Fixed costs affecting Middlebury town budget

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard is beginning its review of a draft fiscal year 2019 municipal budget that, if left unchanged, would add 2.16 cents to the current local tax rate of 98.2 cents.
But it’s a spending plan that could look different when it’s put before Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day in March, as selectboard members could recommend both subtractions and additions before agreeing to a final budget proposal by Jan. 23, when it is expected to be finalized.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay on this past Tuesday presented the board with a list of fixed “budget drivers” that will affect spending and revenues for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1 and end on June 30, 2019.
“As usual, wages and benefits are some of the biggest items,” Ramsay said.
Negotiated labor contracts will create $83,340 in raises for municipal employees, plus a $101,450 bump in benefits, according to Ramsay. That combined $184,790 increase alone translates into roughly 2.5 cents more on the municipal tax rate, according to preliminary budget figures.
Middlebury’s Infrastructure Committee has tentatively recommended a $57,484 boost to the town’s capital improvements plan for fiscal year 2019, on that would result in an additional three-quarters of a penny on the municipal rate.
Other more modest potential spending increases include:
•  A proposed $5,000 increase to $35,000 for Addison Central Teens, which provides a teen center and supervised after-school activities for Addison Central School District youths.
•  A $2,250 contribution to state-mandated improvements to a prominent rail crossing along the Trail Around Middlebury, located at a point on the TAM where Fucile Field and the adjacent playing fields merge near the Boathouse Bridge that spans Otter Creek.
•  A $6,000 increase in elections-related expenses next fall, reflecting the November 2018 general election.
Some of those expenses will be offset by anticipated savings and higher revenue, Ramsay noted.
For example, the town is expecting a $36,230 reduction in property and casualty insurance premiums. And the Middlebury Police Department’s K-9 program, entering its second year, will be reduced by $24,560 to reflect the phase-out of start-up costs.
Ramsay is also recommending the selectboard apply $150,000 of an anticipated fund balance to offset some of the tax impacts of the fiscal year 2019 budget. The board has applied $150,000 surplus amounts during each of the past two budget years to soften property tax impacts.
Application of that surplus and other revenue offsets would at this point lead to an increase of $160,336 beyond the $7,106,034 that Middlebury voters OK’d in taxes this past March to support the fiscal year 2018 budget.
A penny on Middlebury’s tax rate raises around $80,000.
Middlebury could be in store for some good financial news that could affect the budget.
Town Assessor Bill Benton has tentatively estimated a 1.57-percent increase in Middlebury’s grand list, “the biggest increase we have seen in quite a while,” Ramsay told the board.
That increase must still be confirmed by a professional audit before it can be built into budget projections, she stressed.
The selectboard will seek budget feedback from residents and businesses during the next two months. The current budget timeline calls for a Jan. 9 public hearing on the spending plan.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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