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Ferrisburgh eyes capital funding plan

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard is looking at fast-tracking a new long-term budgeting plan for the town.
What the board is eyeing is known as a capital improvement program, or capital planning.
Members hope to form a committee as soon as possible to make recommendations to the board on such an approach.
That committee, according to board members at their Dec. 1 meeting, could include Road Foreman John Bull, Fire Chief Bill Wager, one or two selectboard members, and town residents with experience in the arena who are willing to step up.
“We should also look for a couple members of the community who have special financial expertise,” said Selectman Clark Hinsdale.
A capital improvement program requires a community to look at its future infrastructure and planning needs, equipment costs, maintenance expenses, asset inventory and debt load, and then create a six-year spending and revenue plan to address how to meet needs and goals.
The process is not random. It is allowed by and described in state law, and voters must approve the budget line item created to fund the plan.
At the selectboard’s Dec. 1 meeting Selectman Chris Campbell said why board members think it’s a good idea.
“It feels like we’re year by year, piecemeal by piecemeal, approaching our maintenance issues for each of our town buildings. And it doesn’t seem like we’re planning ahead for those eventualities, the roof replacement, the driveway replacement, whatever it would be. And as these things come up we’re getting hit with these one-off expenses,” Campbell said.
“It seems like if we want to be able to keep control of our budget and not have peaks and valleys and be able to plan out for things, this would be a perfect way to do it.”
Hinsdale also backed the idea.
“It does do the thing of leveling out the budget. It makes every department head think about what they need in the future,” he said.
Campbell added such a capital program would allow Ferrisburgh to break out long-term expenses “building by building” and create a plan so “there would be no surprises” in annual bills to the town or tax rates.
One example floated at the meeting would be to set aside 2% of each building’s value annually.
Ferrisburgh is dealing with tricky problems with some of its buildings.
According to Selectman and board building committee member Red Muir, town offices have a roof problem that might be creating moisture issues in the structure, the 19th-century Union Meeting Hall across the street has structural and roofing issues, and the home the town owns next to the town office building also has developed problems.
But a capital improvement plan would include much more. Board members said Bull already has a highway equipment plan in place, but even the new town garage will at some point need maintenance.
They also said Wager has a good handle on a firefighting equipment plan, but the fire station is nearing 30 years old. And the former town office building that now houses the Ferrisburgh Historical society was once a one-room schoolhouse.
Board members also agreed it was critical to act while valuable employees like Bull, Wager and Town Clerk Pam Cousino are still on board. Bull recently told the Independent he is about 60, and Cousino said at the meeting all three are roughly the same age.
“If we let them retire before we have a capital plan, shame on us,” Hinsdale said.
Board Chairwoman Jessica Husk said Ferrisburgh did not have to start from scratch to create a capital improvement plan, noting that she had studied plans from several other towns.
What was important, Husk said, was to put a capital planning and capital budget committee to work, although she said later it was unlikely that work could be done before March’s town meeting.
“That committee would make recommendations to the selectboard. And this committee would also make recommendations for the budget, so this budget process we always go through right now would be based on this plan. So it would help the selectboard on a yearly basis,” she said.
Husk concluded the discussion by saying it was time to start recruiting.
“Let’s see whom we can get on this board,” she said.

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