Selectboard OKs operating budget (1/28/10)

Some proposed service cuts restored

Jan. 28, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Selectboard on Monday approved a $7.7 million operating budget that slices some expenditures but avoids cutting popular services.

The spending plan for fiscal year 2010-11 still produces a tax increase. If approved by voters, it would hike the property tax rate by 1 cent, costing the owner of a $300,000 home an additional $30 a year.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said formulating a frugal budget that balances the need to keep taxes down in a rough economy and the desire to maintain services was one of the toughest tasks he’s faced in his dozen years on the board.

“It wasn’t easy and sometimes it wasn’t pretty,” he said. “But with perseverance and sometimes humor we developed I think a very defensible budget.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire proposed a budget in December that set the starting point for board deliberations. His spending plan cut several services, including the after-school recreation program and the annual Independence Day fireworks display. It also reduced funding for road maintenance and turned off some streetlights to save money.

Board members over the last several weeks reshaped McGuire’s proposal. On Monday, they approved a final spending plan that restored some cuts while keeping others.

The biggest single savings was produced by cutting one police officer position, shaving $70,000 from the budget (see story on page 1).

Also cut was the annual $60,000 contribution to the environmental reserve fund, money set aside for purchasing development rights for land to be used for open space or recreation. Funding was reduced for streetlights, extinguishing some that aren’t needed for safety reasons.

The board, however, restored money for the fireworks display and road maintenance. The after-school program was saved after town staff concluded that it could operate it without a director, meaning it could be funded entirely by user fees.

In a last-minute move that he acknowledged was symbolic because of its small impact, board member Ted Kenney proposed a 25 percent pay cut for the Selectboard. Each of the five board members receives slightly more than $1,000 annually. The cut was unanimously approved, saving $1,325.

The changes still left a gap between expenditures and revenue. That was filled by using almost $300,000 in fund balance, budget reserves used for unexpected expenses. Fund balance is now at just under 10 percent of the total operating budget, the minimum threshold set by board policy.

In fact, the declining fund balance is the main reason taxes still rise despite the spending cuts, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. The board last year used $500,000 in fund balance and similar amounts in previous years. He said that trend simply wasn’t sustainable.

The board unanimously approved the budget. Voters will decide whether to approve the spending plan when they go to the polls on March 2.


Item                                                Amount            Cut?

After-school program                        $8,000            No*

Environmental reserve fund            $60,000            Yes

Fireworks display                             $8,000             No

Police officer                                   $70,000            Yes

Road maintenance                          $11,500             No

Streetlights                                     $10,000             Yes

* Funding partially reduced by cutting program director; service will continue at reduced level by using existing town staff.