Brandon budget calls for more tax support

BRANDON — Brandon voters will be asked on Town Meeting Day to approve a $3,138,185 municipal budget highlighted by increased revenues and increased health care costs.
The amount to be raised by taxes is $2,578,045, a 2.75 percent increase over the current year’s spending plan.
Brandon selectboard Chair Seth Hopkins said two-thirds of that increase is due to an increase in the health insurance premiums for town employees.
“Health insurance is 10 percent of the budget across the board,” he said. “This could have been much worse, but (Town Manager) Dave Atherton changed insurers from Blue Cross Blue Shield to MVP, which is the only other option in Vermont, and it’s a one-time gambit. But even moving to MVP, there was still an increase in the premiums.”
Selectboard Vice-Chair Doug Bailey agreed.
“Switching from Blue Cross Blue Shield is saving us a lot of money, but it’s still a major expense,” he said.
In the police department budget, there is practically no increase in spending save for a $30,000 increase in health insurance costs to cover one officer who was not previously on the town’s insurance and is now.
The Brandon Recreation Department was the standout when it came to revenue increases among town departments. Revenue budgeted for fiscal year 2018-2019 increased more than 50 percent, from $51,750 to $109,000, which includes $15,000 for grants.
While Bailey and Hopkins said Rec Director Bill Moore was conservative in his reported revenue the year before, they said the board was very pleased.
“Bill has built up a good following and he’s got good attendance,” Hopkins said. “That revenue includes $15,000 for grants, but it’s still a huge increase.”
By subtracting the proposed $68,000 in programming expenses from the rec department’s $94,000 in revenue without the $15,000 for grants, the town sees a net increase in rec revenue of $26,000.
Bailey added that the board approved an additional fee of $10 for out-of-town residents who participate in Brandon Rec programs.
One notable decrease to town administration costs is a reduction in the position of zoning administrator from a full-time to a part-time position. The current salary of $50,648 will be reduced to a part-time salary of $35,500. That change will also negate health insurance costs, currently $15,300, and retirement contributions of $36,000.
“The selectboard decided that they wanted that position to be right-sized,” Hopkins said. “They thought it didn’t warrant a full-time position.”
Current Zoning Administrator Anna Scheck’s contract is up in July, and Hopkins said the position will be posted as part-time at up to 28 hours per week.
The town highway budget is up about $42,000, mostly due to increased spending on maintenance supplies like gravel, chloride (which prevents ice forming on pavement) and road salt.
There is a proposed spending increase on chloride from $20,000 to $25,000, on road salt from $60,000 to $65,000, and on gravel from $35,000 to $55,000.
“(Public Works Superintendent) Daryl Burlett basically put us on notice saying that we still have a lot to do on our dirt roads,” Bailey said. “He said a road will lose an inch of gravel per year, and we have to do a better job keeping up with that.”
Brandon has roughly 80 miles of road, and about half of those roads are dirt.
The board is again asking voters to approve $100,000 for road paving projects.
The town warning also asks voters to authorize the selectboard to reallocate $10,000 earmarked annually for the now-defunct Brandon Boys and Girls Club to the General Fund.
There is also $15,000 less in appropriations on the ballot with the closure of the Harvest Program at Foxcroft Farm in Leicester.
Bailey made a point of mentioning the town’s new 1 percent option tax, implemented a year ago through an increase on local food and rooms tax. To date, that tax has raised $173,000 for town public works projects.
“We’ve been receiving very good revenue on that, and we could fudge this and flat fund this budget,” he said. “But, we are very concerned about the Segment 6 project and the Park Street paving project.”
Bailey noted that the proposed price tag for the Segment 6/Route 7 upgrade through Brandon, which started last fall, went from $15 million to $25 million since the project was first bonded.
“We really want to limit our borrowing, so we’re stockpiling this money in a fund that can’t be used for anything else,” Bailey said. “It’s so in two years, when we have to kick in a 5 percent match on Segment 6, we’ll have it and we won’t have to borrow or ask the voters for money.”
Once Segment 6 is completed in 2020, Bailey said the option tax revenue can be used for other public works projects in town.
“We think we’re being responsible,” he said.

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