Selectboard adopts $7.2M budget
By Ben Moger-Williams
A new community center; a traffic light at Talcott Road; and a Williston ambulance service could all be in Williston’s near future, if voters approve all articles and the budget at town meeting this year. The Selectboard on Monday approved the latest draft of the official town warning for Williston’s Town Meeting Day on March 6. Although the warning cannot be finalized until Jan. 29, the board decided to OK the warning thus far, with some slight changes in language. The board will meet on Monday to finalize the warning.
Of the first seven articles (the ones to be voted on from the floor at town meeting), three are noteworthy: Article 5 asks the voters if they will authorize the maximum veteran’s property tax exemption from the current $20,000 to $40,000. Williston currently has nine veterans receiving the $20,000 exemption, according to the town. A memo from Town Clerk Deb Beckett says the tax impact on the town is an estimated $5,400.
Articles 3 and 4 deal with the new property tax rebate and prebate system. This fiscal year, eligible taxpayers will no longer receive income sensitivity prebates or rebates on their property taxes directly. Instead, the payment will be sent from the state to the town. In Article 4, voters will decide to have the payments applied “in order” or “pro rata.” “In order” means the rebate/prebate will be applied to the first tax payment in a lump sum. If the rebate/prebate is greater than the initial required payment, the remainder will be applied to the next installment. “Pro rata” means that the rebate/prebate amount will be spread evenly over the three tax bills. The board asked that the language on this article be clarified to improve people’s understanding.
Article 3 will ask voters to push back the due date for tax bills from the current 10th of the month to the 20th for the first payment in August, and the 15th for the following two in November and February. Beckett explained that because of the new rebate/prebate system, the town will not receive updated tax data in time for accurate bills to be sent out by the 10th.
The Selectboard on Monday also adopted the $7.25 million municipal budget. The proposed operating budget is up 7.8 percent over the current fiscal year, representing a 25 percent tax rate increase, or 4.4 cents per $100 of assessed home value. The rate increase would mean an additional $132 per year on a $300,000 home.
The capital budget, for major projects such as buildings and vehicle purchases planned over the next six years, was also adopted. Each year the board adopts a long-term capital plan, but the only part that is binding is the projects in the upcoming fiscal year. For FY 2008, the capital costs would be about $1.3 million. The capital budget is funded mostly from impact fees, grants and other sources besides property taxes. Capital projects for the upcoming year include $255,370 (funded by impact fees) for a traffic signal on Talcott Road and U.S. 2; $22,000 (from the host town fund) for renovation of the Town Hall Annex, and $100,000 (from grants) for a new community center.
The board also adopted the water and sewer budgets, which increased 5 percent and 19 percent respectively.
A consultant was hired by the town to study the pros and cons of accepting a $621,000 federal SAFER grant. The grant, for which Fire Chief Ken Morton successfully applied, is to let the town hire six full-time firefighter/emergency medical technicians. Kevin O’Donoghue, owner of Fire Safety Management Inc., presented his study to the Selectboard on Monday, and said he thought the town should accept the grant, and start an ambulance service due to the increasing call volume and decline of volunteers.
The current draft of the town warning includes an article to be voted on by Australian ballot, asking voters to authorize the town to borrow money for the purchase of two ambulances and related equipment for $250,000 and operating expenses of $447,884. In Donoghue’s report, he projects that Williston will need to have a full-time firefighter/EMT staff with an ambulance in the near future, and the SAFER grant would allow the town to offset some of the initial expenses. He admitted that the service would not ever really make a profit for the town, but stressed that it is a need Williston will face.
“You will never hear the term ‘cash cow’ and ambulance services used in the same sentence,” O’Donoghue said.
He estimated that the service would cost the town between $52,000-180,000 per year.
The full report will be available on the town’s Web site, http://town.williston.vt.us