October 25, 2014

Selectboard halves projected budget increase

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The penultimate week of budget season in Williston ended with a request from the Williston Selectboard to Town Manager Rick McGuire: Find a way to cut the proposed increases to the town’s operating budget in half.

As originally presented in early December, the town’s proposed operating budget of $8,924,780 for fiscal year 2014 represented a 2-cent increase over the current municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The Selectboard’s request to McGuire to shave the tax rate increase from 2 cents to a penny equates to $165,400 in budget cuts.

Selectboard member Chris Roy suggested Tuesday that the $165,400 in desired budget cuts can effectively be halved by increasing budgeted revenue projections of $2.69 million for the town’s local option tax to the actual collected revenue figure of $2.77 million in fiscal year 2012. The amended local option tax revenue assumption is realistic, Roy said, because current fiscal year revenues are exceeding expectations locally and outside data has shown that both state and national sales tax revenues are increasing.

“It is, to my mind, still very conservative to take actual revenues from fiscal year 2012 and use them as the revenue figure for fiscal year 2014, which would assume absolutely no increase over the course of two years in those revenues, when everything we’re seeing indicates that they will increase somewhat,” Roy said.

The other Selectboard members—Terry Macaig, Jeff Fehrs, Debbie Ingram and Jay Michaud—consented to Roy’s suggestion, leaving between $80,000 and $90,000 in cuts still to be identified.

Ingram questioned whether the standard merit increase of 0-2 percent for town employees should be revisited in light of challenging state and federal economic climates.

“Most people I know, their salaries have just stayed the same since 2008 basically,” Ingram said. “They have gotten cost of living increases. They haven’t gotten any raises. I’m just trying to think if we should all be in the same boat.”

Michaud said the budgeted salaries should be dialed down only as a final resort.

“If we can achieve some additional savings somewhere else in the budget before we tackle (wages) I look at that as a last alternative, because one thing I’ve learned is you always want to recruit and retain the best people,” Michaud said.

McGuire will have until the next Selectboard meeting on Jan. 28 to put together the $80,000 to $90,000 package of budget cuts for board endorsement.

At the same time, he will also be tasked with hashing out final details of a proposed public works garage off Mountain View Road to replace the 37-year-old facility currently in use off James Brown Drive. Although figures have yet to be finalized, McGuire suggested Tuesday that he and Public Works Director Bruce Hoar have found ways to cut approximately $1 million from the new building’s projected $7.7 price tag—not including the estimated $1 million windfall from the sale of the existing facility.

“When I first started with the town it was almost exactly 15 years ago. And there were three major projects in the capital budget then that had to get done. One was the new police station. One was the new fire station. The other was the public works garage,” McGuire said. “So this goes back to before 1998 that this was envisioned as a project that the town needed.”

If endorsed by the Selectboard on Jan. 28, both the fiscal year 2014 operating budget and the issuance of a municipal bond to finance the public works facility will be subject to voter approval on Town Meeting Day.

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