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Middlebury seeks to contain increases in municipal budget

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard last week looked at the first draft of a proposed 2017-2018 town budget that would require $7,323,684 to be raised in local property taxes, which would in turn require a 4.2-cent hike in the current municipal tax rate of 97.8 cents per $100 in assessed value.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay has estimated the budget — as currently constituted — would represent a $268,000 increase in total spending, but would require raising an additional $373,526 from property taxes.
“I’m definitely not a fan of a 4-cent increase,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said of the first budget draft.
Carpenter and his colleagues promised to spend the coming weeks paring down the budget request before presenting it to Middlebury voters at their annual meeting next March. And that’s going to be challenging, according to Ramsay, due in part to some contracted increases in municipal salaries and benefits and the potential of fewer surplus funds to soften the budget’s impact on local taxes.
The current year’s tax rate is essentially the same as it was for fiscal year 2016, due in part to a drop in fuel prices, a slight increase in the grand list, more stability in health care costs, and the availability of surplus funds.
Ramsay presented a series of “major drivers” for fiscal year 2018 that include:
•  A combined increase of $116,133 in wage and benefits for town workers. Those contracted increases make up around 1.5 cents of the potential 4.2-cent hike in the tax rate.
•  The town was able to apply $117,500 in surplus funds to help mitigate the tax impact to the current (fiscal year 2017) budget. Town officials don’t yet know how much surplus they’ll have at their disposal to soften the fiscal year 2018 spending plan. So, for now, officials must conservatively plan as if they’ll have to fill that $117,500 with property tax revenues. That would represent 1.6 cents of the potential 4.2-cent increase.
•  A boost of $87,994 in spending on various capital improvements to town roads, sidewalks and other public infrastructure. This would contribute 1.2 cents to the 4.2-cent hike.
•  An increase of $24,130 for equipment-related items, including $16,500 for painting of DPW trucks to extend their service life. This would add a third of a penny to the rate.
The selectboard on Nov. 29 began interviewing municipal department leads to have them explain their respective spending priorities, in hopes of finding some potential cuts. The board specifically spoke with Kevin Unrath, director of the Ilsley Public Library, and Terri Arnold, director of the Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department.
The board also met with representatives of five social service agencies that will be among those requesting contributions from Middlebury voters next March. They included the Counseling Service of Addison County (with a $4,500 request), Addison County Home Health & Hospice ($8,542), Homeward Bound ($5,000), and Elderly Services Inc. ($5,993).
All four of those charitable organizations will be requesting the same amount of Middlebury support that they garnered this year.
In addition, Addison County Restorative Justice Services Inc. submitted its first ever funding request, for $2,500. The organization provides restorative justice projects for offenders “who have the potential to learn from their mistakes and avoid incarceration and a criminal record,” according to the group’s petition for funds.
The selectboard, will continue to discuss the draft budget at its next meeting, on Dec. 13, and then hold a public hearing on the document on Dec. 27. The board must finalize the spending plan by Jan. 24.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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