Content of Merger Plan Squeaks By, FY22 Budget Set
1/11/21 Selectboard Meeting
by Irene Wrenner
January 12, 2021
A plan of merger deemed “incomplete” by two Selectboard members was nevertheless passed by three others at its January 11th meeting.
The chair and two other first-termers, plus a number of audience members, insisted it was good enough. However, Dawn Hill-Fleury, a long, long-time public servant, voted nay, along with three-term member Andy Watts, who maintained this “document isn’t ready and we’re not prepared to defend it”.
They both “support merger, but it depends on how we get there”. And this plan is far from done in their experienced eyes.
Watts noted that none of the suggestions he made in December have been addressed, which would be consistent with Chair Elaine Haney’s aim of minimizing differences between the Town version of the charter and the Village version. Errors and all.
One of many issues that Watts has questioned repeatedly is the proposed sidewalk district: How will that work? Will it cost the same amount each of the twelve proposed years?
He recognizes that, of course, costs will go up each year and wondered aloud if the Village were informed and prepared for that increase? In the end, he suggested that a $2 reduction in the TOV’s merger tax increase just isn't worth the administrative costs of a Special Taxing District, especially when areas of the TOV might want the same level of winter sidewalk maintenance.
Input from the TOV has been, as noted before, absent from the three-year process of developing the merger plan.
A number of the 40-odd audience members weighed in over the course of the meeting, some weary of merger votes, others weary of COVID, some eager for full agreement among the board members.
More than one was concerned about the exclusion of those who do not have any or adequate technology access to participate substantively.
Surprisingly, several people, who would’ve been hard-pressed to vote Yes on the 3+3 charter change a year ago, were now willing to accept it, perhaps hoping they could convince the plan’s holdouts to swing their way.
George Tyler, Village Trustee, reminded the board that state reps in Montpelier saw “no problem” with the plan’s four Special Taxing Districts.
Andrew Brown, Village President, submitted and then read a letter aloud, noting the overwhelming support the Village version garnered in November. That would be from residents who've been told to expect a tax decrease. Past officials’ statements have cautioned against this expectation.
The 3-2 tally via roll call was a repeat of last meeting’s vote to commit to a March election on the topic. It appears members have dug in, and no amount of public or chairperson pressure to “be unanimous” convinced anyone new to go along to get along.
A related communication item was tabled, due to the large number of questions submitted by Watts, who had diligently edited the 33-page information sheet. Fleury said she read it twice and found several redundant sections. Estimated costs to print and mail out this merger info to all residents, once finalized, is just under $6,000, plus staff time.
A much-anticipated ordinance change to reduce the school zone speed limit to 25 mph on Sand Hill Road passed unanimously.
Members discussed at length how to assign FY20 fund balance -- the excess funds collected but not spent on budgeted items.
The Finance Director had proposed a transfer of $300,000, but Pat Murray, in light of outsized school tax increases that are anticipated, suggested municipal taxpayers get a break sooner rather than later. His peers agreed to accelerate the payback to FY22 from FY23, making the assigned total $402,500.
To provide some context, FY20 saw a $790,000 budgetary surplus, just as there has been for 10 of the past 10 years. After some careful budget sleuthing, Watts proposed cuts of $30,000 to the proposed $16 million budget. Murray and Vince Franco resisted taking all of them, but members did reduce the initial proposal. Before adjourning they warned a public hearing on an FY22 budget of $15,985,320 for January 19th at 6:35 pm.