November 28, 2014

Five percent increase proposed for town budget

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The town of Williston’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget was unveiled Monday in all its 164-page density during a special Selectboard session at the Williston Woods Activity Center.

As outlined by Town Manager Rick McGuire and Finance Director Susan Lamb, the proposed operating budget is $8,924,780—a 5.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

If approved, the budget increase would equate to an estimated 2-cent hike in the current municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

On Monday, Town Clerk Deb Beckett, Library Director Marti Fiske and Fire Chief Ken Morton threw their own two cents into the budget discussion with plugs for budget considerations.

Beckett went first, outlining a 7.9 percent increase in departmental expenditures. She said staffing duties will need to be reshuffled, due to the retirements of longtime treasurer and clerk assistants Kathy Boyden and Kathy Smardon.

“What I would be looking for is two full-time equivalent positions, a full-time admin assistant and another part-time, if needed, assistant clerk up to 10 hours a week,” Beckett said.

Fiske followed, relaying a modest 2.4 percent library expenditure increase. Of particular interest was a proposed $1,000 increase to the “performers and program supplies” line item, which Fiske pointed out would still represent a 4 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2009 budget. She said the additional funding is necessary to entertain the children whose parents utilize the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library as an afterschool community center.

“We are incredibly popular with the afterschool crowd, and find it very difficult to get as many kids into programs as we’d like,” Fiske said. “Because we are considered a safe place, and we do our best to entertain kids, we are very popular with parents for afterschool care … and the kids need something to do.”

Fire Chief Ken Morton was the evening’s closing presenter and offered the most striking departure from the budget outlined by McGuire and Lamb.

Regarding on call firefighters/EMTs, Morton requested that the proposed hourly wage increase of 50 cents be doubled to $1. Currently, on call emergency services personnel earn $9.05 per hour—59 cents above the Vermont minimum wage.

In terms of overall staffing, Morton advocated adding two full-time firefighter/EMT positions to the town manager’s proposal of promoting one current part-time firefighter/EMT to full-time status. The two additional full-time positions would increase taxpayers’ municipal property taxes by approximately $8.22 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Morton noted that currently there are two full-time firefighters/EMTs and one chief on duty at any one time. He said the staffing increase will allow for three full-timers to supplement the on-duty chief, thus adhering to the National Fire Protection Association’s standard of “two in, two out,” which maintains that a two-person firefighting team entering a burning structure should have two support firefighters stationed outside.

“I think it’s critical. One example would be when I come to work in the morning at 7:15 and there’s nobody in the fire house, because the two people on shift got an EMS call, they took the ambulance and they’re off to pick up the patient and go to the hospital in that one and a half hour loop, and there’s no one protecting Williston until I get to work,” Morton said. “I think that is a huge shortfall that we need to address.”

Morton acknowledged to the Selectboard that his request might be “a tough pill to swallow,” but he cited Williston’s growing population and economic development as an indicator that demand is outgrowing the department’s resources.

“This is the last piece to the puzzle, and it’s an important piece, and it’s got to be funded,” Morton said.

The Selectboard’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17 at the Town Hall meeting room. On the docket are the Williston Police and Planning and Zoning department budgets.

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