Town manager proposes decreased budget

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Town of Williston’s projected budget for the upcoming fiscal year shows a decrease in spending of $82,145 compared to the current fiscal year. 

The $11.5 million projection was delivered to the Williston Selectboard during its meeting Tuesday. The board will work in the coming weeks to finalize the proposal for voter approval at Town Meeting Day in March. Despite the decrease in spending, the budget would require a property tax increase of a half-cent for every $100 of assessed property value, Town Manager Erik Wells said. 

The decreased spending results from an expected decrease in revenue from local sales, meals and rooms taxes, town service user fees and interest from investments — all affected negatively by the coronavirus pandemic. The budget also projects no growth in the town’s property tax base, or Grand List. Williston’s Grand List has grown steadily over the past 20 years. 

Without the increased Grand List, sales tax, interest and user fee revenue that could be counted on in past budgets, more of the burden will fall on the existing property tax base. That’s why the tax rate is projected to increase slightly despite the decrease in spending. 

Wells reported that local sales tax revenue rebounded in the July-September (third) quarter compared to the April-June (second) quarter — the first affected by the pandemic. Revenue from the spring was $55,000 less than the three-year second-quarter average. Revenue from the third quarter was $64,000 above the three-year third-quarter average. 

Board member Joy Limoge hypothesized that federal pandemic stimulus funding contributed to the solid summer sales tax numbers.

Tax revenue from local hotels and restaurants was about $100,000 (46 percent) less than average over the second and third quarters, Wells said.

Town administrators are budgeting a $25,000 decrease in local sales tax revenue for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We’re hopeful that changes, but from a budget standpoint, that is our initial approach,” Wells said. 

The budget includes a decrease in capital project expenses of about $150,000, as town administrators plan to delay some larger projects due to the unknowns of the pandemic. 

Wells noted that the town’s steady population increase has accelerated in the last two years — with increases of about 200 people in both 2018 and 2019. The town’s population has topped 10,000 for the first time, he said.

It’s not yet clear whether Town Meeting Day ballots will be mailed to every voter, as they were in the November general election, or only mailed upon request to the town clerk. Town leaders are planning to conduct the informational meeting typically held the evening before town meeting in the Williston Central School auditorium virtually. 

Town Clerk Sarah Mason said she is meeting with the town clerks in Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg — member towns, along with Williston, of the Champlain Valley School District — so that Town Meeting school budget votes are handled uniformly throughout the school district. 

Candidates for office will not be required to compile signatures on a petition to be on the Town Meeting Day ballot, as is normally the case. They will only need to submit a consent form to the town clerk. 

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