
“It’s probably going to get moved to a vote on the floor,” Gutowski said. “A contingency fund isn’t really for capital acquisitions like buying a truck.”
Gutowski said board members were pleased that Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department and Vergennes Area Rescue Squad costs did not increase.
One cut they were leaning toward making and included in their draft last week was $5,000 for law enforcement protection, down to $20,000.
The town has spent at a lower rate than that in the past two years, Gutowski said, adding that on Tuesday the board could also finally choose between the Vergennes Police Department and the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for traffic control and other law enforcement services.
“Regardless of which direction we go … we weren’t even close to that number of $25,000,” Gutowski said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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