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Vergennes council facing possible major tax hike

VERGENNES — Facing a draft city budget that could theoretically trigger a 13-cent increase in the Vergennes municipal tax rate, the Vergennes City Council on Tuesday added an extra budget session for this Thursday to work on finding savings.
An increase of that full 13 cents is unlikely because it would assume the council uses none of an anticipated surplus from this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, to offset the tax rate.
As of Tuesday City Manager Mel Hawley told the council the pre-audited fund balance stood at about $198,000, a figure he said would drop over the coming weeks as the city continued to pay bills, including for ongoing public works projects.
“Do I predict a $198,000 surplus? No, I don’t. That number is going to continue to go down,” Hawley said. “I don’t know how far it will go.”
Hawley said every $22,600 of surplus from the current fiscal year the council chooses to apply toward lowering the 2018-2019 tax rate will lower that rate by 1 cent.
In 2017 the council used about half of a $140,000 fund balance in pegging the municipal rate at 81 cents per $100 of assessed property value, a 2-cent increase from the prior year.
Given across-the-board increases in Hawley’s preliminary budget, Mayor Renny Perry said the council has its work cut out. He suggested members should review the proposal and come back with suggestions at the next meeting.
“We need to sleep on it,” Perry said. “This is a challenge we’ve got here.”
Hawley said some of his numbers were guesses, in particular those related to personnel replacing him after he retires on July 24. Hawley also serves as the city’s zoning administrator and health officer, and also clerks for the board of listers and handles the city’s accounts payable.
In all, Hawley said, his jobs pay $90,000. Without feedback from the search committee for his replacement, he budgeted $95,000 for a city manager’s salary; $15,600 for a 20-hour-a-week position to handle accounts payable; and $19,500 for a zoning administrator, an increase of about $9,000.
“There may be some areas where you think there may be some cutbacks,” Hawley said.
Those changes are contributing to an overall increase of about $72,000 in the proposed administration budget, an increase to $452,540 that is also driven by higher withholding and health insurance costs.
Meanwhile Hawley’s proposed police department spending reflects an increase over the 2017-2018 budget of about $124,000 to $990,680. A new cruiser accounts for $50,000 of that difference, and salary and health insurance increases account for most of the rest.
The preliminary proposal for public works spending calls for an additional $33,000 to $779,350. Wages, fuel, salt and sand, and health insurance are driving that proposed increase.
In the “general expenses” spending category, higher costs for recycling, the fire department (a new truck) and the Bixby Library are pushing proposed spending up by about $35,000 to $236,225.
Not counting the city’s fee-funded sewer department, the numbers in the preliminary budget call for $260,764 of increased spending to about $2.49 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Perry said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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