Middlebury budget draft reflects new hires and road work

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MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard will spend the next two months refining a fiscal year 2020 municipal budget proposal that currently reflects almost $600,000 in new expenses, including two new hires and a $296,119 increase in local infrastructure improvements.

A $600,000 increase would drive the need for an 8-cent hike in the municipal tax rate, but that won’t happen. Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay is proposing, from the outset, that the town use surplus revenues from the community’s Cross Street Bridge fund to offset the proposed $286,119 bump in capital improvement expenses. That would whittle the municipal tax rate increase to 4 cents on the tax rate, though the selectboard will likely shave the bottom line further by the time it OKs a draft spending plan for local voters to field at their annual town meeting in March.

“It’s going to be tight this year,” Ramsay said of the budget.

Middlebury’s current municipal tax rate stands at 98.36 cents per $100 in property value, which represented a bump of four-tenths of a penny over the prior year’s rate.

A penny on the Middlebury tax rate raises roughly $75,000.

Ramsay on Nov. 27 presented the selectboard with a list of “major drivers” for the fiscal year 2020 municipal budget, which will cover town-related expenses from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.

Those drivers include:

•  An anticipated $90,000 increase in employee wages.

•  A $60,000 hike in employee benefits.

Both the wages and benefits increases are governed by a negotiated contract.

•  $69,500 each for two newly proposed jobs: An accounting/grants administration post, and an assistant librarian assigned to circulation and customer service for the adult collection.

•  $8,000 to upgrade Middlebury Community Television video equipment in the municipal building’s large conference room.

•  A $5,730 increase in property and casualty insurance.

•  The proposed $296,119 increase in spending on capital improvements to town roads, bridges, culverts, sidewalks and public works facilities.

Ramsay said the biggest ticket items reflected in the $296,119 increase include:

•  $85,000 for preliminary designs on the proposed reuse of several outbuildings at the former wastewater treatment plant off Seymour Street. As previously reported by the Independent, those buildings are deteriorating and have been relegated to storage, largely for the police and public works departments.

•  $50,000 to plan for improvements to the intersection of Court and Monroe streets.

•  $20,000 to plan for significant upgrades to storm water and sewer infrastructure on Middle Seymour and Maple streets.

•  $45,000 to replace the cover on the town’s salt storage building.

•  $25,000 for a study of whether the Middlebury public works building off Route 7 South can be expanded at its present location.

•  $50,000 for engineering on an upcoming culvert project on Cady Road.

Ramsay noted there’s plenty of surplus money in the Cross Street Bridge fund to pay for the increased capital improvement expenses. Townspeople in 2008 approved a 1-percent local option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol as a means of covering the community’s annual share of $600,000 in debt service (over 30 years) and maintenance for the $16 million Cross Street Bridge project. Middlebury College is covering an equal share of the debt load for the span, which was completed in 2010.

Middlebury’s local option tax revenues are consistently outpacing debt and maintenance needs for bridge, and the surplus (barring a major recession) will only grow as more of the project debt is retired, officials said. The Cross Street Bridge fund currently contains around $2 million.

The town has already set a precedent for using surplus Cross Street Bridge fund revenues to bankroll capital improvement costs. Voters last year agreed to apply $57,484 in surplus to pay for a corresponding jump in fiscal year 2019 capital improvements.

Residents will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the budget before it’s decided at town meeting.

The selectboard will focus exclusively on the spending plan at a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18. More feedback will be sought at a formal budget hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Officials will finalize the spending plan on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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