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Use of surplus will mute impact of Midd. budget

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday got its first glimpse at an $11.5 million draft fiscal year 2021 municipal budget that reflects a spending increase of $359,105 or 3.2%.
But town officials are proposing to apply enough surplus funds to limit a tax increase to 1.36 cents on the current municipal tax rate of 80.2 cents per $100 in property value. That’s a 1.7 percent increase.
The surplus in question would come from a combination of unspent funds from a prior fiscal year and money accrued in the Cross Street Bridge account.
Middlebury voters in March 20, 2008, endorsed a 30-year local option tax of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol purchases in town in order to bankroll the town’s $7 million debt on the Cross Street Bridge project. Middlebury College agreed to underwrite the remaining $9 million for the $16 million project.
Since then Middlebury’s local option tax revenues have exceeded the town’s annual debt service for the bridge, to the extent the surplus has grown to around $2.5 million. It’s money that town officials have agreed should be dedicated to Cross Street Bridge-related expenses, including maintenance.
But the fund has been growing at such a pace that the board, during each of the past few years, has asked town meeting voters to earmark some of the surplus to local transportation infrastructure improvements.
This year’s candidates include upgrades linked to the downtown rail bridges replacement project, and the town’s share of a new passenger rail platform off Seymour Street.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay on Tuesday outlined major anticipated budget drivers this year. They include:
• A $141,846 increase in contracted wages and a $52,700 surge in employee benefits, such as health insurance.
• A proposed $185,358 jump in capital improvement projects throughout town. The town has been making a concerted effort to catch up on deferred maintenance of roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure.
• A $58,004 increase in equipment-related debt.
Middlebury officials interviewed several department heads on Tuesday to go over their budget requests for fiscal year 2021, which will cover expenses from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. Those presenting budgets included Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, Middlebury Fire Chief Dave Shaw, Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart, and Parks & Recreation Supervisor Dustin Hunt.
Board members found little to quibble with in their first review of their department leaders’ requests:
• The police budget request is $1,721,488, a bump of $44,898 (2.7%).
• The fire budget ask is down $7,116 (2.7%).
• The library request of $664,883 is up $23,507 (3.7%).
• The parks & recreation ask is up $5,866 for a budget of $495,929 (1.2%).
Middlebury Public Works officials are requesting funding of $1,715,088, an increase of $44,898, or 2.8%.
The selectboard will spend the coming weeks refining the budget. The public will be invited to weigh in at a special hearing set for Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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