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Vergennes contains spending in new budget

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council on Tuesday approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that calls for the municipal portion of the city tax rate to remain unchanged from the current year. 
However, one portion of that budget — spending on the city pool — remains an estimate as City Manager Daniel Hofman, councilors, and the city’s Pool Advisory Committee are still determining whether it is safe and financially feasible to open the popular pool this summer.
Hofman said the council could amend the budget to accommodate the pool if it can open, and he included a revenue-neutral estimate in the document the council OK’d on Tuesday, about a month earlier than budgets have typically been approved in the past. 
Overall, the council approved a budget for the year beginning July 1 that increased spending by $30,762 to $2,580,779. The municipal portion of the city tax rate would remain unchanged at 92 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
According to Hofman’s calculations, revenue will increase by about $79,000, more than enough to support the addition of the city’s new recreation coordinator, Kim Buckley, at 25 hours a week.
The budget also adds a new vehicle replacement reserve fund of $71,031, intended to set aside money for future public works and police department purchases. Part of a projected fund balance from the current budget estimated at $90,000 will be used to create that reserve fund, according to Hofman.
After the pool, the biggest topic of conversation during Tuesday’s budget talks was whether to give the city’s non-police employees a 3% raise comparable to that called for in the unionized police department’s contract.
Councilors backed that pay hike over Hofman’s original proposal to level-fund raises given the financial uncertainties of the upcoming year and a third option of a 1.6% cost-of-living increase.
“We have seasoned, well-respected employees,” said Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly.
The remainder of the roughly $90,000 fund balance will be tapped to pay for the 3% raise, Hofman said on Wednesday.

TAKING THE PLUNGE?
Hofman and Mark Koenig, a council and pool committee member, said on Tuesday if the pool is opened it will be on a limited basis following social distancing guidelines, with use restricted to those purchasing pool passes, to two-hour blocks, and in many cases only to those who sign up in advance. 
They added officials would also have to write a manual outlining standard operating procedures for pool employees, and use of pool buildings would be limited. 
There will be no swimming lessons, and the Vergennes Champs swim team’s season has already been canceled. Swim team representatives are still talking with the pool committee and Hofman about possible small-group team activities, however. 
“It’s still a very complicated situation,” Hofman told the council on Tuesday. “We’re going to try our best to get it open.”

BUDGET DETAILS
The fee-supported sewer system is expected to run a roughly $135,000 surplus as the city studies a major upcoming fix for the water infiltration issues in its collection system that trigger its overflow problems, and an upgrade and renovation of the sewer plant itself. 
By department:
•  Police spending will be $853,347, or about 33% of the city budget. The figure dropped about $37,000 from current levels. Unlike 2019 there was no debate about staffing levels in the police department, which has eight officers, one who works on a countywide basis and is fully funded by a grant. Spending is comparably lower because current spending includes a cruiser purchase, and health and liability insurance costs are seen as dropping.
•  Public works spending is pegged at $843,722, or about 32% of the budget. It is projected to rise by about $17,000. A number of small increases are behind the slightly higher spending.
•  Administration spending was set at $457,000, or about 18% of spending. It is set to drop by $58,000, with the lower amount due to a one-time information technology upgrade in 2019 and the elimination of an administrative assistant position. 
•  General government spending will be $382,693, or about 15% of the total. An increase of about $102,000 is projected, largely driven by the vehicle reserve fund, a full year of the recreation director’s salary, and $10,000 for purchase of recreation equipment.
•  Voter appropriations will rise by about $7,200 to $44,014. They represent 2% of the budget.
In other business, councilors:
•  Heard from Hofman that former city clerk Joan Devine will fill in at city hall while Vergennes searches for a new clerk to replace the departed Morgan Kittredge. Buckley, the recreation coordinator, is also helping at city hall, Hofman said.
•  Appointed Cheryl Brinkman and Shannon Haggett to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, and Brent Rakowski to regional planning’s Transportation Advisory Committee.
•  Heard from Police Chief George Merkel that his department would start its traffic enforcement contract with the town of Addison on June 1. 

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