Ferrisburgh board talks cash flow, roads

FERRISBURGH — Finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, both of the town and of residents, and ongoing road work were key topics discussed at the April 21 Ferrisburgh selectboard meeting. 
A financial issue facing Ferrisburgh is forwarding school taxes — one payment of about $808,000 to the Vermont Education Fund due on May 20 and another of about $1.5 million set to go directly to the Addison Northwest School District on June 3 — while facing uncertainty that all residents will be making payments.
Treasurer Deb Healey and Town Clerk Pam Cousino told the selectboard that because Ferrisburgh works on a quarterly property-tax payment system, with only the June 1 installment left for this fiscal year, the town should be in decent shape to make those payments even if some taxpayers default on their final payment.
They said they were more concerned about future installments.
“What will be more telling is what the September 1 payment will be like,” Healey said. “It will be a real eye-opener.”
The question of waiving interest penalties for those who pay late then came up at the meeting. Cousino said towns lacked the legal authority to forgive those penalties, but could do so if the Legislature allowed them to.
“That’s what we’re waiting to hear from the state,” she said. 
Selectman Clark Hinsdale cautioned the board and town officials to be careful not to encourage residents to pay late, in part because the town lacks funds to operate for long without cash flow. 
“I really wouldn’t want to say as a selectman I was going to alert them there was no penalty,” Hinsdale said. “We don’t have much of a cushion … All of that shouldn’t be waived for everybody.”
Board members also said the town’s installment payment plan should make it easier for residents to pay, and that income sensitivity provisions in state school finance law would also help property tax payers be compliant.
The board also heard from Road Foreman John Bull that his budget was in reasonable shape, and that state grants for paving awarded in 2019 should still be good throughout this summer.
“I don’t necessarily spend it by July 1,” Bull said.
Board members agreed the highway department should proceed with planned paving. They said most of the funding comes from the state, they don’t want the department to fall behind schedule, and that some of the roads, notably Greenbush Road, need work sooner rather than later.
Bull also said the Mack truck factory that was set to build the new truck voters approved for his department was shut down this spring, but could probably build it later this year. He urged the board to go ahead with the purchase in 2020 because the vehicle is badly needed. The board agreed. 
In the meantime, although the update to the governor’s stay-at-home order allows more work to be done, Bull said his department is still “basically doing the minimum,” such as grading roads.  As a result, he said, the department will also be “fairly limited for spending out of our pocket.”
In other business, the board:
•  Heard from Selectboard Chairwoman Jessica James that a morale-boosting vehicle parade along many roads in Ferrrisburgh held the previous Wednesday evening had gone well. “It was really fun and really raised the spirits of a lot of people,” James said. Another parade is being planned for West Ferrisburgh, she said, but a date has not yet been set.
•  Reappointed Clifton Mix for another year as tree warden.
•  Voted not to charge residents late fees for dog licenses until after Sept. 1.
•  After a lengthy discussion, decided not to pursue a major grant to help fund restoration of the town-owned Union Meeting Hall until 2021. 

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