Ferrisburgh proposed budget includes two big ticket items

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday adopted a proposed budget and a Town Meeting Day warning with 10 articles, including two that would increase town spending with major equipment purchases.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the warning also for the first time calls for all of Ferrisburgh’s articles to be decided by Australian ballot on March 2. Voting will be held from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in Ferrisburgh’s Route 7 town office building and community center.
The warning also sets an online informational meeting to be held via Zoom at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27, the Saturday before balloting.
The budget proposal calls for $2,171,467 in spending. It includes two increases over current spending proposed in two articles: up to $15,000 in more pay for the town’s delinquent tax collector, and $4,500 for a “Tree Fund.”
If voters fail to back either or both of those articles it would lower the face value of the budget.
Board Chairperson Jessica James said the town has had trouble finding a delinquent tax collector willing to work for the current stipend of $3,000, and one article would authorize hourly wages not to exceed $18,000.
The Tree Fund article would create a reserve fund, James said, that would primarily be used to treat or remove ash trees infected with the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect species now spreading in Vermont. According to the article it could also be used for “planting and general tree care” in Ferrisburgh.
The spending proposal doesn’t include $31,905 of charitable requests that residents routinely support.
The town meeting warning also includes two articles for major capital purchases.
One would establish a reserve fund toward the purchase of a replacement pumper tanker, and it directs voters to add $30,000 to the fund each year until the purchase price is reached (around $150,000).
The second article asks voters to authorize the purchase, for up to $220,000, of a tandem dump truck and related snow removal equipment, with an amount up to $190,000 to be financed over a period of up to five years.
If all that spending is approved by voters, the new budget would amount to $2,262,562.
That total would represent a $74,222 increase, or 3.4%, over the total spending approved by Ferrisburgh in March 2020, according to Ferrisburgh Town Clerk Pam Cousino, “if everything passes.”
However, Cousino said, town officials are anticipating growth in the town’s grand list that could create more tax revenue during the next fiscal year than the town received during the current year.
That revenue could offset, all or in part, the higher spending, she said. As is, Cousino said, an additional penny in the tax rate should raise between $55,000 or $60,000, meaning an increase in the municipal portion of a little more than a penny is a worst-case scenario.
Within the proposed budget there are no major changes, town officials said.
The warning also requests residents to adopt “amendments to the Ferrisburgh Land Use Regulations approved by the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission” in December. The Independent will detail those amendments in a forthcoming article.
Voters will also be asked to fill two upcoming vacancies on the selectboard and on the Addison Northwest School District Board. Monday is the deadline for filing for those seats. Incumbent selectboard members Jim Benoit and Red Muir have already filed for re-election.
In other business on Tuesday, the board:
•  Declined to put on the warning a petitioned article proposed by the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm that would have instructed town officials to cease spending money in its long-running legal dispute with the farm over clear-cutting of trees along Arnold Bay Road.
James said the board obtained a third-party legal opinion that although more than 200 residents signed the petition, it was merely advisory and not binding on the board. Vermont’s Environmental Court has ordered mediation in the dispute, according to James, and that is scheduled for Feb. 25.
•  During budget discussions, declined a request from Vergennes to increase by $4,100 the town’s contribution for its share of the Vergennes Fire Department budget. The city department is the first responder to West Ferrisburgh and much of the southern end of the town, and Ferrisburgh pays based on the grand list value of property protected in each community.
James said the board wants more information from the city about its fire department finances. She noted, for example, Ferrisburgh pays a larger share of the department budget (38-37%) than the city, while also being billed for city firefighters’ time for calls during responses to its coverage area in Ferrisburgh.
“We need to be in on the discussions on the budgeting,” James said. “It’s a transparency issue.”

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