Rate increases by 13 cents for homeowners
By Tom Gresham
Williston residents will pay a slightly lower property tax rate than was estimated in March, but the rate will still rise substantially compared to last year.
The residential tax rate of about $1.71 is a penny-and-half lower than was projected when both the municipal and school budgets passed in March. The education tax rate accounts for $1.60, while the municipal rate produces another 11 cents. The state set the education tax rate last week.
The combined tax rate amounts to an increase of 13 cents over the property tax rate during the 2004-05 fiscal year, which just ended June 30.
The owner of a $250,000 home will pay $4,300 in property taxes under the new rate, $325 more than during the previous year.
The sharp increase comes a year after Act 68, a new education funding law that replaced Act 60, helped cut the property tax rate for all properties in town by 26 cents. Local officials said at the time the reduction was a one-time event and would be followed by a climbing property tax rate.
The education rate represents a 9-cent increase over the previous fiscal year. According to the Williston School District, about half of that was attributed to a 3 percent decrease in the common level of appraisal in town.
The CLA measures a percentage of the fair market value of property, based on sales, that is reflected in a town’s grand list. As the CLA drops, the property tax rate increases to cover the corresponding increases in property values.
Also, in the education rate increase, Williston’s share of the $19 million renovation project at Champlain Valley Union High School contributed about 3 cents.
On the municipal rate, which climbed nearly 4 cents from 8 cents, the chief catalysts for the tax hike were payments on Williston’s $6.3 million public safety facilities bond and the town’s decision to contribute $147,300 to help continue bus service in town. The municipal budget increased 15.5 percent over the previous year.
The increased municipal spending was partially offset by a rise in revenue produced by local sales and rooms and meals taxes. Without the approximately $2.7 million those taxes produce, the municipal rate would be 24 cents higher — a savings of $600 for the owner of a $250,000 home.
The non-residential property tax rate will be about $1.70 this fiscal year — a reversal from the recently concluded year, when commercial property owners paid a higher rate than residential property owners. The non-residential rate, which, unlike the residential rate, is not tied to school spending, was $1.64 during the past fiscal year. Residential and non-residential properties share the same municipal rate.
The owner of a $500,000 commercial building will pay $8,500 in property taxes this year
By Tom Gresham
Police are still investigating an incident last week involving a vandalized mailbox that culminated with a Williston woman discovering a teenager with a hacksaw in her front yard.
Joy Karnes, who lives in Southridge, said she was awakened in the early morning hours of July 19 by her ringing doorbell. No one was at the door. She said it was a recurring problem — kids “ringing and running” in the middle of the night.
However, Karnes was also aware that they often returned to the same house after the resident had gone back to bed. So, Karnes waited by the front door and watched for a returning prankster.
When she spotted a figure crossing her front lawn, she opened the door to surprise the person. And there, standing before her, bathed in Karnes’ front door light, was a young male carrying a hacksaw — an echo of many horror movies.
Karnes said she tried to make a sound, but the fright of seeing a male wielding a hacksaw in the middle of the night rendered her speechless.
However, the teen was also clearly afraid, she said, because he turned pale and bolted. The teen did not attempt to get into the house, contrary to a Williston Police Department press release and subsequent media reports last week.
When the teen ran, he headed east through the field behind the residences on Goodrich Drive. Karnes believes she heard him calling to acquaintances, but she did not see anyone else. Released by the teen’s flight, Karnes then began to scream.
“I’ve never been that close to hysterical before,” she said.
Williston police officers searched the area with assistance from the Essex Police Department, which provided an infrared camera, and a K-9 unit from the Hinesburg Police Department. The K-9 dog lost the scent of the suspect at the pool area across the field.
Williston Officer Dan Gowans said police recovered the hat. He said officers also found that a mailbox had been cut down — the apparent reason for the suspect was carrying the saw.
The suspect is described as a white male in his late teens with dark brown hair and freckles on his face. He was last seen wearing a dark hat, a dark hooded sweatshirt with a round white logo on the back and khaki shorts. Karnes gave police a description for a composite portrait of the suspect.
Karnes showed the composite to some of her neighbors last week. She believes it was a neighborhood kid. She said there are 32 households with children between the ages of 12 and 20 in Southridge.
Multiple neighbors identified the same Southridge teenager. However, Gowans said he interviewed the teen and ruled him out because of his appearance and location the night of the incident.
“It wasn’t him,” Gowans said.
Gowans said police continue to investigate the case and hope to receive help from the public. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Williston Police Department at 878-6611.
John Deere riding mowers stolen from business
By Tom Gresham
Williston Police are pursuing multiple leads into a string of thefts of riding mowers from the Agway store on Vermont Route 2A.
“There are a lot of different people we’re looking at right now, but it’s safe to say that there appears to be multiple subjects involved,” said Officer Jon Marcoux said. He said police believe the stolen mowers were sold at a private sale in the area.
The most recent theft occurred July 20 when Agway reported that a John Deere Model L120 mower was stolen overnight. The mower was valued at $2,300.
Previously, Williston Police had responded to a theft complaint on May 5 at Agway, where a John Deere Model L111 mower valued at $1,800 had been taken overnight.
Milton police officers also recovered a mower stolen from Agway in June when they discovered a stolen pickup truck with a John Deere mower in the truck’s bed.
Marcoux said the two men suspected of stealing the truck are among those suspects in the lawn mower thefts. The men were cited on a charge of felony aggravated operation of a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent. The complaint alleges the suspects stole the truck and then altered its appearance.
Marcoux said police are investigating whether the thefts in Williston are connected to a series of similar thefts of riding lawn mowers at the Yandow Sales & Service store in North Ferrisburgh.
Anyone with any information about these thefts or recent private sales of new John Deere equipment is asked to contact the Williston Police Department at 878-6611.
Manager mulling this year’s pay hikes
By Tom Gresham
The Selectboard recently approved a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for non-union municipal employees. However, those will not be the only raises for town employees this year.
Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire planned to make his annual decisions this week on merit and longevity pay for non-union municipal employees. The merit raises are added to the cost-of-living increases and are doled out on an individual basis. McGuire typically attempts to finalize the raises by July 1, but makes the salary hikes retroactive when he misses that self-imposed deadline.
McGuire’s deliberation impacts all full-time municipal employees, except for police officers, who belong to a union, and the town clerk, who holds an elected position. The police officers’ annual raises are determined by a contract negotiated with the town, while the town clerk’s salary is set by the Selectboard.
The Selectboard determines the total amount of money set aside for merit raises, but McGuire has the discretion to determine the merit and longevity raises without oversight from the board. He consults with department heads and reviews the performance of each employee.
He said it is important for the town manager to have the ability to manage the salaries without the Selectboard’s guidance.
“Ultimately, I’m responsible for the performance of the town employees,” McGuire said. “This gives me an important tool to reward employees for performance. I need that flexibility without the Selectboard, and the board has been very good about granting that.”
Although the bulk of eligible employees receive a merit/longevity raise, McGuire said the amounts of the raises are typically modest. For instance, last year municipal employees securing merit-based raises received additional pay of either 1 or 2 percent. In previous years, McGuire has awarded merit raises as high as 3 or 4 percent, but he said increases that large are rare.
McGuire works from a budgeted amount. For instance, he had $25,000 last fiscal year, which ended June 30, to dispense for the merit/longevity raises.
McGuire has $45,000 for the current fiscal year, but that number includes $20,000 set aside for police officers’ raises. The town and police officers’ union is currently negotiating a new contract, and the funds for the officers’ raises, which are usually their own line item on the budget, are temporarily included in the money for the merit raises.
The raises are based both on performance and the employee’s experience in a position. It is not an automatic determination with triggers for certain years of service, but an attempt to provide compensation for the value that someone’s experience in a job adds to the position and to the town.
McGuire said the town fell behind other comparable municipalities for offering competitive salaries a few years ago and consequently lost some employees. As an example, he said the staff at the Dorothy Alling Library was starkly underpaid a few years ago.
However, he said the town has caught up. McGuire said he tracks the salaries for various positions at other Vermont towns, and Williston generally falls in line with them now. Similarly, the town sets a cost-of-living raise each year based on a survey of what other municipalities are doing.
“The goal is to remain competitive because if we don’t keep up with the competition than we can’t keep quality employees,” McGuire said. “Right now, we have quality employees.”
A key aspect of managing the municipal salaries is maintaining the town’s pay grades, McGuire said. Positions are located in a pay grade based on 14 criteria, including demands on personal time, supervision exercised and financial accountability.
McGuire also has the task of determining whether a position has changed and should be elevated to a higher, more lucrative pay grade. A pay grade encompasses a span of 48 percent. For instance, the pay grade for the town manager position ranges from $54,267 to $77,979.
Employees have salaries arranged in the pay grade based on multiple factors, most prominently experience.
As an example, McGuire said the town hired zoning administrator D.K. Johnston at a salary above the median pay grade because he arrived with significant experience. By contrast, Scott Gustin, the previous zoning administrator, was hired at a salary a bit below the median because he had less experience.
Of the town’s eight department heads, four were paid last year at a salary above the median in their respective pay grades and four were paid below the median.