Firehouse drives Bristol budget up

BRISTOL — When Bristol voters consider a proposed town budget at their town meeting next Monday evening, town officials will likely be fielding questions about why general fund spending is going up by more than 20 percent.
Town Administrator Therese Kirby says the reason is pretty straightforward — Bristol’s new firehouse.
Bristol voters will convene on Monday, Feb. 29, at Holley Hall, starting at 7 p.m. for the annual town meeting. They will be asked to approve a grand total of $2,480,531 in town expenditures, which represents a 9.95 percent increase in total expenditures from the $2,256,154 approved last year. The largest increase is in the general operating fund, up 21.67 percent. Voters this year are being asked to approve a general fund budget of $938,607 (of which $758,266 is to be raised by taxes), as compared to the 2015-2016 budget of $771,424.
That spending increase, Kirby explained, is largely due to expenditures on the new Bristol fire station. Voters approved a $3.19 million bond last July to build the station, and payments on that bond begin with the 2016-2017 budget. Also included in the 2016-2017 budget are operating costs for the new fire station, once it’s up and running, such as electricity, heating, water and cleaning. Kirby said that town officers carefully researched estimates for the day-to-day running of the building, including consulting Efficiency Vermont and comparing heating and other costs for similarly sized fire stations around in the state. Any money budgeted toward day-to-day operations that is not spent in 2016-2017 will go back into the town budget as part of the undesignated fund balance.
Another factor, Kirby said, is that worker’s compensation for all town employees is up 14 percent. Bristol gets its worker’s comp, as do most Vermont towns, through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, she said.
The proposed highway fund budget of $754,789 (of which $652,814 would be raised by taxes), is up 5.71 percent from last year. Kirby attributed most of this increase to the cost of replacing the South Street Bridge. Voters passed a $300,000 bond to replace the bridge in March 2012. The bridge was replaced in August 2014. Bond payments begin in 2016, Kirby said, noting that townspeople will be paying toward the $115,000 cost of replacing the bridge, not the amount originally approved for the bond.
Arts, Parks and Recreation spending is nearly identical to that approved at last year’s town meeting; $254,758 is budgeted, of which $173,758 would be paid by taxes.
Of particular note, voters are being asked to advise the selectboard about selling the old Bristol Fire Department building at 32 North St. Although the discussion will be nonbinding, the selectboard wants to hear from Bristol residents directly as to whether they should sell the building or not, whether they should sell the building with no restrictions whatsoever to the new owner, or whether it’s important to sell but place caveats so that the historic structure couldn’t be torn down or so that the exterior would need to remain the same, etc.
School business up before townspeople at Monday night’s meeting includes the opportunity to discuss the proposed Bristol Elementary School budget. The $5,020,933 BES budget represents a 2.1 percent spending increase from the 2015-2016 budget of $4,918,334. It would result in per pupil spending of $14,739, an increase of 1.6 percent from the current year. This number is well under the newly increased Act 46 threshold for Bristol Elementary of 2.68 percent, meaning that it avoids the Act 46 tax penalty for spending over the cap.
The state originally limited BES to a 1.78 percent increase in per pupil spending to avoid tax penalties. On Jan. 30 the percentage cap was raised by 0.9 for all schools statewide and the tax penalty limited to 40 percent for every dollar over the amount. The new per pupil spending growth allowance for BES is 2.68 percent.
At press time, homestead tax rates were still up in the air statewide, as the Agency of Education continues to await clarification from legislators on how Act 46 affects the “property dollar equivalent yield” used to calculate the homestead rate.
Voting for the elementary and high school budgets, and for town officers, by Australian ballot will take place Tuesday, March 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also at Holley Hall.
In addition to the $5 million spending plan for Bristol Elementary School, Bristol voters will also weigh in on the $13,389,914 proposed for Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School and the $3,521,263 proposed for the Hannaford Career Center.
A special informational meeting for voters in Bristol’s Police Department Special Service District will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, directly before town meeting, at Holley Hall. Police district residents will consider a proposed budget of $415,999, of which $363,049 would be raised by taxes. The budget represents an increase of roughly 5 percent from the current year’s $396,220. Kirby noted that the police department budget was also affected by increases in the cost of worker’s compensation and liability insurance. Voting on the police district budget will be by Australian ballot on March 1.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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