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Ferrisburgh board eyes 13 percent town spending hike

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January 14, 2008

By ANDY KIRKALDY

FERRISBURGH — A series of fixed and rising expenses that Ferrisburgh selectmen say are out of their control are pushing the board’s spending proposal for the 2008-2009 fiscal year up by almost 13 percent.

Selectmen on Wednesday looked at a final draft budget of roughly $1.47 million that would call for a 12.8 percent spending hike. Unsurprisingly, the largest single spending driver is fuel to keep town trucks running and buildings warm.

Board chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen would almost certainly adopt that spending proposal at their Jan. 22 meeting. Residents will have the final say by Australian ballot on March 4.

“I don’t see that we can change it … barring any unforeseen circumstances between now and the 22nd,” Lawrence said, while acknowledging the figures are “going to be a shocker for people.”

Lawrence said town office employees estimated that if approved the budget would add about 4 cents to the town’s tax rate, or $40 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

But, she said, the board has little choice to raise spending from the 2007-2008 level of about $1.3 million. (The face value of the budget was actually about $1.38 million, but that included $78,000 for a land purchase that residents eventually voted against, and the apples-to-apples comparison is based on $1.303 million and $1.47 million.)

“There are some uncontrollable costs,” Lawrence said.

Those include:

• An increase of almost $21,000 in liability insurance, due in part to an increase in rates and in part to the larger town offices being built.

• An increase of about $14,000 in the town’s Addison County tax bill, which goes to pay for the county court system.

• A new line item of almost $11,000 for the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad. Previously VARS had received a smaller amount as a voter appropriation.

• An increase of $6,000 in employee health, life and disability insurance bills. Lawrence said that line item would have been higher, but that health insurance costs rose just 3.2 percent after the town switched to a different program with a new carrier.

• A boost of the annual line item for reassessing town real estate by about $11,590 to $56,590. Lawrence said selectmen do not want to fall behind the critical work of keeping values current, which in turn prevents costly “common level of appraisal” (CLA) tax rate adjustments. “You have to stay on top of it,” she said.

• A hike of the highway budget by $87,000 to $769,000. Within that there is a $30,000 increase for fuel alone. Lawrence said selectmen on Wednesday made cuts in “virtually every (highway department) line item except fuel,” but after slashing spending in the department a year ago could not justify going any further, especially with older trucks and equipment needing maintenance and some roads needing attention.

“Last year we made some cuts in the highway department. But we have to keep it up to repair our trucks and maintain our roads,” she said.

The snowy December already has nearly exhausted the 2007-2008 fuel budget, Lawrence said, but officials will find savings elsewhere if they have to rather than enter the next fiscal year with a deficit.

“We’re just going to work it out,” she said. “We can’t ask the taxpayers for any more.”

Despite the price on the sticker, Lawrence said the budget is not loaded with expensive options.

“We just went through it, and there’s nothing more we can cut. There are just fixed costs,” she said. “We’re just lucky the health insurance increase was just 3.2 percent.”

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