February 5, 2007
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — On Town Meeting Day, Bristol residents will weigh in on a proposed 2007-2008 town budget that would increase spending by 3.85 percent from the current year to $1,783,146. The budget, approved by Bristol selectmen last week, includes $1,436,546 to be raised by taxes, an increase of 4.27 percent over the current fiscal year.
If approved, the spending plan would increase the Bristol municipal tax rate to about 55.5 cents per $100 of property value, an increase of about 2.25 cents.
Voted appropriations made up the second-smallest section of the budget, at $351,925, but the largest percentage increase in expenditures, with an 8.56 percent increase over the current fiscal year. All the money for these appropriations, which include things like $15,000 for Howden Hall restoration, would be raised from taxes.
According to town administrator Bill Bryant, most other increases in the spending proposal were minor. “Salaries and health care go up every year,” he said.
After voter appropriations, the general operating fund budget showed the largest percentage increase. At $553,096 total expenditures, it showed an increase of 3.92 percent over the sum budgeted for the current year. Of that amount, $378,896 is to be raised by taxes, 2.28 percent more than in the current year.
The Highway Department budget showed a relatively modest increase. Those expenditures increased from $664,200 in the current fiscal year to $684,250 in the proposed spending plan, an increase of 3.02 percent. The percent to be raised by taxes increased by a slightly smaller amount, though: the $564,800 in the current year increased by 2.84 percent, to $580,850, in the proposed budget.
Compared to preliminary proposals, the selectboard revised both expected non-tax revenues and expected expenditures for the Bristol Recreation Department down to be more in line with recent years. The projected expenditures are dropping by 1.27 percent, from $196,370 to 193,875. “We’ve seen a slight drop in class enrollment,” said recreation department director Gerrie Heuts. “It ebbs and flows.”
However, the projected revenues dropped much further, by 11.54 percent, so the amount to be raised from taxes is an increase of 5.5 percent. The recreation department requested a sum of $124,875 for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
The March town meeting warning includes few measures other than those related to taxes and expenditures. It includes two articles asking the town to renew property tax exemptions for the N.H. Munsill Hook & Ladder Company, the nonprofit independent branch of the fire department, and the Bristol Rescue Squad, which have to be reauthorized every five years.
And one article asks town residents how to apply a property tax rebate received from the state of Vermont. In some towns that will be decided by the selectboard, but the Bristol board presented voters with a choice between applying most of the rebate to the first installment of property tax payment, or applying it to both installments equally.
The selectboard revised its policy on groups petitioning to get funding requests on the warning in the meetings leading up to finalizing the budget. This made it easier for a few groups to get on the warning, but it also gave the board more direct control over voted appropriations.
In the past, nonprofit organizations that wanted to request funding from taxes had to submit petitions signed by town residents to demonstrate support from the community, and if they petitioned for the same sum of money for three years, after that the board would add their requests to the warning for the same amount without requiring a petition.
This year, however, the board decided to put three groups on the budget without a petition, even though they were not level-funded. The board put funding requests from Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR), the Bristol Cemetery Association, which maintains and oversees Greenwood Cemetery, and the Bristol Conservation Commission on the warning without requiring petitions.
To a degree, the board’s decision was based on selectmen’s beliefs that those groups are so closely related to the municipal government that the goal of the funding was partly the town’s responsibility anyway. ACTR representatives argued that their group provides a service necessary to many area residents, the Bristol Cemetery Association’s responsibilities would fall to the town by state law if the association is unable to continue, and the conservation commission is a part of municipal government.
The selectboard also put the groups on the warning without requiring a petition because that way it could set the funding levels itself. In each case, the board funded the groups at less than they requested originally. The groups could have submitted petitions for the amounts of their choice, but none chose to.
The board also lumped together the 16 level-funded groups that did not need to petition as one item to shorten the process of voting on them. If a town resident wants to make changes from the floor and open the items to individual debate, he or she will have that option, but otherwise those items will be voted as one.
ACTR’s funding request was put in the warning with level-funded organizations by mistake, Bryant said, even though their article was for $5,100 — less than the $5,500 they had requested, but more than the $4,700 they received last year. The other two groups that were granted exemptions from the policy are both requesting new funding entirely.
And the meeting will most likely follow the usual procedure for town meetings, according to Bryant, but the warning itself does not. In the past the school district meeting warning took place in the middle of the town meeting and members of both boards signed one warning. This year, though, separate warnings have been issued for both.
Several late changes were made to the budget to shave a couple percentage points off the increase. Reductions were made to the voted appropriations requested by the above groups, as well as some requests from some other parts of the municipal government.
The Howden Hall Committee had asked the board to be on the agenda for $20,000 to finance further improvement to the historic building, but the board only put them on the agenda for $15,000, and the fire department capital reserve fund’s article was cut from $40,000 to $30,000.