News

Guest Column: Notes from Town Hall

By Erik Wells

It is a busy time of year at Town Hall and there are several updates to share this month.

Town Meeting Day 2022

Town Meeting will be a little different as COVID-19 has required some changes to be made again this year. A public information hearing will take place on Monday, February 28th using the online platform Zoom. Voting by Australian Ballot will take place on Tuesday, March 1st at the Armory located at 7846 Williston Road (next to the Town Offices) with polls open 7 AM to 7 PM. Early and absentee voting is available as an alternative to voting in person. Several informational resources can be found on the Town website about Town Meeting and the ballot items voters are asked to consider. The following is an overview of the Town budget and ambulance purchase articles on the ballot. 

FY 23 Budget Proposal (Article 3) 

The $13.1 million municipal budget proposal is a $1.6 million or 13.6% increase from FY 22. For a median home ($302,000 assessment) the estimated overall tax increase is $115 or $9.58 per month. The FY 23 budget proposal has a larger increase this year than in prior years. You may be asking what is the story behind this budget? 

Fire Department Staffing

About half of the proposed budget increase ($785,000) is attributed to the addition of nine career firefighters (three per 24-hour shift). Currently the department has three shifts of four career firefighters to provide fire and emergency medical services to the community. This proposal would increase the shift size to seven firefighters. 

Driving this proposed change is the sharp decline in fire call staff members and their availability to respond over the past five years. This is a challenge facing many departments throughout the country. Today there are 10 members of the call staff, down from nearly 30 members five years ago. These members answer the call for emergency services from home to complement the career staff in the Department’s overall response capacity when available, which historically has resulted in only one or two persons responding on a recall of call staff personnel. Faced with several items to balance including work and family commitments, the availability and capacity of the call staff is fluid, and the Town very much appreciates any time these members can give. 

The budget proposal brings a foundational shift in the Department’s personnel resource structure to address the reality of resources available and to build the necessary depth for a more consistent response capacity. As the capacity of call staff members has changed over time that division cannot cover the amount of staffing availability it once did. The need for services has also increased because of Williston’s continued slow and steady growth, and the emergency response needs to assist the community’s aging population. The Department responds to just under 2,000 emergency calls per year and about 1,300 are medical. In addition, about 30 percent of the time there are overlapping calls for service. 

The Town engaged the consulting firm AP Triton to analyze the Fire Department’s service delivery and assess community risk last summer. Its final report contains a series of findings and recommendations, one being the addition of nine career firefighters. The report is available on the Town website, along with a recording of a presentation by AP Triton of their findings. 

Other Budget Items of Note

The budget increase is also driven by several factors including the addition of an Energy & Community Development Planner position that would focus on the implementation of the Town’s Energy Plan and community goals designed for the betterment of the community including affordable housing. In addition, the effect of inflation on services is seen throughout the budget on wages and operational costs, new collective bargaining agreements were reached with both the Police and Fire Unions over the past year and the Town has numerous ongoing capital budget needs. For a detailed line-item breakdown of the complete budget please visit the Town website or reference the Annual Report. 

Ambulance Purchase (Article 4)

Voters are asked to consider approving the purchase of a new ambulance to replace the 2014 ambulance that has reached the end of its useful life in the Fire Department. The new ambulance would be financed over a period of seven years for an amount not to exceed $280,000. 

If you have questions about any of the items being considered at Town Meeting please send me an email or give me a call at Town Hall. My email address is ewells@willistonvt.org and office phone number is 802-876-1168. See you at Town Meeting and remember to vote! 

Erik Wells is the Williston town manager.