Ferrisburgh’s municipal budget won’t trigger tax hike

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard adopted a budget on Tuesday that if approved by residents on Town Meeting Day would barely move the town’s municipal tax rate, effectively cut the hours of the elected treasurer position from 35 to 20 per week, and allow the board to hire an extra part-time worker for the town office.
Board members also adopted a Town Meeting Day warning that will ask residents to make three other decisions: whether to buy a $190,000 truck, to change property tax payments to a quarterly schedule, and to create a $500 Conservation Fund.
Residents on March 7 will be asked to approve a $1,850,100 budget to support town spending.
That figure does not include an estimated $41,000 for the first year’s payments on a tandem dump and plow truck or $32,778 in charitable requests.
If residents approve from the floor of town meeting that total of $1,923,878 of spending, said assistant treasurer/town clerk Pam Cousino at Tuesday’s meeting, there “might be a half-a-penny increase” at most in the portion of the town’s tax rate needed to support municipal spending.
Meanwhile, the Addison Northwest School District Board has adopted a budget that, according to ANWSD officials’ estimates, could mean lower school taxes for Ferrisburgh homeowners.
Taking into account the 10-cent discount ANWSD towns will receive because residents approved unification in March, assuming lawmakers accept recommended tax rates from the Department of Taxes, assuming ANWSD voters back a $21.1 million unified budget, and adjusting for Ferrisburgh’s Common Level of Appraisal, officials estimate Ferrisburgh’s residential tax rate could decrease by 12.1 cents.
Those estimates predate Gov. Phil Scott’s 11th-hour suggestion on Tuesday that local school boards level-fund their budgets. The ANWSD plan calls for an increase of about 1.7 percent. Vermont House and Senate leaders expressed skepticism about Scott’s plan.
The budget approved by the Ferrisburgh selectboard, assuming that as expected residents back charitable requests and a truck purchase that Road Foreman John Bull said is badly needed, calls for a spending increase of about $89,000, or about 4.8 percent.
But board members chose to apply $66,000 of a $216,000 fund balance identified by auditors at the end of the 2015-2016 to reduce the tax impact of that increase.
Cousino said a penny on the tax rate raises about $55,000, adding on Wednesday the actual difference to raise in taxes between the two budgets is about $33,000. She also expects growth in the town’s grand list to help fund some of the new spending — therefore, she said, the impact of the budget increase on Ferrisburgh’s tax rate would be minimal.
The truck, if approved, would be the largest single driver of the increase. Salaries in the highway department are also rising by about $20,000, including a contingency fund that could be used for mid-year raises. Board members said raises awarded halfway through the current fiscal year were larger than usual to make up for smaller raises during the recession years.
Within the highway budget board members also increased overtime by $6,000 and equipment maintenance by $14,000, the latter item to account for taking care of older trucks that remain in the town fleet.
The administration budget proposal showed a smaller spending increase, with little of it related to salaries despite the board’s juggling of personnel hours. Instead, line items related to workers’ compensation ($8,000), liability insurance (about $3,500), the planned rewrite of zoning laws ($5,000), and listers’/appraiser’s fees ($4,000) all rose.
The line for treasurer’s salary dropped from $33,670 to $21,000. Board members have not been happy with elected treasurer Garrit Smits, over whom they have no direct authority. They allege he has not worked the 35 hours a week they expected and is responsible for fees due to late payment of bills, including a second penalty from the IRS discussed on Tuesday.  
A recent letter from professional auditor Ron Smith stated accounts are not being reconciled or deposits made in a timely manner, among other issues.
On Tuesday, board members said the $21,000 was based on a 20-hour week, but depending on who is elected and what hours he or she wanted a treasurer could work more or fewer hours.
That flexibility is possible because the board is proposing to boost the “Wages-Contingency” line item from $3,500 to $18,200. Money from that line item could be used to hire a fourth worker, possibly a bookkeeper.
Board members pointed to the recent letter from Smith, who stated the office needs a total of 100 staff hours a week to operate effectively, while Cousino said the treasurer’s job could be done for an average of 20 hours per week.
The board said the law also allows them to pay a treasurer on an hourly basis, not simply on a salary basis with assumed hours, even if he or she is elected. Board members said hourly treasurer’s wages would give them additional flexibility to divide wages from the two line items between two workers depending on their ability and availability.
“We set the compensation. It can be hourly,” said Selectman Steve Gutowski.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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